REVIEW: The Munsters
Starting in fall 1964, children across America could watch CBS’ The Munsters but come January 1966, they seemingly all flipped the dial to ABC and Batman. The superhero series’ smash ratings cast a death spell on the humorous take on the classic monsters, with the exaggerated look as perfected by Universal’s horror films of the 1930s. Fred Gwynne was a delight as Herman Munster, paired nicely with Yvonne DeCarlo and Al Lewis. The sitcom transferred traditional family drama tropes to the residents of 1313 Mockingbird Lane and for 70 episodes, it was tremendous fun, revived for wildly successful syndication.
Ever since, there have been revivals in feature films, animated series, and failed attempts at series revivals. Now, here comes director Rob Zombie with his take on the classic characters, largely retaining the look of the original series, but in garish color.
The film, now available both on Netflix and disc from Universal Home Entertainment, lacks the charm of the initial performers and atmospheric black and white look. Over the course of approximately 1:50, we get an origin story for Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips), created by Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake), and his idiot assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia). [They appear straight out of the Hammer remake with Brake looking like Peter Cushing.] At the same time, Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) has been seeking her perfect mate, when she sees Herman on Good Morning Transylvania.
What we know and they don’t until later, is that much as Fritz stole the wrong brain in the 1931 classic, Floop fails to obtain the brain of the second smartest man in the world but has, instead, taken the brain of Shecky, as big a moron as he is. There’s still Grandpa (Dan Roebuck) but added is Lily’s brother Lester (Thomas Boykin), a werewolf.
As the romance heats up, the gypsy witch Zoya (Catherine Schell) conspires to force Lester to have Herman sign over the house to settle his gambling debts. Ho hum.
It’s padded, not terribly funny, and the actors just don’t feel right for their roles. Maybe at half the length, with some judicious editing, it could have been a serviceable pilot for a new series or a special. But it fails as a tribute, a revival, and as entertainment. Perhaps the best parts of the film are the cameos from Cassandra Peterson, as the realtor, and the original stars Butch Patrick (their son Eddie) and Pat Priest (their ‘plain’ cousin Marilyn), who provide voiceovers.
The film, on Blu-ray, looks just as garish as a superior 1080p transfer. It is visually strong and well matched to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless audio track.
The only Special Feature is The Munsters: Return to Mockingbird Lane (1:01:52), a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. This is only for the handful who may have been entertained by the misfire. Zombie provides an audio commentary that attempts to show what he had in mind but failed to execute.