Rob Zombie’s The Munsters is a reboot of the 1960s TV show borrowing heavily from the original and dredging it all in a tooth-rotting production design. Rarely if ever has a black-and-white TV show been re-imagined so gaudily. The end product, like Herman Munster himself, is a bag of bits.
That’s maybe intentional. Herman Munster was an ersatz Frankenstein’s monster, the original version having been assembled in the good Baron’s laboratory. In much the same way, in the 1960s The Munsters was assembled from offcuts of Universal’s 1930s and 1940s horror movies – Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man etc. This made financial sense. No character rights to pay for since Universal owned them and it made the TV series too.
Zombie has decided the way to go is an origin story, and this is Herman, Lily and Grandpa’s. Grandpa isn’t yet Grandpa, he’s a vampire in Transylvania concerned that his daughter, Lily, has gone and fallen for a dumb monster who’s recently been put together by the grave-robbing Dr Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his sidekick Floop (Jorge Garcia) and now has somehow become a bit of a showbiz turn, telling bad jokes and fronting a rock band in third rate clubs.
By the film’s end, the threesome, the Count grumbling constantly about his stupid new son-in-law, have relocated to America and are now living in the bland suburban setting familiar from the TV show. “Monsters,” the neighbours shout. “Munsters,” is what the family hear.
For the fans, Zombie drops in pacifiers – there’s Orlock (also played by Richard Brake), the rat-toothed vampire from 1922’s Nosferatu trying to date Lily before Herman and she have met. There’s Butch Patrick, who played wolfboy Eddie in the 1960s show. You can’t see him but he’s the guy in a Tin Man costume marrying Herman and Lily. And the voice doing the Transylvania Airways announcements as the immigrants arrive in America is provided by Pat Priest, who played the strangely “normal” pretty blonde daughter Marilyn in the original show. Real hounds for this sort of thing will add extra points for the casting of Cassandra Peterson, who was Elvira in a string of cult movies in decades past, and Catherine Schell, a 1960s Bond Girl who’d often rock up in movies of the era in a state of semi-undress.
It is well cast and the key players – Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman, Sheri Moon Zombie as Lily and Daniel Roebuck as the Count (and Grandpa-in-waiting) look the part and stay true to the original while adding a belt of extra energy in keeping with the giddy production design.
This is the star of the show. Bright, primary colours, acres of gels draped over so many lights, then a lot of work in post-production to ensure that the colours stay separate – a green wall, a blue roof, red windows. Tell me it was all shot in black and white and the colours were added later on the computer and I’ll believe you. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It works.
It’s lively and enthusiastic, a labour of love made by someone who grew up on the show, or at least on the re-runs (Rob Zombie was born in 1964, the same year the show debuted). Bottom line: as a homage, it’s great, as a standalone product, it’s not. It’s not funny. Whatever Rob Zombie’s talents – when not making or curating films he’s making or curating music – he’s not a comedy writer, and there’s a distinct hole where the laughs should be, though Herman raises the odd smirk when he’s pounding out terrible one-liners like someone on the Borscht Belt.
It could be personal preference, or prejudice. If the 1960s came down to whether you were a Beatles or a Stones person, in TV terms people divied into fans of The Munsters and The Addams Family. Isn’t it just a given that of the two, The Addams Family was funnier and more sophisticated?
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