Hey all you boils and ghouls! Shocktober is back for its 12th year! And instead of looking to the past were looking the future! (or in this case the present). We’re doing nothing but 2022 films for Shocktober…. Or dare I say ShockTwentyTwober… No, how about “2020Booo!” Eh, I could take or leave it. Anyways, here are my thoughts on that Munsters movie that just came out on Netflix.
I’m not a big Rob Zombie fan. I say that and yet I have seen all of his movies. Why? I admire a filmmaker with passion. So even though I don’t like most of Zombie’s movies, I love that his movies are so explicitly him. Rob Zombie loves monsters, he loves sixties camp, he loves shlock. And if you’ve ever seen Rob Zombie’s episode of MTV Cribs, you know he loves the Munsters. Hell, Zombie’s biggest song “Dragula” is a MUNSTER’S REFERENCE!!! That’s Grandpa Munster’s car! So whether you like him or not you can’t deny the guy is passionate about the Munsters.
But that trailer man…. I can’t remember the last time I saw something so unprofessional from someone we all considered a professional. I had hoped the movie would somehow look better when it dropped on Netflix, but no. This movie looks like FunnyOrDie or College Humor was resurrected from the dead and then had to Frankenstein a movie together over a weekend. Which is wild considering one of Zombie’s strongest attributes as a filmmaker has always been his aesthetics.
To be fair to Mr. Zombie (if that is his real name!), not only did he have to make this film for a scant 5 million he had to make it during COVID. That is quite a hurdle for a story that requires layer upon layer of latex, spooky castles, and all sorts of gothic era embellishments. What he CAN be blamed for are all the ugly neon lights and flat visuals. Technical issues aside, there is still the matter of the film’s story and its characters.
I’m surprised to hear myself say this but I preferred the writing in the Munsters over most of Zombie’s past endeavors. Zombie uses profanity like a crutch (as many screenwriters do) but here he is stripped of that cheat code. Luckily, he captures the tone of campy 60s TV well enough. What helps are the performances. I’m not a huge fan of Sheri Moon Zombie as Lily Munster but she brings a lot of enthusiasm. Jeff Daniel Phillips and Daniel Roebuck as Herman and Grandpa really work for me. It’s a treat to see lesser known character actors get a chance to shine. Even if it’s under mounds of multicolored monster makeup.
A couple other Zombie regulars get in on the fun. Richard Brake plays Herman’s creator Dr. Wolfgang. That guy can play silly or sadistic at the drop of a hat. But honestly, my favorite performance was Jorge “Hurley” Garcia as Dr. Wolfgang’s assistant and Herman’s bud, Floop. In an alternate world, Jorge Garcia is a huge comedy movie star and Seth Rogen was on Lost instead. Hmm, that sounds kind of good.
Oh shit, I have to tell you what the movie’s about! Well, it’s an origin story… Or dare I say, HorrOrigin story! Set in Transylvania, Dr. Wolfgang is robbing graves for parts to build the perfect man. But when his assistant Floop accidentally steals the brain of a goofy comedian (instead of the comedian’s genius brother), they end up with Herman Munster, an oafish, one-liner slinging monstrosity.
A lot of fans were critical of Jeff Daniel Phillips’ spin on the typically more refined character. I don’t mind straying from the source material, especially when it would be impossible to recapture the perfection of Fred Gwynne’s performance.
As Herman tries to find his way in the entertainment world, Lily searches for love in a sea of late night losers. In particular, an obnoxious Nosferatu character also played by Richard Brake. Lily sees Herman on TV and falls for his sense of humor but her father the Count i.e. “Grandpa Munster” doesn’t much care for the bumbling Herman Munster. Oh yeah, there’s also a plot about a Romani woman trying to buy the Count’s castle. I could care less.
What works in this movie is the energy and love for old school monsters. I like that Lily and Herman hang out with the Creature from the Black Lagoon during a montage and watch his classic flick. What doesn’t work is how bad this looks. Like that Creature I just described. He looks like something cobbled together from a Spirit Halloween and the sets man, they look like…. Something else you’d cobble together from Spirit Halloween.
Production design is key to a Munsters project’s success. Much like those Barry Sonnenfeld Addams Family movies, part of the appeal is the world these characters have created for themselves. Granted the Munsters are less sinister and more silly than the Addams Family, there still needs to be a sense of realism to compliment the fantastical. Of course, to do that you also need more money. Which this project didn’t have.
I feel bad beating up on the Munsters because it’s really not as bad as we all thought it was going to be. It is bad but it does have a small shriveled black heart in there somewhere. Making the film black and white would have given it a slight boost (which I know Zombie wanted to do). Also, don’t do an origin story. The Munsters were fun because they were a family of monsters. Not just because they were monsters.
A few more passes at the script and a few more million and this could have been completely serviceable. Hell, if this were a Disney Channel Original Movie from the ‘90s it would probably be a cult classic. But for now it’s probably better laid to rest back in its crypt.