I am a huge fan of The Munsters, and count the 60’s sitcom as one of the formative influences on my macabre-loving career. I also enjoy Rob Zombie’s music (and many of his movies), so when word dropped that he would be adapting the series as a feature film, I was definitely intrigued. But also concerned: that Zombie’s graphic and grungy grindhouse aesthetic would make for a bad mix with the innocent silliness of the original series. So I ‘ve been nervously anticipating the release of the film (now streaming on Netflix) for months. My thoughts after finally screening it here on the eve of the October holiday season:
The Look: Initially, I worried that it would feel jarringly weird to watch The Munsters in color after decades of viewing the series in black-and-white syndication. But I found myself wowed by Zombie’s visuals; the colors he splashes across the screen are eye-poppingly vibrant. The scenes set in Transylvania present a mesmerizing blend of oldtime Universal-Horror vibe and modern neon glitz. And the scattering of Easter eggs evoking classic horror films (e.g. Nosferatu) provide an unexpected treat.
The Main Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie will never be mistaken for Meryl Streep, but she’s eerily endearing here in her turn as Lily Munster. Daniel Roebuck gives a spot-on portrayal of the Count role popularized by Al Lewis; it’s Roebuck’s performance that evokes the original sitcom most closely. My biggest issue is with Jeff Daniel Phillips’ Herman. The look of the character is fine (although at times his facial expressions of dismay make him seem painfully constipated), but he fails to capture the goofy charm of Fred Gwynne (a comedic genius whose embodiment of Herman might be one of the most underrated performances in TV history).
The Plot: Much of the film is centered on the Frankensteinian creation of Herman, and his courtship of/marriage to Lily. The problem, though, is that there’s not a lot of recognizable conflict driving the action (perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, as Zombie has never been a tight plotter as a screenwriter). There are too many superfluous characters and extraneous scenes that lead nowhere and make the film’s nearly two-hour runtime seem sluggishly paced. Also, the Munster clan’s coming to America doesn’t occur to the very end of the film, and as a result their iconic Gothic mansion barely appears (the scene of street celebration of Halloween on Mockingbird Lane is terrific, though, making me wonder if the film should have focused more exclusively on the holiday). The film’s ending, involving a sudden turn of fortune for the Munsters, is abrupt and unsatisfying. The Munsters, with its problematic plotting, seems to just stop rather than properly conclude.
The Humor: Granted, audience sensibilities have evolved since the 60’s, and the same old wig-flipping gags would feel outdated today. Still, the film’s humor (which includes a couple of questionable forays into the risque) reflects poorly on the original series. There are some chuckle-worthy moments, for certain, but never an elicitation of riotous laughter. The comedy is mostly strained, and occasionally downright lame (the ostensible jokes involving Jorge Garcia’s Floop character are painful to behold).
The Verdict: Munster purists won’t be pleased, but Zombie does deserve credit for attempting to put his own stamp on the adaptation, rather than just offering a by-the-numbers retread. His own adoration of The Munsters cannot be questioned. That being said, this vehicle (speaking of which, Zombie’s failure to feature the Dragula is surprising) proves passably entertaining at best. Unlike the classic sitcom, the film is not one that viewers will rush to re-watch over and over for years to come.