The Munsters is one of the most out-there movie pet projects in recent memory. Rob Zombie, known for his violent edgelord inclinations, has developed a picture that is explicit only in how family-friendly it is. This change in style is sure to surprise his admirers. This shift in tone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t help make up for Zombie’s normal storytelling shortcomings, especially when it comes to maintaining a consistent storyline.
The Munsters may be the most genuine-feeling television revival ever put on film, flaws and all, and it certainly works as a love letter to the sitcom that influenced Zombie so much as a child.
Since Zombie’s weak spot as a writer is in plot development, it’s not unexpected that The Munsters reads more like a series of sketches than a novel. The film spends most of its time in Transylvania as the family congeals, ostensibly serving as a pre-Eddie Munster origin narrative for either the original television show or a full-on revival that will likely never come to reality.
In a plotline evocative of Young Frankenstein, Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is brought to life by the scenery-chewing Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his hunched assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia). Herman aspires to be a combination stand-up comedian and rock star. Lily, a vampiress played by Sheri Moon Zombie, goes on a few dates but has a hard time finding a suitable husband.
The Count (Daniel Roebuck) and his servant Igor (a very game Sylvester McCoy) plot to have his daughter marry into fortune, a plan that is thwarted by the arrival of Herman. Lester, the Count’s broke werewolf son, helps his ex-wife Zoya (Catherine Schell) steal the family mansion (Tomas Boykin).
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However, rather than providing these individuals with satisfying arcs or giving the picture any kind of a coherent throughline, the film focuses on maintaining the domestic Mockingbird Lane status quo, making the tensions fade away quietly if they become inconvenient.
The mansion-stealing storyline in The Munsters is really a means to an end (relocating the family to California), and the romance between Herman and Lily isn’t much of a barrier to the completion of their relationship (despite the Count’s first, and later discarded, protestations). In fact, until a deus ex machina appears to deliver a cynically convenient climax, the film keeps tossing new half-formed issues at the Munsters.
In spite of all the chaos, you can’t deny the undeniable charm that Zombie and his team have infused into this otherwise unremarkable film. In terms of satirizing 1960s sitcom comedy, it’s a gold mine, with Zombie’s script being as unexpectedly funny as an episode of The Munsters would be corny and sincere.
The soundtrack features slide whistles and cartoon sound effects to complement the film’s pun-filled line reads and silly, macabre sight gags, and one can’t help but wonder whether Zombie ever considered including a studio audience laugh track.
The color photography is one of the few stylistic upgrades from the original, but even the set is crowded with cheap props lighted in artificial neon, making it feel like an especially elaborate Spirit Halloween display, adding to the wonderful artificiality of the whole thing.
As usual, Zombie’s cast gives their all to the material, which helps. Sheri Moon Zombie is adorable as the doe-eyed Lily, and Daniel Roebuck, as the grouchy Count, is a hoot when he plays it straight. While Richard Brake’s performance as the Vincent Price-inspired mad scientist is noteworthy, Jeff Daniel Phillips’ Herman Munster steals the show with his squeaky juvenile inflection of the lines and his oafishly blockheaded physicality.
This endearing quality is what helps The Munsters survive Rob Zombie’s worst intentions. It’s a movie full of half-baked ideas that never come together to form anything worthwhile. However, when taken as a mock television pilot, the performers, sketches, sight gags, and puns all come together to create the kind of engaging experience that would have attracted weekly audiences back in the simpler days of broadcast television.
From Transylvania to Hollywood, the first family of fright is back! From writer/director @RobZombie comes #TheMunsters. Yours to own on Digital, Blu-ray & DVD 9/27 https://t.co/zolI3WZI4e pic.twitter.com/aovBxKJrMh
— The Munsters Movie (@TheMunsters) July 20, 2022
While it’s doubtful that Zombie will ever get to expand upon the concepts introduced here, this episode serves as both a precursor to the show’s 1964 premiere and a deserving sequel to the show he loves so much.
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