SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains crucial plot details about the Munsters movie. If you would prefer to experience Rob Zombie’s new vision of these iconic characters with fresh eyes if you have not already, proceed with caution.
I will never forget the moment when I first discovered that the rumors were true and Rob Zombie — the rock star behind such disturbing thrillers as House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and a brutal reimagining of John Carpenter’s Halloween — was developing a movie about The Munsters. I found the idea of a reboot of this spooky, 1960s sitcom classic from a filmmaker like him to be a rather intriguing and fun idea and was sure to set aside time to watch it as soon as it was made available to stream on Netflix in late September, which is just what I did. My viewing of the new movie invoked a colorful assortment of reactions that I now present to you below, starting with one of my more favorable takes on the matter.
They Got The Cast Right
No one could ever replace Fred Gwynne as Herman, Yvonne DeCarlo as Lily, Al Lewis as Grandpa, and the rest of the original sitcom’s ensemble, but The Munsters cast was selected very wisely as far as I am concerned. For instance, Daniel Roebuck does a perfect job with his inspired new take on Grandpa (referred to here as “The Count”) and Jeff Daniel Phillips works quite well with the goofy material he is given to play Herman. However, surprising me the most was Sheri Moon Zombie, who has often been criticized for her lack of acting experience outside of her husband’s work, but seems really dedicated to put on a worthy portrayal of Lily.
Richard Brake Is Clearly Having A Blast
My choice for the real MVP of the cast, though, is Richard Brake, who is already one of Hollywood’s top Scream Kings these days for his work in previous Zombie movies like 31, and his twisted role in the Barbarian cast, more recently.
Like most of his co-stars, he plays two roles: Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang — the mad scientist who creates Herman and is dissatisfied with the results — and Count Orlok — the vampiric antagonist of 1922’s Nosferatu. He chews the scenery wonderfully in both roles, but just his appearance under the Orlok makeup alone genuinely has me convinced Robert Eggers should call him if his remake of the classic silent horror picture is still in the works.
Ah, So This Is An Origin Story
It was actually by the time that Orlok showed up for his blind date with Lily — which The Count helped set up — that I realized this was not a remake of The Munsters, but a prequel set before the events of the original sitcom.
We get to see how Herman was put together with the brain of a failed stand-up comedian, how Lily fell in love with him after seeing his act on TV, how the family found and took in their pet monster, Spot, and how the Transylvania natives found themselves in a Los Angeles suburb. We do not, however, get to see Herman and Lliy’s lycanthropic son, Eddie, or their virtually normal niece, Marilyn, but their original actors — Butch Patrick and Pat Priest — do make vocal cameos, at least.
Visually, This Is Pretty Spot On
Despite not being a direct continuation of the original series, the director does an excellent job recreating its world and making the movie, on a technical level, a pitch perfect representation of the show if it was filmed in color. Also like the sitcom, The Munsters serves as a love-letter to primitive horror cinema with certain visual cues, like Dutch angles and sudden, vertigo-inducing changes to an actor’s background. In fact, some of the references are even more overt, like when Herman and Lily cross paths with her uncle, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and watch a marathon of some of his greatest moments on film.
Comedy Is Not Rob Zombie’s Strong Suit
I expected this movie to be a visual feast, believing Zombie to a master of the horror aesthetic, but was unsure what to expect from it as a comedy, believing that the filmmaker’s sense of humor might be a little too morbid and, quite frankly, off-puttingly crass for the source material.
Well, luckily, he does away with that sort of tone completely, but substitutes with nothing but gags you might find on a Laffy Taffy wrapper. Perhaps corny humor was a staple of the original series, but those jokes were at least fresh at the time and I actually wish he would have hired a co-writer who was better versed in comedy to help him come up with some new material instead of relying purely on recycled jokes.
This Script Is A Bit Too Convenient And Derivative
Come to think of it, much of the plot here feels overly recycled, which I understand may sound like a moot point, given the fact that this is a reboot. However, for instance, when Dr. Wolfgang’s assistant, Floop (Jorge Garcia), accidentally steals the wrong brain to create Herman with, it reminded me of when Marty Feldman’s Igor does nearly the exact same thing in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
Additionally, I thought Herman and Lily’s meet-cute could have been more interesting than her finding his dressing room to invite him to dinner after first spotting him on TV, and I felt The Count changed his mind on his feelings about his dopey son-in-law just a little too quickly. Maybe I am being too harsh, but I do like when all of a script’s elements can steer clear of anything too familiar and come together naturally.
Am I The Only One Who Wanted To See An Actually Scary Take On The Munsters?
Speaking of being too harsh, I think one of the most unnecessarily harsh ways that one can criticize a film is to judge it based on what it is NOT instead of what it is, which is why I do respect Zombie’s decision to stay true to the source material for the movie.
Yet, I will admit that, when I heard he was helming the reboot, I was excited by the idea of actually making The Munsters much more genuinely creepy, which is where the filmmaker’s true talents lie. However, I suppose some fans might have been disappointed in anything too different from the original and, not to mention, an edgier reboot was already attempted once in 2012 with co-creator Bryan Fuller’s Mockingbird Lane.
Overall, I Much Prefer The Original
At the end of the day, I do think The Munsters is, at least, successful in introducing the world of the show and all of its essential, visual details to a new audience, and employing a cast who do the original characters justice. I just wish that the story did not feel so cheaply crafted, the dialogue was not so undercooked, the humor was not so childish and overdone, and the runtime was a little shorter than 109 minutes.
As someone who has a special place in his heart for the old series — having proposed to my now wife when we were dressed as Herman and Lily one Halloween — and as an admirer of Rob Zombie in some respects, I was really hoping to have a better time with this than I did.
I will say, though, that seeing Cassandra Peterson show up as the Munsters’ realtor was pretty cool, even if she was not dressed as Elvira. You can watch The Munsters right now on Netflix.
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.