Well, it’s official: Morbius is now only the second-worst movie of the year to feature a vampire character and a former Doctor Who star. The Munsters, featuring Daniel Roebuck as The Count, a.k.a. “Grandpa,” and Sylvester McCoy as his servant, Igor, isn’t just bad. It’s garishly, in-your face bad, a surefire Razzie winner and a guaranteed laughingstock for all the wrong reasons. Whether you like Rob Zombie or hate him, The Munsters marks a level of amateurishness that does not befit a director as experienced as he must surely be by now. To Zombie’s fans, it’s a letdown; to old-school Munsters fans, it’s not just a slap in the face, but a punch by a hand wearing a spiked glove. Take everything bad you’ve ever heard about any Rob Zombie film, and understand that this is significantly worse.
Sheri Moon Zombie has always gotten a bit of a bad rap — so what if her husband always casts her? They’re creative partners, and she’s believable as the kind of white trash antiheroine he usually makes her into. Alas, in The Munsters, she embodies everything her worst critics have said over the years. She’s horribly miscast and dreadful in the role of Lily Munster, which sees her doing what sounds like a third-rate SNL impersonation. Only Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman seems to be giving an actual performance rather than a mugging-fest, but he cannot single handedly save the day.
At least the movie’s production design looks colorfully fun. With garish neon signs and a Transylvania inhabited by monsters in caricatured, obvious costumes, it’s like a Knott’s Scary Farm maze on acid. Unfortunately it doesn’t even have the storytelling skills of those attractions, although it might look passably fun in a music video interspersed with scenes of a band playing. Zombie has always been primarily an aesthetician as an artist, as seen in pretty much every interview with him. He doesn’t intellectualize his stories. Instead, he rather works from the outside in, cinematically painting a picture that just feels cool. Any subtext therein comes from his own unexamined impulses, and at best, they splatter his freeform id all over the screen.
The Devil’s Rejects, 31, and even Halloween II are masterpieces of white-trash grunge horror, not because Zombie thought the stories through, but because he had fairly free rein to run wild. For The Munsters, he’s straight-up pandering. Trying to make a kid-safe monster movie and an imitation of the sitcom format. This film makes it clear that he’s suited to neither, presuming that what kids want is really bad puns and pantomime-level overacting. It’s not even a sure thing that he respects the original TV show. Sure, its jokes are old and outdated now, but they weren’t trying to be at the time. Making over Herman Munster as a Frankenstein creation accidentally imbued with the brain of an unfunny hack comedian, however, says everything about Zombie’s opinion of the show’s humor.
Attempting to be a prequel to the sitcom, the story simply trudges through obvious beats. Lily falls for Herman at first sight, they get married, they lose their Transylvanian castle and must move to America. That’s really about it. Grandpa goes from hating and belittling Herman to being okay with him for no particular reason, and Sylvester McCoy turns into a bat. Richard Brake gamely attempts his best Peter Cushing imitation as the mad scientist who creates Herman, and he’s less over-the-top than some of what we see. He also doubles as Count Orlock, Lily’s initial Nosferatu-ish suitor. There’s a lot of doubling going on, presumably to conserve the obviously limited budget: Phillips plays two other roles besides Herman, and Roebuck plays another additional part as well as being an extra in at least one scene.
Zombie presumably got much of his inspiration from the late night TV horror hosts of yore, but indiscriminately so. Watching The Munsters can be like watching a mirror universe version of Svengoolie in which the campy host actually believes his jokes are good. It’s certainly nothing like watching the original show, save for a very brief recreation of the opening credits, which was shown in trailers already. When the entire concept is based on monsters fitting into a normal suburb, how much sense does it make to set nearly the entire movie in neon Transylvania instead?
In one particular strained and awful bit of retconning, this Herman Munster gets his name because of a lab assistant’s love for Munster cheese. If only anyone involved had legitimately showed love for the actual Munsters‘ brand of cheesiness. To paraphrase Herman’s true inspiration, Boris Karloff, in his most acclaimed movie monster performance, this belongs dead.
Grade: 0 out of 5
The Munsters debuts on Netflix, Blu-ray, and digital Sept 27.
Recommended Reading: Munster Memories: A Coffin Table Book
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