When the news first broke that Rob Zombie was directing an updated version of The Munsters for Netflix the mob was already reaching for their pitchforks. Was Zombie, known for his ultra-violent films, going to turn the beloved family sitcom into a gore-fest? While Rob Zombie has created some modern classics like The Devil’s Rejects, his other projects haven’t fared so well with fans and critics. The teaser trailer only stirred the cauldron more and tensions boiled over on the internet with geeks sharpening the stakes to plunge into the heart of Zombie for “ruining their childhood.” Well, The Munsters dropped, and I finally got to see it for myself. As for my opinion, as a gravedigger would say “I dig it.”
Zombie has crafted a rather cute revival of the characters that while updated for modern sensibilities still retains the wholesome and innocent charm of the original. It’s obvious that Zombie was strongly influenced by The Munsters growing up. His revival is packed with easter eggs to the original show as well as homages to classic Universal Horror.
The Munsters is a prequel. Lily Munster (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her father the Count (Daniel Roebuck) are living in a castle in Transylvania. The Count tries to set his daughter up with rich monsters in the hope she marries up. Lily on the other hand is looking for true love. Enter Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) who is the result of an experiment gone wrong when the hunchback Floop (Jorge Garcia) mixes up the brain of a noted intellectual with that of a hack comedian. From their first meeting, the Count does not approve of Herman. Further complications in the family dynamic are introduced when the Count’s ex-wife the gypsy Zoya (Catherine Schell) plots to steal the Count’s castle from under him by recruiting his ne’er-do-well son the werewolf Lester (Tomas Boykin) to scheme Herman to handover the property rights. All this is just to explain why The Munsters leave Transylvania for sunny California.
The Munsters is a series of sketches with a loose plot holding them together, but it is so visually stunning and fast-moving it is an enjoyable watch, especially for horror fanatics. While people criticized the cheap look of the trailer, the film is gorgeous to look at. The kooky décor that fills Transylvania makes it seem like a destination any creepy monster kid-at-heart would want to visit.
Purists criticized Zombie for filming the movie in color, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Munsters were out of the confines of black and white. The 1966 film Munsters Go Home! featured the original cast in full color. The color is rich and oversaturated giving the film a comic book type of atmosphere. The set pieces are amazing with the laboratory where Herman was created being a real standout. The world that the Munsters inhabit seems fantastic and filled with wondrous creatures.
Sight gags are aplenty in The Munsters. Jokes range from G-rated to mildly adult but are always silly. Memorable moments include Herman fronting a punk band, Lily on a blind date with Count Orlok from Nosferatu, and the Halloween rave scene.
The cast does a fine job making you accept the spooky shenanigans in the movie. Jeff Daniel Phillips makes a charming likable Herman Munster. Sheri Moon Zombie gives her version of Lily with a combination of classic staccato diction and old Hollywood grace. Neither she nor Philips tries to imitate Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo, but instead, does more of a homage with slight references to the original actor’s portrayal. Daniel Roebuck is a real standout as the Count giving the character a Yiddish accent in honor of original Grandpa, Al Lewis. Roebuck himself is a horror fanatic who owns a massive collection of monster memorable and has a side hustle as a local horror show host, Dr. Shocker. The fact that the main cast is having fun and are fans of the original series shows in the finished product.
Other notable performances include the funny Sylvester McCoy as the Count’s servant Igor who is given some rather witty lines. Richard Brake deliberately hams it up as the mad scientist Dr. Wolfgang who created Herman Munster. Jorge Garcia steals scenes as the hunchback who graduates from Dr. Wolfgang’s assistant to Herman’s manager. Lookout for a cameo by Cassandra Peterson in a rare non-Elvira role.
The Munsters does suffer from a common fault of Zombie’s. Repeating the same mistake he made in House of a 1,000 Corpses and Halloween II, he put too many ideas in one film. The Munsters have so many characters and plotlines that the 110-minute runtime does not give them all justice. The film’s main villain doesn’t have scenes in which she directly interacts with the main cast. No time is given to allow characters to grow in the film. The Count goes from despising Herman to loving him out of nowhere and the black sheep of the family Lester, has a change of heart for seemingly no reason. What saves the film is that all this goes by so fast that viewers aren’t given much time to dwell on these faults when distracted by such interesting visuals and gags.
The Munsters are not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a cute Halloween-themed special. If you’re looking for the type of gory horror film that Zombie was previously known for you will be disappointed. Likewise, if you are a diehard who thinks it is sacrilege to film The Munsters in color with a new cast, then you will most definitely not like the Netflix version. The Munsters is the ideal film for goth girls who wear cute socks underneath their combat boots and have Nightmare Before Christmas tattoos, and horror-loving parents looking to expose their children to age-appropriate monster entertainment.