PLOT: The classic sitcom The Munsters is revived with a feature film origin story written and directed by Rob Zombie. We find out how Herman and Lily met and fell in love, and why the Munsters moved from Transylvania to Mockingbird Lane.
REVIEW: After getting his career off to a successful start with House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel The Devil’s Rejects, writer/director Rob Zombie had the chance to show he could do something different with the remake of Halloween… but he proceeded to pigeonhole himself by making Halloween just as trashy and vulgar as his first two movies. Since then, he has struggled to get other types of movies into production – he wanted to make a hockey movie, he wanted to make a Groucho Marx biopic – and had to resort to making more of the same with the likes of 31 and 3 from Hell. Now, Universal has given Zombie another chance to do something different, and he has taken it, delivering a colorful, PG-rated feature film revival of the classic sitcom The Munsters. Problem is, his version of The Munsters isn’t very good.
Zombie obviously has a love for the source material. He has said that he has watched every episode of the original version of The Munsters at least seventeen times, and his respect for the characters comes through in the movie. He wanted to make something that felt in line with the tone of the ‘60s sitcom, and accomplished that for the most part. Zombie’s The Munsters has a family friendly tone, and he did a commendable job of keeping the dialogue clean. His humorous dialogue just isn’t effectively amusing most of the time. And while the movie is safe for kids to watch, I can’t imagine kids not being bored out of their minds trying to sit through the movie’s 110 minute running time. There’s nothing here to keep children or adults entertained for the entirety of the movie. As it goes on, it really starts to drag. It has often been said that Zombie could use some help in the script department, and the script for this movie could have greatly benefited from a polish by a more experienced comedy writer.
The Munsters clearly had a small budget to work with, but Zombie certainly didn’t allow that to limit the scope of his story. When tasked with making a Munsters movie, most filmmakers probably would have chosen to set the film primarily in and around the family’s home on Mockingbird Lane. Which would have been a more budget-friendly choice. Zombie’s story doesn’t get to Mockingbird Lane until the end. Much like he did with the first Halloween, he has chosen to make The Munsters an origin story, giving us a look into the lives of The Count (Daniel Roebuck) and his daughter Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) when they were still living in a castle in Transylvania. Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips) doesn’t even exist when the story begins. Mad scientist Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his dimwitted assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) gather the body parts needed to assemble Herman throughout the early scenes… and of course Floop acquires the wrong brain. One from a talentless comedian. Herman is up and moving around just in time for the 30 minute mark, and when Lily gets a look at him it’s love at first sight. The majority of the film then tells the story of how Herman and Lily got together. That story takes us all around Transylvania, to a honeymoon in Paris (and in the sewers beneath Paris), and finally to Mockingbird Lane. If you’ve been impressed by the images Zombie shared of the Mockingbird Lane they created on a patch of land in Budapest and the replica of the Munsters mansion they built there, you’ll be shocked at how little time is actually spent there in the movie. The creation of Mockingbird Lane was quite extravagant for a project that didn’t have much money to throw around.
There are some cool sets to look at in Transylvania – the production designer, art director, set decorator, and costume designers all did excellent work on this movie. The makeup effects crew also did nice work bringing the Munsters and the other creatures they cross paths with to the screen. Zombie and cinematographer Zoran Popovic captured some good visuals. The movie has a really fun, bright and colorful look to it. On a technical level, The Munsters is really well done.
The cast also did a good job of playing these iconic characters, with Roebuck coming off the best with his performance as The Count. There are a lot of complaints any time Zombie gives his wife a lead role in a movie, as he does pretty much every time he makes something, but she’s a fine Lily. It’s Phillips’ performance as Herman that is the furthest from what most viewers will be expecting from their character. Fred Gwynne this isn’t, but he does well with the material he was given to work with. Roebuck, Zombie, and Phillips all have dual roles in the movie, with their second roles being TV personalities. Phillips plays the famous Zombo, and Zombie’s dorky reporter Donna Doomley was one of my favorite parts of the movie. There’s a solid supporting cast, with Sylvester McCoy, Tomas Boykin, Catherine Schell, and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira) making notable appearances as The Count’s butler Igor, The Count’s werewolf son / Lily’s brother Lester, The Count’s vindictive ex Zoya Krupp, and realtor Barbara Carr, respectively. Buried beneath makeup, Brake also plays the Nosferatu vampire Orlock, who has a bad date with Lily. Sitcom stars Butch Patrick and Pat Priest were given voice cameos.
While Zombie’s The Munsters could be seen as a prequel to the sitcom, there are continuity issues that make it difficult to connect the two. It’s better to just take this movie as a reboot of the property that’s filled with nods to characters and moments from the sitcom. By the end, the characters are in a situation that could lead into a sequel that is more along the lines of the sitcom – if this is a success.
It’s doubtful anyone will be clamoring for a sequel, though. The movie is let down by its pacing and the dialogue that isn’t funny enough. Butch Patrick once said that it was going to be over two and a half hours long. It’s a good thing it was whittled down from the cut he was familiar with, because even in this shorter form The Munsters is going to be something that a lot of viewers will be enduring rather than enjoying.
Rob Zombie’s The Munsters is receiving a digital, Blu-ray, and DVD release on September 27th, courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The movie will also be available to watch on the Netflix streaming service that same day.