Horror musician and auteur Rob Zombie is a lifelong fan of The Munsters. The
‘60s sitcom hinged its humor upon a family of odd Transylvanians that behave and
consider themselves an average American family. Zombie’s enduring fondness for
the show is evident throughout his career, including his 1998 hit song “Dragula,”
finally culminating in a feature film that serves as a meet-cute origin story.
Zombie attempts to faithfully recreate the original sitcom’s sense of humor,
embracing the ridiculous while applying his modern style.
Vampire Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) longs for love. Her father, The Count (Daniel
Roebuck), sets her up on blind dates, but Transylvania’s most eligible bachelors
tend to disappoint. Lily finds her perfect mate assembled from various human
parts, including that of recently deceased comedian Shecky Von Rathbone (Jeff
Daniel Phillips). It’s love at first sight between Lily and the recently revived
Shecky, renamed Herman Munster. Their love story takes them on a globe-spanning
journey… before they arrive at Mockingbird Lane.
Zombie, who wrote and directed, focuses on Lily and Herman but introduces his
regular cavalcade of supporting players to keep the hi-jinks going. Richard Brake
doubles as Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang, the mad scientist responsible for
Herman, and Orlock, an eccentric vampire with poor dating manners. Jorge Garcia
plays Floop, Wolfgang’s hunchback assistant responsible for Herman’s moniker.
Aside from a few notable cameos that include Cassandra Peterson, Zombie finds a
way to inject lesser-known characters from the sitcom, including Lily’s hapless
brother Lester the werewolf (Tomas Boykin).
That rotating roster of colorful characters is vital because there’s not much to
the plot. Zombie leans in on the sitcom format, tossing Lily and Herman into
wacky situations without much connective tissue. For example, Lily stops at a
club to swoon over Herman’s rock performance. It’s a one-and-done gag that
serves solely as a comedic stepping stone in their whirlwind romance; Herman
abandons his rock star life almost as abruptly as it began.
While it’s clear Zombie is attempting to recreate the sitcom of yesteryear in
modern movie form, that wholesome approach conflicts with his edgier
sensibilities, like The Count reading a “Playghoul” magazine or Lester wandering
drunk with a bottle of booze. Worse, the endless gags can’t fill in the blanks
of a thinly sketched narrative. There’s not much to this origin story, and the
incessant attempts to fill those blanks with comedic bits grow tiresome.
Lead portrayals that are nearly unwatchable don’t help matters much. Remember
that episode of the original show in which pop stardom threatened to turn Herman
from an endearing man-baby into a serious jerk? (Heck, remember when the same
fate almost befell just about every lead character of every primetime comedy?)
Jeff Daniel Phillips’ Herman is written and performed as that obnoxious boor
almost 100 percent of the time — albeit with the addition of a squeaky, hiccuppie
voice that makes him sound like a newly pubescent Foster Brooks. Meanwhile, as
Lily, Sheri Moon Zombie is as dire and sub-professional as you would suspect.
Her only perceivable acting technique is to point her index fingers toward the
sky and emit every line of dialogue in a flurry of breathy exaggeration that
suggests The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Laura Petrie being drained of oxygen. Daniel
Roebuck’s Grandpa is the default winner — not because he’ll make anyone forget
Al Lewis, but because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man who can give a
workmanlike performance is king. Cameos from the likes of Cassandra “Elvira”
Peterson contribute little beyond future game-night fodder for trivia hounds.
Someday, Rob Zombie will write his autobiography, sharing his experiences in
music and art, but also detailing his film-making career. Hopefully, there will
be a chapter examining his desire to remake “The Munsters”. It’s a shame the
book doesn’t exist today, as any help decoding Zombie’s decision-making skills
is most necessary while watching this valentine/redo, which is meant to
celebrate the silly world of the original series, but mostly resembles “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.” Zombie tries to retain his usual interests in macabre
cinema and pop culture while building a slightly different “Munsters” for the
masses. It’s a cult-ready package that probably won’t please longtime fans or
keep family audiences engaged, remaining a distinctly Zombie-fied production
highlighting his oddball sense of humor and love of extreme visuals.
Zombie asks a lot of his audience to sit for 109 minutes of “The Munsters”.
Those expecting a more traditional take on the series are sure to be baffled by
what Zombie presents here, with only the final 15 minutes of the picture taking
place on 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The helmer avoids a direct comparison to the
program until the final minutes, which should be a refreshing change of pace,
giving Zombie room to whip up his own understanding of the show’s appeal, mixed
with his devotion to drive-in cinema aesthetics. “The Munsters” doesn’t end up
quite that interesting, offering more of a train wreck viewing experience, with
his motivation for such a project one of the great movie going mysteries of