Rob Zombie’s remake of “The Munsters” is the strangest of messes. It is a film directed by a man who claims the original is an important influence, yet the existing product fails to show the reverence one would expect. While offering a few endearing qualities here and there this film simply does not work.
The biggest issues can be found in the awful screenplay. Where Zombie has a good eye for old school 70’s- styled Horror infused with twisted humor, this film (which the director wrote) proves he has no grasp on comedy.
While it was smart to not merely ape the style of the beloved 1960s television show, Zombie seems unsure of the tone he wants to achieve.
Is this to be his love letter to the show that he calls a favorite? Is he mocking it? Is this made for his hip Horror Rock-loving fans or for the kiddies? It is never clear.
The film is an origin story telling the tale of how Lily and Herman met and (in an excruciatingly dumb backstory) how Herman was “made”. As Herman becomes a stand-up comedian/Punk Rock singer, Lily searches for her one true love while a side plot where Herman gets swindled by Lily’s scheming werewolf brother takes up too much of the story.
Once the two iconic characters meet, it is love at first sight. Zombie finds a sweet moment in a montage where Herman and Lily are courting, intercut with the two of them singing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” at karaoke. In a film of many failures, this sequence is a pleasant sign of what could have been.
While obviously working with a lower budget than usual, the look of the film is a mix of good, bad, and ugly.
Juci Szurdi’s Production Designs are great in capturing some of the feel of the Universal horror pictures from the 30s and 40s. There are big scale laboratories filled with tubes and wires and all the classic horror trimmings.
The problem lies in the way the film is lit. Zombie and cinematographer Zoran Popovic bathe the entire production in strange color schemes and a brightness that doesn’t fit the material. The look of the entire film resembles a cheap “tween” show from the 90s era Nickelodeon channel.
The casting was under scrutiny the minute this project was announced, and rightfully so. Zombie would have to be careful when choosing actors to replace the enormous comedic talents of Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, and Al Lewis.
It came as no surprise when it was announced that Sherri Moon Zombie would take the role of Lily Munster. Zombie uses his wife in all his films, mostly to good effect. Does she pull it off? Pretty much. The performance is good, and the actress gets down the mannerisms and speech patterns fans except from Lily Munster, but it might just be more of an imitation. Having said that, Sheri Moon works well enough.
Daniel Roebuck fairs much better as “The Count”. He isn’t called “Grandpa”, as Herman and Lily are not yet parents. The actor has fun with his part and creates something fresh while paying little homages to Lewis’ performance in the original series.
Jeff Daniel Phillips has already been an exciting presence in three great Rob Zombie films (“Lords of Salem”, “31”, and “3 From Hell”). Carving out a nice career as a chameleon-like character actor, Phillips is a delight as Herman Munster, giving the role an animated charm. His performance has all the aloofness and silly mannerisms of Gwynne’s iconic portrayal while bringing an edgier slant. Watching Phillips is quite entertaining.
Cassandra Peterson is a welcome presence, showing up as the realtor who sells the family their famous house while catching the eye of The Count (a plot point that is sadly discarded as quickly as it is introduced).
Perhaps Zombie’s biggest blunder was keeping the characters in Transylvania for most of the film’s running time, waiting until the final 15 or so minutes for The Munsters to arrive at Mockingbird Lane.
This is a shame, as this sequence helps the picture come alive, achieving an infectious bit of fun. What made the television show so iconic, can be felt in these few moments. Alas, it is all for naught. Once Zombie finds his small mojo, the film ends quite abruptly with a stupendously terrible final shot.
The films of Rob Zombie are the definition of divisive. For Horror fans, he exists as a love him or hate him filmmaker. Many embrace his gruesome in-your-face style while an equal amount denounces it.
I commend Zombie for trying something different and toning down his demented vulgarities. While I admire most of his works, his signature macabre style would not have worked here.
The filmmaker’s complete lack of skill regarding comic timing doesn’t work either.
The influence of the classic show can be felt in a good deal of Rob Zombie’s work, especially in the title of his biggest hit song, “Dragula”. With his love and respect of the source material, it is mystifying how much of a misfire this film truly is.
“The Munsters” is sloppily constructed from a tremendously bad script. Fans of Rob Zombie (such as myself) will find it tough protecting the director this time out.
There is just no fun (nor much method) to be found within all the madness.
Written & Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie, Daniel Roebuck, Richard brake, Jorge Garcia, Cassandra Peterson
PG, 109 Minutes, Universal Pictures/ Spookshow International/ Capital Arts Entertainment