2 out of 5 stars

For many people, The Munsters is a black-and-white television sitcom that’s been beloved since airing back in 1964. Co-created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, the classic series redefined family sitcoms like I Love Lucy (1951-57) and Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963). The character designs were modelled on the classic Universal Monsters of the 1930s and offered a satirical look at American life. Although it only aired for two seasons, the family’s strange and abnormal behaviour left a lasting impression on US pop culture. There were several attempts at relaunching the franchise with Munsters, Go Home! (1966) and The Munsters Revenge (1981), but none led to a full revival with the original cast. After trying to reboot The Munsters for over two decades, Universal has given Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) a chance to recreate the classic sitcom. While his unique sensibilities and colourful design might come as a surprise to audiences who only know his darker material, the writer-director delivers an endearing love letter to the original series.

Set in a cartoonish Transylvania, Lily (Sheri Zombie Moon) is a lovelorn vampire living with her father, The Count (Daniel Roebuck), but despite attending several dates with eligible bachelors, Lily’s unable to meet the man of her nightmares. Elsewhere, Dr Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his hunchback assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) seek to create artificial life using the brain of the world’s smartest man. However, when Floop steals the wrong brain, they accidentally bring back to life a recently deceased comedian. Renaming him ‘Herman’ (Jeff Daniel Phillips), he quickly rises to stardom and conquers the airwaves, with Lily instantly becoming infatuated and seeking a date. And she soon discovers Herman’s just as smitten with her and a whirlwind courtship begins. However, Lily’s werewolf brother Lester (Thomas Boykin) threatens his family’s future after making a deal with the mysterious Zoya (Catherine Schell).

Although Zombie’s signature brand of exploitation makes him an unlikely candidate to reboot The Munsters, his affinity for the sitcom’s been well-documented. He’s often spoken of his infatuation with “monster movies” and has embraced the ridiculous while applying it to his music videos. Similar to his reboot of Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), The Munsters functions as an origin story for the original show; an extensive backstory covering the family’s history and events leading them to the sunny suburb of Mockingbird Lane. However, this results in an uneven narrative that’s less interesting than it promises. Rather than tell a story with depth and captivating drama, the screenplat fundamentally lacks direction. Zombie leans too heavily into the sitcom format by placing Lily and Herman into outlandish situations without much connective tissue, and while it’s clear he’s attempting to recreate the sitcom of yesteryear in a contemporary format, this formula only works for tight 25-minute episodes. The Munsters is lacking in coherency and starts becoming tiresome when stretched to 110 minutes.

Zombie often relies on crass obscenities and his work has always been underscored with moments of dark comedy as an ironic counterpart to the bloodshed. House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) are littered with crass agents of chaos that conjure up uncomfortable laughs. The family-friendly comedy stylings of The Munsters is a stark departure for Zombie, and his trademark vulgarities are replaced with a combination of childish jokes and sights gags that wouldn’t feel out of place in the original sitcom. There’s a perfect delirium of images including Herman wearing outrageous costumes and Nosferatu dancing to electronic pop music. One highlight is Herman’s cringeworthy yet incredibly charming stand-up comedy routine (“a horse walks into a bat, the bartender says ‘why the long face?’”). Admittedly, Zombie’s attempts at anachronistic humour aren’t uproariously hilarious and nether do the jokes always land. However, after defining his career with horror that fearlessly explores the darkest depths of our souls, it’s refreshing seeing the filmmaker redirect his ostentatious energy and edgier sensibilities toward something lighthearted.

What ultimately elevates The Munsters is Zombie’s visual style. When the trailer was released, it immediately received an uncharitable reaction, to say the least! Not because fans believed their beloved series was too masterful to be reinvented, but because the filmmaker had colourfully embellished the source material. Although it’s a drastic change from the original show, the amount of charm that Zombie and the production team have implemented is palpable. Instead of adopting the macabre evokes in The Addams Family (1991) and The Dark Shadows (2012), Juci Szurdi’s (Budapest Noir) production design and Zoran Popovi’s (Circle) cinematography exemplify the playful tone of the ’60s series. The Count’s Transylvanian castle is magnificently gothic and comically bathed in hyper-saturated neon, while the family’s dilapidated house on Mockingbird Lane has been gorgeously recreated. There’s something rather wholesome about Zombie’s excessive decorations and flamboyantly Gothic costumes. The cacophony of visuals and sounds may prove unwieldy for some, but the vibrant colour scheme and expertly crafted sets complement the vibrant tone perfectly.

This heightened enthusiasm also applies to the colourful ensemble of genre veterans and family faces. Echoing the established performances that made these characters iconic, the entire cast commits to the material wonderfully. Sheri Moon Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) looks amazing as the lovestruck Lily Munster, with the actress emulating the mannerisms and cadence of her predecessor Yvonne De Carlo. From the enunciation of her dialogue to her hand movements, Zombie imbues her character with an infectious vivacity. Jeff Daniels Phillips’ (Halloween) Herman Munster is an enormous challenge considering Fred Gwynne’s definitive portrayal is incredibly difficult to redefine. However, the actor embodies the spirit of the character without becoming an uninspired imitation. Playing a somewhat younger version of the milquetoast Frankenstein, Phillips’ adolescent inflexion and lugubrious expressions capture the character’s benevolent and foolish persona delightfully. Both Zombie and Phillips are comical together and recapture the couple’s dynamic well.

Zombie also introduces his regular cavalcade of supporting players that bite right into the overt comic tone. Richard Brake (Barbarian) gives a standout performance as two vastly different yet profoundly quirky characters: he’s utterly delightful as the crazed scientist Dr Wolfgang, chewing up the scenery with similar energy as Peter Cushing in The Creeping Flesh (1973), being responsible for Herman’s creation; and he also doubles as Count Orlock, the eccentric vampire with disastrous dating habits. Additionally, Daniel Roebuck (Dead Night) is almost unrecognisable as The Count. He truly embodies Al Lewis’ iconic performance as Grandpa Munster but also makes it his own. As Lily’s curmudgeon father, he plays the hilarious straight man whenever he isn’t engaging in vaudevillian antics. Original cast members Pat Priest (Easy Come, Easy Go) and Butch Patrick (The Hand of Death) also have small roles alongside Casandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark).

While The Munsters is flawed, Rob Zombie’s loving tribute to the classic US sitcom feels generally successful. The entire production team captures the ambience of the source material and delivers an experience that would’ve drawn weekly audiences during its small-screen heyday. When compared to his usual gruesome and traumatic exploitation flicks, Zombie deserves immense praise for venturing outside of his comfort zone. However, audiences looking for a serious reinvention of the franchise similar to The Addams Family will have to look elsewhere. Due to its meandering script and painfully bland story, The Munsters quickly outstays its welcome.

USA • HUNGARY | 2022 | 110 MINUTES | 1:78:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Blu-ray Special Features:

The Munsters boasts a 1080p presentation and Universal’s transfer looks incredible. Presented in its original 1:78:1 aspect ratio, the picture delivers a clean and rich presentation from start to finish. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the vibrant colour palette that truly compliments the comedic tone. Primaries are bold and contrast perfectly with the spooky aesthetic. The variety of greens, blues, yellows, and reds are crisp and vivid. Black levels remain inky and detail looks good for the majority of the runtime. Unfortunately, the image occasionally lacks fine details due to the use of smoke machines and colourful lighting filters. Noise levels fluctuate during certain scenes preventing finer details including individual hairs and clothing textures becoming prominent. Regardless, this is a fantastic transfer nonetheless and shouldn’t disappoint. 

This release features two audio tracks including optional English subtitles. Universal presents a dual 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in English and Spanish, along with an English 2.0 Stereo option. The multichannel soundtrack provides crips and consistently immersive audio presentation throughout, with most of the dialogue centred at the front. The side and rear channels bring significant weight to the score and provide ambient sound effects effectively. Various nightmarish sounds and other comedic notes are effectively discernible and dispersed evenly creating an immersive soundscape. The subwoofer rumbles effectively when music plays during particular sequences that feature live music. The intense mix of rock strings and electronic synths surges through the speakers with clarity. Overall, this is a fully capable 5.1 DTS-HD track and complements the pictures nicely.

  • Feature commentary with director/writer/producer Rob Zombie.
  • The Munsters: Return to Mockingbird Lane.
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Cast & Crew

director: Rob Zombie.
writer: Rob Zombie (based on ‘The Munsters’ by Allan Burns & Chris Hayward).
starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Daniel Roebuck, Richard Brake, Tomas Boykin, Jorge Garcia, Sylvester McCoy, Catherine Schell & Cassandra Peterson.