Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Munsters: Revived by Rob Zombie

This beloved TV family was more apple pie-American than the Waltons, the Cleavers, or the Simpsons, but they originally hailed from Transylvania. Sure, some most fans might be somewhat fonder of the Adamses or the Collinses of Collinsport, but we all have a soft spot for Herman Munster and family. That’s why everyone had the same thought when Rob Zombie’s remake was announced: “he better not screw it up.” At least he gets the tone right in The Munsters, which releases today on DVD and Netflix.

Lily is a ghoul (with the moistest) living with her father the Count, who wants her to settle down with a wealthy Nosferatu. Instead, she falls for Herman Munster, the days-old creation of Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang. He was stitched together soon after the death of two brothers. One was a brilliant quantum physicist. The other was a moronic nightclub comic. Guess which one’s brain Wolfgang’s assistant Floop was supposed to steal and which he plundered instead.

The Count thinks Herman is an idiot, but it is love at first sight for Lily. Unfortunately, the Count is not wrong about Munster, which makes him easy prey for Lily’s scammer brother Lester, a compulsive gambling werewolf deeply indebted to fortune-teller-real estate developer Zoya Krupp (yes, we still love Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva in
The Wolf Man, but the Roma stereotypes are getting a bit outdated).

Unlike every other film Rob Zombie ever made,
The Munsters is sweet and gentle. You won’t hear anyone leveling charges of toxic fandom to defend the film, because it respects what made the original so enduring—a loving nuclear family, who just happen to look like vintage Universal monsters. To that end, there are a number of warmly pleasing sequences, like Herman and Lily’s duet on “I’ve Got You Babe” and Herman’s introduction to Lily’s uncle, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The problem with Zombie’s script is that it is a totally unnecessary origin story. We completely get who the Munsters are. There is no need wasting time explaining. Just cut to the riffing on classic monster tropes. Frankly, there is not a lot of genuine conflict to drive the narrative, such as it is. We do not even get to meet Eddie or Marilyn Munster yet, but the original cast-members Butch Patrick and Pat Priest who portrayed them have voice-over cameos (as Tin Can Man and an airline announcer) that viewers should be forewarned of, because otherwise they aren’t likely to register.

By far, Sheri Moon Zombie is the cast-member most in the proper Munster-spirit playing Lily, which is a pleasant surprise. Jeff Daniel Phillips is sufficiently big and dopey as Herman, but he is maybe a little too shticky. Daniel Roebuck just doesn’t look right as the Count, but Sylvester McCoy hits the right level of goofiness as his manservant Igor.

For the most part, the look of
The Munsters is as colorfully baroque as Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, but Zombie shrewdly includes some cool black-and-white animated and “retro” segments to appeal to original fans. He did not totally screw-up The Munsters, but, ironically, he may have over-compensated, not giving them us a villain worthy of being their antagonist. Recommended mostly as background Halloween streaming, The Munsters hits Netflix and DVD today (9/27).