The classic 1960’s sitcom THE MUNSTERS has charmed and spooked audiences for decades. With the recent surge of reboot after reboot, it was clearly time for the Munster family to make their grand, spooky return—and who better than Rob Zombie to introduce them to the modern age? After all, he’s a self-professed MUNSTERS super-fan with an illustrious horror film-making career. When the project was first announced, it was unclear if this would be another blood-slinging, foul-mouthed horror film or if it would keep with the original spirit of the series. As images of the costumes and set began to drop, it was clear this would be a very different project for Zombie. While his films have always featured smart-mouthed, funny characters, this is his first outright attempt at comedy. Unfortunately, the jokes fall as flat as the top of Herman’s head.
This film’s undeniable (and, really, only) success is its production design. Zombie’s whimsical, over-the-top aesthetic fits perfectly within the world of THE MUNSTERS. While films such as THE ADDAMS FAMILY maintain a dark, drabby-chic color palette, Zombie applies a heightened, saturated, neon color scheme. It complements Herman’s lime-green skin, Grandpa’s blue tone, and the fantastical Transylvania setting. If I’m honest, the former-teenage-goth-kid in me wishes this is what the world looked like: somewhere between Zombie’s DRAGULA music video (named after Grandpa’s car in the original series) and the background art of a SCOOBY DOO cartoon. It’s gorgeous. Costume design is also on point, updating Herman and Lily in more than their usual black-and-white TV looks but keeping them in that vein. The makeup design is superb, proving that practical effects are still the most effective. This film is beautiful to look at.
Performances are hit-or-miss. Let’s get right to it: how is Sherrie Moon Zombie? The actress (married to Rob Zombie) appears in all his projects and takes a lot of criticism (which is unfair) for her performances. I don’t think she’s the terrible actor people make her out to be; I don’t think she’s right for every single role Zombie casts her in. I must say, I was expecting a failure; I could list a dozen actors who would be better suited to play the iconic Lily. However, she does a just-OK job considering the material. She loves the character and brings enough of herself to the role while doing her best she can comedically with the script she’s been given, but it just comes off as a junior high-level performance, at best. Yvonne De Carlo, she is not, but no one could have been. Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman is inconsistent. At times he embodies Fred Gwynn’s dopey, lovable man-made monster, but for the most part, his voice work reminds me of a tenor version of Krumm from AAAHH!!! REAL MONSTERS. Regardless, he’s funny at times and looks great in part. The MVP of the film, though, is Daniel Roebuck as Grandpa. He just…gets it. He’s the only truly appropriately-cast actor (perhaps the most seasoned in the cast), able to take the grossly unfunny script and make something with it. Richard Brake, double-cast, serves fantastic Vincent Price AND Nosferatu-inspired performances, but he disappears halfway through the movie with no explanation. (Shout-out to Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, herself), who appears too late and is criminally under-used.)
This brings us to the film’s biggest failure: the script. Oh, Mr. Zombie, why couldn’t you have let someone else write this? You’ve nailed the aesthetic and the score, but where is the story? It’s like three extra-long episodes of the series poorly tacked together. Rather than picking one clear storyline, there are too many. The film isn’t a series of vignettes or one cohesive tale. It lies somewhere in the middle and would have benefitted from committing one way or the other. The jokes are there; your cast is hitting the comedic beats…sort of…so why isn’t it working? The funniest moments happen an hour and twenty minutes into the film when they leave Transylvania and are introduced to “normal” people, whose reactions are as cartoonish and hilarious as they were on the TV show. That’s another problem: at almost two hours with very little to offer in the way of plot; it overstays its welcome by about twenty or twenty-five minutes. (This final stretch, frankly, is dull, looks cheap, does nothing for the “plot,” and ends abruptly/disappointingly.)
Also, another big gripe: while Butch Patrick, the original Eddie Munster, has a voice cameo in the film, the character never appears in the movie, begging the question Butch asked in his 80’s punk rock single: “Whatever Happened to Eddie?!”
THE MUNSTERS is available to stream on NETFLIX.
Overall, I liked it more than I thought I would (or at least the first hour and a half), but that doesn’t make it a good movie, and unfortunately, it doesn’t have the strength to gather a cult following. Instead, it’s primarily suitable for background, perhaps at a Halloween party, to have something consistently spooky-looking on the TV. With such a charmless script and gorgeous production design, it’s best viewed on mute.