Every director wants to return to their childhood. However, sometimes a trip down nostalgia lane ignores the context of an event when it found a space in pop culture. In the case of The Munsters, a 2022 reboot of the famed TV Series, director Rob Zombie paints with a new brush. Zombie drops his trademark obsession with the grotesque, instead making a surprisingly family-friendly feature. While this results in higher production qualities, it also leaves The Munsters without much of an edge. In fact, in an attempt to match the tone of the original series, Zombie might tip a little too far into camp without acknowledging the queer subtext of the series.
After being raised from the dead, Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) wants to tell jokes. His first unintentional five-minute set on-air draws the attention of Transylvanian Lily Dracula (Sheri Moon Zombie), who falls head over heels. Despite the warnings of her father, Count Dracula (Daniel Roebuck), Lily marries Herman after a whirlwind romance. However, the family finds trouble lurking at every corner, even within their own ranks.
For Rob Zombie, the fascination with The Munsters has long been evident. Characters in his films play to the camp side of the 1960s sitcom, while others share a theatrical side that paid homage to Fred Gwynn’s iconic role. Yet now that he controls the strings, Zombie’s perspective feels extremely shallow. By focusing on the three adult characters and introducing new side characters, Zombie actively removes 2 key cogs in establishing the tone of the original series. While this version serves as the origin story of the Munster family that will one day exist, the choice also removes the stakes of any repercussions.
Taking out Eddie and Marilyn Munster becomes a lethal issue for the film as a whole. The oddity of Herman, Lily, and “Grandpa” relies on our previous knowledge of the property. Obviously, monsters should feel out of place, but most of the film occurs within Transylvania, where they are common creatures. A short Honeymoon to Paris and a post-Halloween Mockingbird Lane leave the titular family in an environment that is accepting of their strangeness. Removing these characters from suburbia creates the impossible task of otherizing them by relying on our innate knowledge they are strange.
Eddie and Marilyn become the avatars for otherness in the original series. Eddie represents puberty, and in a subversive way, queerness. Meanwhile, Marilyn mines her normalcy for comedic laughs, an aspect Zombie’s film is severely missing. Even if we remove a queer reading from The Munsters, stories of immigrants, religious minorities, or gender essentialism are all present in the original text. Zombie barely acknowledges these plights.
Phillips and Roebuck seemingly nail their respective characters in terms of impression. They do not have the comedic timing of their predecessors, but that may fall on the editing or writing. The screenplay’s jokes are often weak, both intentionally but also unintentionally. Moon Zombie struggles as Lily, trying to add a speaking pattern that simply feels out of place with the other characters. Her vibrato-style delivery does not recall De Carlo’s turn on any level, which makes the choice even more baffling. However, her chemistry with Phillips helps elevate the romantic side of the story.
The sets, costumes, and makeup all shine throughout the film. This makes The Munsters one of Zombie’s most technically accomplished films to date. Even the attempts at humor with the cinematography and devotion to 1960 sitcom visuals help the reboot stand out. These elements work, and even the music played by the bands feels oddly at home (despite not being particularly good).
However, all of the positives quickly become tiresome thanks to the shockingly indulgent two-hour runtime. This film feels more like a pilot for an upcoming series, in part because entire storylines, characters, and ideas are dropped at will. If The Munsters were the beginning of a multi-season series, there would be no problems with this approach. However, as a standalone story, with a very small likelihood, we will return, these basic filmmaking issues become inexcusable.
While The Munsters should certainly be given another chance in the modern landscape, it’s clear that Rob Zombie’s interpretation should not be continued. He seems disinterested in the inherent camp and otherness associated with the story. In fact, he almost goes out of his way to ignore these subversions. It’s odd that someone who clearly drew inspiration from The Munsters outsider origins would willingly ignore what makes these characters seminal pop culture figures.