Rob Zombie Prioritizes Nostalgia Over Good Storytelling

Dec 24, 2022

The Munsters are back. Unlike their spooky counterparts, The Addams Family, who have been thriving with several film adaptations and an upcoming spin-off series on Netflix, their return isn’t one to remember. The Munsters, born in 1964 as a sitcom, have had many dark turns, but with this latest adaptation, hope was restored. Horror cult favorite director Rob Zombie pursued The Munsters movie, but his ghoulishly endearing love letter is not what The Munsters deserve.

Right off the bat, there is a sense of trouble, as it opens with a skit-like introduction to the world of Transylvania. Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) and his minion Floop (Jorge Garcia) go grave robbing, looking for individuals who will make up the ideal specimen. Meanwhile, Lester Dracula (Tomas Boykin) – the werewolf son of Count Dracula (Daniel Roebuck) – has messed with Zoya Krupp (Catherine Schell), who he owes money. She has Lester steal the deed to the Dracula mansion or risk losing his hands. Lily Dracula, the Count’s vampire daughter and Lester’s sister, is a young vampire. She is lovesick and is searching for a partner, but is failing miserably by going on dates with some undesirable ghouls. When Floop messes up Dr. Wolfgang’s creation, things change for Lily and the Draculas as a whole, and Herman Munster is born. The soon-to-be patriarch of the Munster-Dracula clan gets into some hijinks involving his career as a performer and dubious brother-in-law Lester, eventually finding his way to 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Los Angeles, California.

Related: The Munsters Ending Explained (In Detail)

The story is… fine. While there are a few too many plot threads, a capable writer would be able to string them together into a solid and cohesive film. Rob Zombie, however, is not that writer. He is too caught up in the rush of being able to play with the Munsters instead of doing what director Barry Sonnenfeld did for The Addams Family in the 90s. Zombie is incapable of grounding the kooky tale of the romance between Lily and Herman without getting distracted by the zany aesthetic in an attempt to recapture the feel of the 1964 sitcom. The characters are not written in a way that feels authentic to who they are. Unfortunately, the performances suffer because of it.

Sheri Moon Zombie looks amazing as Lily Munster, but her performance is overly familiar. She comes across as someone who has carefully studied Yvonne De Carlo’s performance — from the delivery of her lines to how she holds her hands. She is more of an exaggerated echo of the original performance, stripping this pre-housewife version of Lily Munster of any distinctive personalities or mannerisms. On the flip side, Herman Munster is perfectly executed by Jeff Daniel Phillips. Phillips does for Herman Munster what Raúl Juliá did for Gomez Addams. Both actors noted what made their respective characters popular in their sitcoms and carefully recontextualized the characters for film. However, Phillips won’t get nearly as much credit as he is stuck with a poorly constructed film and an awfully derivative script. Philips physically and vocally signifies Herman’s good-natured and goofy persona. He wholly embodies the spirit of Herman without being an uninspired copycat of Fred Gwynne’s definitive performance.

Visually, The Munsters is perfect. Zombie’s instincts are on the money, adopting a family-friendly aesthetic that prefers Halloween’s fun and festive features versus the macabre and gothic evoked in The Addams Family films. Zombie was most definitely inspired by the aesthetic of the Munster movies and specials. Herman’s green skin is cartoonishly pigmented, lacking the desaturated green tint that Gwynne sported. The color palette is embellished, which is precisely exemplifies the differences between The Munsters and The Addams Family. The Munsters was always positioned as the typical 60s family sitcom show that happens to star monsters. Zombie’s art direction embraces that to an almost sickening degree. While the film is good visually, the acting is a mixed bag, though it is fine overall. However, the film loses the plot. The film has no story; it is a bunch of loose threads with little tying everything together. The writing is abhorrent, but the desire to pay homage to the sitcom is admirable. The Munsters just isn’t equipped to make that mode of comedy and storytelling work for 2022. A film adaptation requires a reconfiguration of the source material, but Zombie’s mismanagement of nostalgia and modern expectations leaves audiences with a half-baked attempt that is brimming with great potential.

It is impossible not to reference The Addams Family, but the two properties have been intrinsically linked since their respective sitcoms debuted in 1964. Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson, along with Barry Sonnenfeld, expertly took the ideas and themes of Charles Addams’ cartoons and the 1964 sitcom, and elevated those to reflect current society, developing the story to fit a feature-length film neatly. The Munsters, at their core, never had the same underlying themes; the sitcom was rooted in being a novel addition to the string of 1960s sitcoms that followed idealistic working-class American families, but with monsters. Every iteration, including Rob Zombies’ enthusiastic ode to the sitcom, has failed to derive any meaning or relevance from The Munsters. The quaint idea that the Munsters are merely wholesome campy creatures in a jarringly bland world is not capitalized on enough. There was a significant need for sophistication and discipline with this film. Sadly, the new iteration of The Munsters fails to hit the mark. Zombie was close, but not close enough.

Next: Where To Spot The Original Actor Cameos In The Munsters Movie

The Munsters was released on DVD & Blu-ray and is now available to stream on Netflix as of Tuesday, September 27. The film is 110 minutes long and is rated PG for macabre and suggestive material, scary images and language.

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