‘The Munsters’ (2022) Review: “Geeky, Gleeful, Ghoulish”
In August, I fulfilled a long-time dream of mine: seeing Rob Zombie perform live. Zombie’s concerts are known for the macabre, energetic rock ‘n’ roll emitting from his band. His films, likewise, exude similar showmanship, bathing in perverse grit. Rob Zombie might as well be the mascot for the world’s most hardcore Spirit Halloween. Nonetheless, what caught me off guard at this gathering of Zombie-heads was the sense of community. Beneath the grungy tees, menacing boots, and black eyeliner (so, so much black eyeliner) was a bunch of earnest dorks who live for the thrill of the haunt. Rob Zombie’s newest film, an adaptation of the classic television series The Munsters, expresses that geeky glee for the ghoulish in its purest form.
No question about it, The Munsters comes from a place of fervent passion. Zombie’s affinity for the 1960s show occupies a distinct place in his creative work. His smash hit “Dragula” is itself a reference to the series. What this love for the boob tube horror-comedy of old should indicate is that the new Munsters has no intention of straying from the look and feel of the original. Moreover, it does one better: giving the series its own origin story of sorts. A delightful one at that!
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Let us set the scene: Transylvania. The mysterious Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) finds trouble dating her fellow vampires, much to the chagrin of her father, The Count (Daniel Roebuck). Her luck changes when she runs into hulking, flat-headed failed experiment Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips). She’s smitten with the re-animated charmer, while The Count works to celebrate the two. Trouble may be on the horizon for the whole bunch, however, as Lily’s gambling addict brother Lester (Tomas Boykin) gets the family into hot water.
The cast fully understands their assignment. Daniel Roebuck and Sheri Moon Zombie are dead ringers for their television counterparts. Meanwhile, character actor Jeff Daniel Phillips disappears entirely into the absurdly lovable Herman. This is one trio that’s stood the test of time, making the whole enterprise worth it on the strength of their charisma. Their energy is infectious, spreading to Richard Brake hamming it up as Herman’s creator to Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, popping in for a scene-chewing bit part. Most of these actors are mostly known for their horror or dark genre roles. Because of that, seeing them cut loose is a real treat. Everyone is having so much damn fun here without making the movie a throwaway.
A good chunk of that is due to Rob Zombie’s writing/direction. His greatest trick here is making The Munsters a sugary treat for the eyes on a limited budget. The blown-out neons smother the film in an eye-popping color palette that recalls the world’s grooviest haunted house. In every corner are all manners of campy horror references. Think “Monster Mash” in visual form thanks to the work of DP Zoran Popovic. Some shots in this thing are so all-out bonkers one can only assume a little “special” candy could only enhance the experience.
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The script is also quite funny as well. For a film with fairly clean humor, it has a shockingly high laugh-to-minute ratio. You can’t help but smile at something like a failed date Lily has with Nosferatu‘s Count Orlok or the Count’s constant annoyance with the aloof Herman. Yet, what draws me into the movie more than anything else is the romance at the center. Herman and Lily are two outsiders, one an ethereal beauty with a penchant for sucking blood and the other a clumsy ball of charisma. One doesn’t need to squint too hard to see Zombie pouring in his own honest sentiment about his own lovely lady/star Sheri Moon into the film.
Although mostly a potent witch’s brew, the structure of The Munsters causes it to drag. The overarching story is light and one piece of the plot will pass the baton to the next vignette quite frequently. It makes the 110-minute runtime feel much longer than it actually is. It’s almost like The Munsters is three or four television episodes compiled into one film. If that comparison to television sounds like a negative, it’s not. The Munsters feels like its source material adapted to the modern age. More than that, it’s a modern Halloween cult classic in the making. Breezy, oddly beautiful, and true to itself, it’s the perfect way to kick off the spooky season. – James Preston Poole
The Munsters (2022) is now streaming on Netflix.
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