For years, Rob Zombie’s passion project was to make a film based on The Munsters TV series. He tried to do it after House of 1,000 Corpses, but at the time Universal decided it wanted to do its own reboot of the series, Mockingbird Lane. That became a one-off Halloween special for NBC directed by disgraced filmmaker Bryan Singer. It was supposed to be a pilot for a future series, but the studio decided not to take that forward.
Jump to 2016, and Zombie learned there was a plan to make a kid’s film based on The Munsters. He was less than pleased, and thought it was not the right direction. This time he pitched a new project to Universal and they agreed—something they probably now regret. Zombie decided to do it on what was clearly a small budget. If the budget was really $40 million as has been rumoured, it would have to be the case that everyone in the cast and crew has a huge cocaine addiction. But Zombie has said it cost less to make than all his other films combined, and indeed it does look like it was pulled together for just a couple million.
One of the film’s big flaws was his decision to use some people from his usual posse of actors, including his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, as Lily Munster. Jeff Daniel Philips plays Herman, and David Roebuck appears as The Count (who will later be Grandpa). The kids aren’t on the scene yet, so it can be seen as a prequel to the original TV show. Philips is probably the best of the three, and probably the closest to the original. Sheri Moon is no Yvonne de Carlo, but he wanted his wife in it, I get it. Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) has a fun cameo as well and it would just be wrong not to cast her in this.
Some people say Zombie can’t structure a story, and while I wouldn’t go that far with every film he’s ever made, this time it’s the case. It’s basically about how Herman and Lily meet in Transylvania (where they have American accents, which makes no sense, but OK…). There are some quite fun scenes, especially when Herman is playing in a garage band, the Punk Rods at Zombie A Go Go nightclub, or when Lily goes out on a date with Nosferatu or when they go on vacation to the Devil’s Island penal colony. But the humour doesn’t really land. Zombie’s movies do usually have some humour in them, but he can’t direct comedy to save his life.
I think the actors in the three main roles are fine—you’ve got pretty big shoes to fill (pun intended), and doing a more white-trash Munsters is what you would expect from Zombie. The Munsters always were a more low-rent version of The Addams Family anyway (and it’s hilarious that this came out just a couple months before Wednesday landed also on Netflix in the States). The story is all over the place, and large chunks of it seem to be missing. But the script is just really bad—he’s not a great writer. I respect that since the earliest days of White Zombie he has kept a punk rock DIY attitude towards making movies, but sometime you do need to get someone else in. That could have saved the comedy bits, and the structure.
I do defend his horror movies, especially The Devil’s Rejects, which is more of a Peckinpah-style film. However, this very much feels like a porn parody of The Munsters, but without the porn. I don’t think Universal would have signed off on that, even though they clearly have no idea what to do with their franchise.
And then there’s the colour scheme, which was derided from the moment the trailer came out. If you watch the movie, it’s a lot better than the trailer might have led you to expect, I’ll grant Zombie that. He initially pleaded with Universal to let him shoot in black and white, which would have covered up how cheap the film looks, much as they covered up how cheap the show looked back in the day. Instead, he went for a highly saturated look that resembles a hyper-real cartoon. It’s not quite the disaster it could have been, but I don’t really see why a black and white film wasn’t approved, since it’s a nostalgic homage. It’s also unfortunate that they couldn’t use the Universal backlot.
His friends are fine in Zombie’s own films, but this is one project where he should have just directed and gotten someone else to do the script. He probably could have found a name actor or two who would have been down for doing it, too—how about Eva Green as Lily? I did not hate it as much as I feared I would, but it’s definitely a missed opportunity.
The film has had a very weird release, including a simultaneous Netflix/DVD/Blu-Ray/digital release in the US, and going direct to DVD in the UK. The Blu-Ray is being released by Mediumrare, which picks up mainly Universal titles. One thing I do like about Rob Zombie is his Blu-Rays are always packed to the gills: this one includes a commentary from Zombie himself and an hour-long making-of documentary.