You already know whether or not you’re going to watch Rob Zombie’s new take on The Munsters. If his schtick is for you then you figured that out quite some time ago. His work on House of 1000 Corpses was praised by many, but his Halloween reboot movies were divisive, and Lords of Salem felt made to be a cult movie. He’s got a desire to show off some of the rougher aspects of poor, white Americans in a way that can feel pornographic at times. Perhaps the most endearing thing he does is constantly showcase his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, and always attempt to cast her in a light of adoration (be the character good or evil). The Devil’s Rejects director released “Dragula” in 1998, a song whose title references the license plate on Grandpa Munster’s car and whose music video contains visual references to the series.
While he’s made a mess of a prequel film it has a lot going for it. I don’t necessarily think the attempt to colorize it works, but it does resemble colorized network versions of black and white films and series in its lewdly technicolor presentation. His casting is fairly on-point as well, with Jeff Daniel Phillips stepping into the humongous platform shoes of Herman Munster and Daniel Roebuck donning Grandpa’s cape. Hell, the rock star has also gotten legendary British Doctor Who actor Sylvester McCoy to appear as Grandpa’s subordinate, Igor. It’s oddly Sheri Moon Zombie as Lily that steals the show, perfectly mimicking the mannerisms of Yvonne de Carlo from the 60s television series. Zombie has always been what is known as a “wife guy,” placing his beloved in the spotlight and letting her go buck wild (see James Wan for adapting Malignant from an idea his wife had and Paul W.S. Anderson helming an entire franchise around his wife, Milla Jovovich). She’s such a blast in Zombie’s prequel, flitting from scene to scene making googly eyes at her new hubby while shrugging off his flaws with a roll of her eyes. It’s a very cute performance, and it’s part of a film that’s unlike anything Zombie has ever made.
For one thing, the film is PG and it sticks to its lane. Zombie’s usual oeuvre is to create grimy individuals that live in squalor on specifically designed sets showcasing a bleak portrait of the American experience. Now he’s set his sights on another parody of the American family, one that was used to spotlight cliches and shine a light on prejudice while also being family-friendly. Zombie has gotten the latter bit right but hasn’t been able to recreate the satire. Settling for cut and paste instead of following in the series’s footsteps is an interesting choice, but one that I think doesn’t wholly work. There’s humor in his sincerity, but everything lacks the scathing gaze.
The Munsters may lack any bite, but it certainly doesn’t mean the film needs to be dismissed. It is going to come under the same scrutiny as a lot of TV-to-film adaptations in that it feels like a few episodes stitched together to make a narrative. I’m fine with this, as it’s more fun than one might expect from this fare. While nothing special (and certainly not something I’ll ever need to watch a second time), the movie’s fun. It’s goofy and feels like an imitation of humor it doesn’t fully understand. Plenty of jokes don’t land, but the sincerity with which they’re told is sweet enough to give them a chuckle. Nothing is ever gut-bustingly funny (except a very awkward date between Lily and Nosferatu, which is hilarious) but it’s a fun time. The fact that it will be released on Netflix, where it can be watched at home with breaks and at your own pace, honestly helps the movie.
This isn’t a good one, but it’s serviceable and there’s enough here to find appeal with fans of the original series. I had enough fun with it to say there’s a niche crowd that will like this. It won’t be fans of Zombie’s other work, as it’s too sweet and lacking in any of his usual sensibilities, and it won’t be for a good amount of viewers. Still, anyone with fondness for the show has plenty to latch onto and will have a decent enough time.
The Munsters will stream on Netflix starting September 27th.