Rob Zombie’s The Munsters is a film that resists obvious classification, a pure-hearted work that is proudly and thrillingly out of step with today’s world, to its immense benefit.
“It’s just a mishmash of everything that is frozen in time. That’s how I remember childhood. And that’s how I remember The Munsters,” says Rob Zombie to Variety, relitigating one of a number of conflicts with the Universal Studio execs in charge of shepherding out this long-simmering sitcom adaptation, a project that’s changed hands and mediums countless times over the last two decades. But Zombie had always kept himself in the mix, excluding a brief stretch of time where it seemed the property was destined for a network sitcom update (the thankfully, immediately canceled Bryan Singer/Bryan Fuller team-up Mockingbird Lane), and astoundingly, after expending a good number of other options, Universal finally hired him on tight before Covid struck. This wouldn’t be the last of the bumps in the road for The Munsters, which got stuck with a dubious distribution deal not allowing for theatrical screenings, as well as a generally awful marketing push (the above quoted Variety article so far remains the only significant press for the film), but regardless of these compromises and slight disappointments, Zombie has managed to make something miraculous out of imperfect circumstance.
Indeed, something of a mishmash of influences reflecting its author’s broad, endearingly unhip taste, and with a comic sensibility several decades removed from accepted contemporary standards, The Munsters is a gonzo standout in a landscape otherwise populated by dispassionate, lifeless IP retreads. Essentially an extensive backstory filling in The Munster family history and the events that lead them to move to the sunny suburb of Mockingbird Heights (the setting of the original sitcom which ran from 1964-1966), Zombie’s cinematic take on these origins indulges a 100-minute runtime that covers Herman Munster’s Young Frankensteinian creation, his courtship of Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie channeling Jack Smith muse Yvonne De Carlo), and their eventual relocation to California, along with Daniel Roebuck’s grumpy vampire patriarch, The Count (aka Grandpa). Set mostly in Transylvania, with a quick honeymoon excursion to Paris (all of which seems to be shot on a single set, redressed and photographed at different angles as a means of differentiating), Zombie and DP Zoran Popovic take every opportunity to saturate their gloomy, cobblestone set pieces in vivid, psychedelic color, playing off the deep green and blue makeup palettes applied to Herman and co. Indeed, costuming and makeup do a lot of the work here, with clearly some expense paid to staffing these departments with Hollywood-grade artists (both teams boasting veterans of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune), and as such much of the humor is derived from putting Jeff Daniel Phillip’s hulking, already heavily-made up Herman Munster in increasingly elaborate, impractical getups (including a The Wild One-style biker outfit during a brief stint as the singer in a rockabilly outfit).
These bits speak to the overall spirit and tone of Rob Zombie’s The Munsters, which in its brightest moments, plays as moving homage to a sort of pure-hearted, bygone era of analog, performer-driven entertainment (though the film proudly augments physical sets with stylishly garish digital background), embodied proudly by Phillips, Moon Zombie, and Roebuck, who, under Rob’s direction (and along with Richard Brake and a few others who appear here), have become one of contemporary cinema’s most dependable acting troupes, of the same lineage as Cassavetes and Ed Wood. A peculiar, earnest family film that’s still undeniably a Rob Zombie picture, The Munsters is a movie that resists obvious classification and is proudly, adamantly out of step with today’s world (underlined immediately with Universal’s 1927 black-and-white plane logo). Regardless of the challenges of its initial release, there’s no doubt a devoted audience is already, deservedly, forming around it.
You can currently stream Rob Zombie’s The Munsters on Netflix.