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‘The Munsters: Collector’s Edition’ (review)

Released by Universal Studios

Produced by Rob Zombie
Based on The Munsters by
Allan Burns and Chris Hayward

Written and Directed by Rob Zombie 
Starring Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie,
Daniel Roebuck, Richard Brake, Sylvester McCoy

 

You’ve likely heard all the rumors about what a nightmarishly bad movie Rob Zombie’s The Munsters turned out to be.

Well, while your mileage—as they say—may vary, I’m here to tell you it’s not a total loss.

The thing about The Munsters is that the original series never really owed its success to its humorous take on the classic Universal monsters. That was clever, but just a novelty, really.

No, the original series was a family sitcom, like scores of others, only it had two magic ingredients no other series had: The first was Fred Gwynne, a tall, gangly actor who brought a natural warmth and humanity to the characterization of Herman Munster that the role didn’t even really call for.

The second ingredient was the ace comic chemistry that Gwynne had with actor Al Lewis, who played Grandpa.

The two had appeared together previously—although not generally teamed up—on Car 54, Where Are You? On The Munsters, they were, in effect, an unincorporated comedy team. A good one.

And both actors have long since died.

That’s what all the various attempts at rebooting The Munsters over the years somehow missed. They seemed to think it was all about monster jokes and black humor. That was more The Addams Family, never really The Munsters. The Munsters was about love.

I thought Rob Zombie knew that. In interviews prior to making the new movie version of THE MUNSTERS, he talked like a fan. And I knew he was a good director. His over-the-top gore films were usually immensely entertaining. Then the trailers came out and, like most everyone else, I thought they made the new picture look pretty bad. But trailers are an artform unto themselves. I still looked forward to the movie.

It couldn’t possibly be as bad as it looked, I presumed.

And as I say, it isn’t. Do not, however, take that to mean it’s good.

The Munsters is far from being the worst movie I have ever seen, although it is the worst new movie I’ve seen in 2022. There are a few particularly good things about it, though.

First and foremost is the set design and decoration. The Munsters is an often-gorgeous picture with good, weird camera angles, numerous atmospheric shots, and a deeply dark yet campily colorful color scheme. Even there, though, there’s an issue, as this film would likely have looked much better had it had NO color scheme whatsoever and was instead released in black and white like its original teaser.

As far as the actors, it’s nice to see the 7th Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, is still working, and I haven’t seen Catherine Schell (Space 1999) in ages! She plays an old gypsy woman here. I do appreciate the perverse casting of Cassandra Peterson, Elvira, herself, as a “normal” person (but that’s undercut by seeing her in deep green witch’s makeup in all but one scene). A couple of fun performances come from actor Robert Brake, playing the mad doctor who creates Herman and affecting something approximating a Vincent Price voice, as well as Count Orlock from Nosferatu. Visually, Brake could easily walk right into a straight remake of that horror classic, but he has excellent comic timing, too.

The two surviving actors from the classic series, Pat Priest and Butch Patrick, have very brief voice-only cameos, and if you aren’t sure where to find them, you’ll probably miss them. I did, and I was listening. Had to go back and check.

Best of all among the main actors is Daniel Roebuck as The Count. He’s not Grandpa here, because he has no one to be a Grandpa to. He’s perfect, though, as Lily’s father. Visually a treat, excellent delivery, and he manages to deftly tread the line with a performance that echoes Al Lewis’s original without slavishly copying it. Roebuck also gets most of the best moments in the meandering script.

Where Zombie does try to emphasize that he understands it’s supposed to be about love is that the whole picture turns out to be an origin story for Herman and Lily’s romance. We see and hear about the aging Lily’s dating problems. She’s several hundred years old and still lives with her father. In a parallel story, we watch the mad doctor and his brutish assistant gather body parts to create new life. In an “Abby Normal” callback, the scientist thinks he’s used the brain of an Einstein-type only to find he’s stuck instead with the brain of a late Transylvanian stand-up comic. And not a particularly funny one.

But Lily sees Herman on TV and for some reason is immediately smitten. The Count is not thrilled but Lily and Herman get together and we witness their courtship and marriage. Although I don’t recall it being explicitly stated, the movie seems to take place in the 1960s, which probably explains the Herman and Lily as Sonny and Cher sequence.

A subplot dealing with the Count’s ex-wife using Herman to swindle the family’s ancestral castle away (to be made into a casino and theme park), ends with the now married Munsters, along with Lily’s father, having to reloacte to America, where they buy the gorgeously dilapidated home at the familiar 1313 Mockingbird Lane address. Although it feels padded throughout—and with a poorly animated cartoon sequence—the picture just randomly stops at one point, apparently setting up an increasingly unlikely sequel.

What about the actors playing Herman and Lily, though?

Well, that’s another major problem, I’m sorry to say. Jeff Daniel Phillips, a veteran of other Rob Zombie films, actually plays three roles in the picture, but he plays the other two better than Herman. Herman—in makeup way too green—should be the good-hearted—even if it wasn’t originally HIS heart—center of the piece, but he’s played as a somewhat egotistical, almost Pinocchio-like NEW life, with no indications of why he’s so immediately in love with Lily. And whomever told Phillips to give the character what I saw one person refer to as “that squeaky Peter Brady voice” should not be allowed near a film set ever again. The actor has the deep, hearty laugh down, and I get the impression he could have done a better voice…only he didn’t.

The fact that Sheri Moon Zombie (playing multiple roles, too) affects an annoyingly fluttery voice that Lily never had is also problematic. She sounds more like Glinda the Good Witch in MGM’s Wizard of Oz as she traipses about mimicking actress Yvonne DeCarlo’s poses from the TV series. Lily is largely the POV character here, not Herman, and that prevents anything close to the dynamic so familiar from years of reruns.

Add to all that some really cheap-looking makeups and special effects as well as some odd choices for songs, and there’s no way to call The Munsters anything but the mess it is. It isn’t any more really The Munsters, even for a new generation, than the last handful of reboot attempts.

All that said…it’s been days since I first watched it now. I cleansed my palette with a few episodes of the ‘60s series. And yet I find myself still remembering moments from the new film, and two lines in particular that made me laugh out loud. It remains to be seen in the long run but this bad movie may well turn out to be one of those “SO bad it’s good” movies. I think I’m going to go watch it again!

Extras include audio commentary from Zombie and an extended making of featurette.

Booksteve—surprisingly—recommends!

 

 

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