*. In my notes on Halloween II I quoted from film critic Kim Newman who said “Rob Zombie plainly loves horror films . . . but proves frustratingly unable to apply his talents to making them. . . . His Halloween is less a remake than fan fiction.”
*. I thought Newman’s observation was spot on, as Zombie’s fandom is plainly evident in films such as his Halloween movies and House of 1000 Corpses, even though these aren’t good movies (to put it charitably). As The Munsters reveals, he’s also a fan of ’60s sitcoms, but he can’t do comedy either.
*. It would be easy to dump on The Munsters because it isn’t very good, received poor reviews, and the pandemic killed any chance it had at box office. Or I could damn it with the faintest praise by saying it may be Rob Zombie’s best movie to date. But I think I’ll just say that it’s not all bad.
*. While Zombie was a fan of The Munsters, he says he didn’t want to just make a two-hour version of the TV show. What I took this as meaning is that he wanted to go with a more developed story that would take longer to fill out. But that’s not what this is. Instead, The Munsters splits up pretty neatly into an even more segmented version of the traditional three-act structure: the making of Herman Munster, Herman meets Lily, and the Munsters go to L.A.
*. None of these parts have much to do with each other, and characters who are introduced in one subplot don’t appear in the others. The mad scientist who gives Herman life takes up a large part of the first section but then disappears. The gypsy Zoya who tricks Herman into giving up the family mansion in Transylvania vanishes completely as soon as her function in the plot is served. The baby dragon Spot that’s rescued from the sewers of Paris becomes a bed-warmer for Lily, but all we see of him again is his tail sticking out from under the sheets. Lily’s werewolf brother Lester also just pops up whenever he’s needed to move things along.
*. So the script is shaky to say the least. There’s no real sense of what’s supposed to be important. As for the comedy, the feeling I had was that Zombie was going more for groans than laughs. Like the signs that say “If this tomb’s rocking don’t come knocking” or “Tomb Sweet Tomb.” Or the way just saying the word “Uranus” is supposed to be funny. I can’t say any of this was a misfire though as Zombie gives Herman the brain of a hack stand-up comedian and it fits with what I remember of the show, which is that it wasn’t terribly funny either.
*. It’s hard to say much about the performances as most of the actors are covered in prosthetics and Zombie, who was aiming for “real-life cartoons come to life” was always urging them to “go bigger, go bigger.” Which is to say, play as broadly as possible. So Sheri Moon Zombie throws her hands around like she just ate something hot. Jeff Daniel Phillips doesn’t sound a bit like Fred Gwynne, but he does work his mouth about in a familiar way and manages the mannerisms pretty well. Daniel Roebuck is the Count (not Grandpa yet) and his make-up is very good.
*. The look of the film is striking and is the best thing about it. I don’t see where it has anything to do with the original series though, instead looking more like a neon version of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Or I could say it looks like Zombie’s other movies, which is a look that I don’t think goes with horror at all, but which suits a modern take on The Munsters.
*. Whatever else you want to say about Zombie’s films, he does bring the energy and he’s not afraid to “go bigger” anyway he can. Normally it doesn’t work, but it’s fine here and at least keeps you watching. There’s also some nice use of a couple of Budapest locations and the night sky has some inspired flourishes tossed in, like an oversize moon and some shooting stars.
*. Zombie also has a good commentary on the DVD. Not every director handles that well so I’ll give credit where due. I was impressed by some of the things I learned. Like the fact that they actually built all the houses of Mockingbird Heights, including the Munster mansion, and even paved the streets and sidewalks. That seemed terribly wasteful to me, but apparently there were no streets in Hungary that looked like suburban America. This always makes me wonder just how cheap it must be to make movies in Eastern Europe if you have to build sets to this extent they did just to make it look like Everytown, U.S.A. The answer seems to be plenty cheap.
*. The whole thing staggers along, groaning all the way, until it ends so suddenly that I was actually surprised when the retro credits started to run. Well, at least it didn’t drag. And at an hour and fifty minutes that’s another thing you have to give Zombie some credit for.
*. I watched The Munsters a bit when I was a kid, but I was never a big fan. I was one of those people who was always mixing it up with its broadcast rival, The Addams Family. So I can’t say I was upset at anything being done to my childhood memories. As it is, The Munsters plays like a respectful if off-beat origin story for what was a meh show from an era long before anyone in the target audience for this film was born. Put another way, I don’t think they had a lot to work with in the first place but at least Zombie made a movie that looks neat and isn’t (deadly) dull.