A review of The Munsters by Rob Zombie

(from left) Daniel Roebuck, Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips in Rob Zombie's The Munsters.

(from left) Daniel Roebuck, Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips in Rob Zombie’s The Munsters.
photo: Universal Pictures home entertainment

The Munsters perhaps one of the strangest cinematic passion projects of recent years. Writer-director Rob Zombie has shed his usual violent edgelord tendencies and crafted a film that’s only revealed by how family-friendly it is – a departure that’s sure to wow fans. While this newfound tone doesn’t detract from the film’s quality, it also doesn’t exactly excuse Zombie’s common storyteller flaws, namely in terms of narrative coherence. But as a love letter to the sitcom that inspired Zombie as a kid, The Munsters might be the most authentic TV revival ever filmed, warts and all.

Strong plots aren’t one of Zombie’s fortes as a writer, so that’s not entirely surprising The Munsters feels less like a story than a collection of sketches. The film, rumored to function as a pre-Eddie Munster origin story for the original television show or a full revival that will likely never come to fruition, spends most of its run in Transylvania as the family freezes.

Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is attacked by the set-eating Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his stooped assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) come to life in a subplot reminiscent of The young Frankenstein, pursuit of stardom as a combination stand-up comedian and rock star. Vampire Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) enters the dating world, though her search for a husband yields some disappointing results. Her father, The Count (Daniel Roebuck), works with his confidante Igor (a very playful Sylvester McCoy) to urge his daughter toward a wealthy husband, a wish thwarted when Herman finally enters her life. Meanwhile, the Count’s ex-wife, Zoya (Catherine Schell), plans to steal his family’s mansion with the help of his debt-ridden werewolf son, Lester (Tomas Boykin).

These conflicts don’t resolve so much narratively, but quietly disappear once they become uncomfortable, with the priority being to establish the status quo of the TV series’ homegrown Mockingbird Lane rather than providing these characters with fulfilling arcs or the film anything to give that resembles a consistent line. The next The Munsters comes is the romance between Herman and Lily, but despite the Count’s initial (and eventually dropped) protestations, there’s no major impediment to consummating their relationship, and the mansion-stealing subplot is just a means to the family’s relocation to California . In fact, the film doesn’t stop pelting the Munsters with new half-conflicts until just before the credits roll, a deus ex machina arrives to offer a totally expedient ending.

But despite all that clutter, the sheer amount of charm Zombie and his crew have brought to this little film feels palpable. As a vehicle for a 1960s sitcom-comedy recreation, it’s a gold mine, as Zombie’s writing is shockingly funny in exactly the gritty, serious way you’d expect from a real episode The Munsters. Very few concessions were made to update the material for the modern age, as the soundtrack accompanies pun lines and goofy macabre gags with slide whistles and cartoon sound effects – so much so that one wonders if Zombie would ever be considered a laugh track for studio audiences became. Even the set, which was included in color as one of the few stylistic updates to the source material, is populated with cheap props lit in faux neon like a particularly intricate ghost Halloween ad, which only adds to the charming artificiality of the whole affair.

The Munsters Trailer #1 (2022)

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Zombie’s usual cast of actors give this material their best. Sheri Moon Zombie is an appropriately infatuated Lily, while Daniel Roebuck’s morose count is a hilarious straight man when not engaging in vaudevillian escapades. Richard Brake deserves special mention as the Vincent Price-inspired mad scientist, but the absolute showstealer is Jeff Daniel Phillips’ Herman Munster, with a squeaky, youthful tone in his line reading, playing gangbusters with his goofy, dopey physicality.

It’s that charm that ultimately saves The Munsters of Rob Zombie’s worst impulses. As a film, it’s nothing but loose ends, a lukewarm stew of concepts that haven’t been stirred enough to combine in the witch’s cauldron. But as a fake television pilot, the actors, the sketches, the gags, and the puns endearingly intervene in exactly the kind of experience that would have drawn weekly audiences in a more innocent era of broadcast television. Zombie’s passion is evident, and while it seems unlikely he’ll ever pursue the ideas laid out here, it canonically fits right into the space immediately prior to the show’s actual premiere in 1964, making it both a prequel and a worthy one Sequel makes to the show he loves so much.

https://www.avclub.com/munsters-review-rob-zombie-sheri-moon-daniel-roebuck-1849578698 A review of The Munsters by Rob Zombie

Andrew Schnitker

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