The Munsters reboot is a family-friendly spooktacular no one asked for

The Munsters (Netflix)

Rob Zombie’s latest film looks like a graveyard smash, but he’s the only one having fun at this monster mash. 

Ever since Rob Zombie dug through the ditches, burned through the witches, and slammed it in the back of his Dragula, it was inevitable his career would lead to The Munsters. It’s where the coffin car originated and feels like the Rosetta Stone for Zombie’s lifelong passions for the weird and macabre. The TV show aired on CBS in 1964, just six days after the premiere of that other spooky household, The Addams Family. Both shows were satires of the lily-white (and, thanks to racially discriminatory laws, literally White) suburbs that were taking over America. The Munsters was the more popular show then–and the kitschier–which might explain why it holds a special place in Zombie’s heart. 

With every Zombie project, from his early White Zombie music videos featuring pumpkin heads and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, through his very forgettable Halloween reboots, you can feel his love for cheap haunted houses and rubber monster costumes with the zipper showing. 

The Munsters (Netflix)
Sheri Moon Zombie is looking a bit green around the gills. (Netflix)

That handmade aesthetic jumps out of the grave and fully blossoms with his take on The Munsters. Even with all the big streamer cash, the film still looks like it has the budget of Zombie’s debut film, House of 1,000 Corpses. For Zombie, this is a good thing. There’re so many fog machines, spiderwebs, and cheesy bumps in the night sound effects that you can smell the plastic Halloween mask you wore in the 3rd grade. 

It has a charming DIY quality thanks to the primary color lighting scheme straight out of an Argento film and impressive production design from Juci Szurdi. It gives the Munsters’ hometown of Transylvania the gothic feels of old-school Universal monster films. The problem here is Zombie finds himself in his usual dilemma as a filmmaker. It’s all style and barely any substance. 

The film starts in Transylvania. Thanks to the black and white televisions and classic cars on the road, it reads like the 60s. However, there’s also a Dirty Harry reference later in the film, so who knows? This Transylvania is closer to the Halloweentown of Nightmare Before Christmas than the Transylvania we’re used to in other forms. Here, all sorts of ghouls and goblins cohabitate, including a vampire looking for love in all the wrong caskets, Lily (played by Zombie’s wife and longtime collaborator, Sheri Moon Zombie). She goes on dates with awful Nosferatu vampires while living at home with her overbearing vampire dad, The Count (Daniel Roebuck). 

[T]here’s nothing under all the layers of ghoulish makeup and costumes.

Meanwhile, grave robbers attempt to revive a corpse to help do their bidding. Unfortunately, instead of using the brain of a smarty pants like he was told, Floop (Lost’s Jorge Garcia) accidentally uses the brain of an average dolt. The result is a Frankenstein monster named Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips). He’s a bumbling doofus who’s nonetheless confident in his looks and his dad jokes. 

In the best scene of the film, Herman and Lily have a meet-cute in the Zombie A Go-Go nightclub, where she finds him monster mashing in a punk band. It sticks out because the song Herman’s band’s playing is a banger. It’s also the only scene that feels personal, echoing Sheri and Rob’s first encounter in the early 90s. 

The two elope and move to Hollywood after Herman loses the family home, thanks to a lousy deal with Lily’s younger werewolf brother, Lester (Tomas Boykin). You would think they get to Hollywood early in the film since the whole point of the original series. It’s where all the juicy satire comes from, the fish-out-of-water nature of a family of monsters living among some of the most supposedly beautiful humans on Earth. But, nope, they don’t get to sun-soaked LA until deep in the third act, and when they do, the film stumbles around until an abrupt ending. I triple-checked to ensure this wasn’t a longer movie or the first part of a series, but this is a standalone feature, structured like a 100-minute-long pilot episode. 

The Munsters (Netflix)
Jeff Daniel Phillips has just one more thing. (Netflix)

You can feel how much Zombie loves horror’s cheeky silver age with every square inch of film here, just like you can tell how much Guillermo del Toro loves creatures with the Troll Market scene in Hellboy II. There’s passion in every frame, and sometimes it’s a treat to see all those influences Zombie has up his sleeves, especially with a fun cameo by Cassandra Peterson, otherwise known as the Mistress of the Darkness, Elvira. But there’s nothing under all the layers of ghoulish makeup and costumes. 

With the edges rounded off, this is the only movie in his filmography that’s family-friendly enough to be in the rotation for Freeform’s “31 Nights of Halloween” schedule. It lacks strong writing to attract older audiences or the intense violence for fans of his earlier work. Maybe Zombie should stick to actual haunted houses, where story and characters are secondary, and the gruesome, bloody theatrics are the main attraction. 

The Munsters is screaming–err–streaming on Netflix now.

The Munsters Trailer:

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Sean Price

Sean Price was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before moving to Chicago to pursue improv and sketch comedy. He has written, directed and produced several short films, music videos, and feature length screenplays.

He’s also performed and co-written several sketch shows, including a film-centric solo show called “Sean Price Goes to the Movies by Himself” at the Playground Theater.

When he's not contributing to The Spool, you can see him perform improv regularly at the IO Theater and ComedySportz Chicago.

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