Resuscitating classic films and television shows and infusing them with a modern twist can be a tricky task. There have to be enough reverence and callbacks to the original, but enough new material to make it fresh and accessible to general audiences. Some reboots soar, while others fail to succeed in recapturing what made their source material work so well in the first place. Rob Zombie’s take on The Munsters is a strange mix of the two.
The original series only ran for two seasons from 1964 to 1966 (thanks to competing for ratings with Batman) but The Munsters has withstood the test of time thanks to its cast of quirky, memorable characters and smart satire of the American sitcom. This time around, the new film jumps into the past to tell a prequel tale that follows Transylvanian vampire, The Count (Daniel Roebuck), and his daughter, Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), years before they moved into their signature house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. While The Count contends with his son’s latest schemes, Lily is disillusioned with the many creatures she’s been dating. That is, until she meets Herman Munster, a Frankenstein-esque creature assembled from body parts stolen by a mad scientist (Richard Brake). But despite Herman’s hacky jokes and dim-wittedness, he has an endearing quality that Lily finds charming.
Lily and Herman’s love story has some touching and humorous moments—not to mention showing how the Munsters’ spooky appearances deeply contrasts their big hearts and inner warmth—but it doesn’t feel like the early days of their relationship warrants the film’s 110-minute run time. I applaud Zombie for wanting to do something different in diving deeper into Herman and Lily’s union, but it feels like the film starts in the wrong place, only hitting its stride when the Munsters purchase their decrepit abode on Mockingbird Lane. After all, the most interesting element of the original series was how their Gothic appearance and macabre tastes directly contrasts with those of 1960s suburban America around them. That element is missing here, along with the show’s sitcom feel and well-crafted jokes, making the material light on laughs.
It’s also worth noting that the update is filmed in eye-popping color instead of black and white. While maintaining the original series’ aesthetic would’ve added a welcome dose of nostalgia to the film, it turns out that the most successful elements in Zombie’s prequel are the visuals. Between his use of lighting, color, and sumptuous production and set design, Zombie creates a visually appealing world that’s a pleasure to reside in for the picture’s duration—even when the story is not as strong. There’s no doubt Zombie has a great visual eye, but he’s less successful in terms of writing a well-paced screenplay. The story is a bit meandering and, aside from Lily and Herman’s romance, I’d be hard-pressed to explain the flick’s plot. It’s filled with subplots, tangents, and side-characters that don’t do much to add to the story’s progression or cohesion.
Nevertheless, the performances are mostly solid, with Jorge Garcia as Igor-like assistant Floop and Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman Munster being particular standouts. However, a bit of overacting from Sheri Moon Zombie prevents her version of Lily from reaching the heights of Yvonne De Carlo’s classic portrayal. It’s also a shame that Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, is wasted in a brief role as the Munsters’ real estate agent.
The Munsters definitely isn’t Zombie’s worst film, but it’s not his best either (I’d argue that title belongs to The Devil’s Rejects). However, it’s an interesting exercise in self-restraint in terms of violence and gore, while paying extra attention to visual flair. It’s clear that The Munsters holds a special place in Zombie’s heart, and his reverence for the original series and the family themselves manages to shine through, but the film’s meandering story and lack of tight pacing makes it more of a well-intentioned tribute rather than a satisfying follow-up.
In addition to a feature commentary with Rob Zombie, the Blu-ray release of The Munsters also features an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary entitled “The Munsters: Return to Mockingbird Lane.” The meaty presentation includes cast interviews and footage detailing the film’s characters, make-up, set design, and production. It’s a fun glimpse into how Zombie brought the Munsters’ world to life, and will most likely satisfy those craving a peek behind the curtain of his creative process.
The Munsters is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming on Netflix.