As a filmmaker, musician, and overall personality, Rob Zombie is usually associated with gory, intensely horrifying, button-pushing entertainment and imagery. From the hillbilly hell of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects to the visceral slasher terror of his Halloween films to the carnival-themed carnage of 31, Zombie has spent many years establishing a brand of inspired, violent, and immersive horror that’s all his own. You usually know a Rob Zombie movie when you see it.
So when it was announced that the 21st century shock artist was set to write and direct a feature film adaptation of classic sitcom The Munsters, many understandably thought it would be his usual sort of grisly, gritty and bloody vibes plastered onto the innocent and beloved source material. But in what is arguably his most shocking creative move yet, Zombie has instead delivered an earnestly silly comedy without a hint of irony. The PG film is kitschy fun to the extreme - a colorful and playful throwback that’s genuinely funny and endlessly impressive with its Halloweentown style aesthetic and designs. It’s a tribute to the sitcom that clearly comes from the heart, with Zombie being a self-confessed lifelong fan of the series that has been wanting to make this particular movie for decades.
The film serves as a prequel / origin story to the show, set predominantly in good ol’ Transylvania before the iconic undead family move to the idyllic suburbs of Mockingbird Heights. Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie, who else would it be?) is both a vampire and a hopeless romantic who’s had zero luck with the potential suitors that her father, The Count (Daniel Roebuck), has tried to set her up with. But when mad scientist Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) creates a Frankenstein-esque being - who his assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) names “Herman Munster” - Lily falls head over heels for the tall, dark and handsome creature.
But what Lily loves most about Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is his unusually goofy demeanor, much to the chagrin and disapproval of her father. Zombie’s film takes full advantage of its characters’ big and distinct personalities, mining plenty of comedic gold out of that kind of sitcom dynamic between everyone. Herman is corny, brutish and outlandish while Lily is the more dreamy yet level headed one; at times oblivious but also quite demanding. The Count, meanwhile, is the obvious grump of the group - someone who’s very practiced at insulting others without them knowing and is never afraid to show his disgruntlement towards everything.
Zombie flexes some very different creative muscles this time around. The Munsters is good clean fun through and through, stuffed with endless jokes (some predictable, some laugh out loud funny) that play off the film’s campy, B-movie look and feel. The set and costume designs are tremendous, the performances are appropriately over-the-top to match the films’s unapologetically kooky tone, and the screen is constantly filled with irresistibly vibrant colors that pushes its macabre exuberance to the forefront.
It’s all good fun that’s not really trying to be anything more, which is both a plus and a hindrance to the film at the same time. At nearly two hours long, The Munsters is a bit unfocused and overlong. While it initially appears to be about the blossoming romance between Lily and Herman, the Count’s plans to break them up, and a separate scheme to steal the castle involving Lily’s brother Lester (Tomas Boykin), these things pass on by with little to no consequence. There’s not much of a real story or any actual drama going on here, which feels like a missed opportunity when you’re adapting something like this to a feature film length.
The original series fared better at balancing its sitcom antics with some occasional emotional depth, and Zombie’s film also lacks much of the satirical edge that the show possessed as well. But the film is a solid good time nonetheless that’s hard not to smile at. It’s certainly a notable outlier in Zombie’s extensive body of work, one that’s sure to climb its way to cult status as so many of his projects have. Family-friendly Rob Zombie may be a strange concept to get behind, but it’s still indisputably Rob Zombie from top to bottom.
‘The Munsters’ is now streaming on Netflix and available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.