Rob Zombie’s 2007 “Halloween” reboot removed the mystique behind Michael Myers.
Instead of a mysterious “shape” who killed out of rage, Myers became a mistreated lad with a penchant for William Shatner masks.
The writer/director’s “Munsters” reboot performs a similar service. The original series contrasted the ghoulish family with its Norman Rockwell neighbors, and hilarity ensued.
You won’t find much hilarity in “The Munsters,” now on Blu-ray and Netflix. The reboot, technically a prequel, drowns in creative flop sweat while ignoring the source material’s comedic template.
Rarely have so many performers burned so many calories for zero laughs. Less than zero, to be more accurate.
Jeff Daniel Phillips stars as Herman Munster, created by a mad scientist fusing disparate human parts together. He’s freshly revived when he has a prophetic date with Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s muse).
It’s love at first sight, which rankles Lily’s grandfather, the Count (Daniel Roebuck stepping in for Al Lewis’ iconic ghoul).
Will Grandpa find a way to separate these lovebirds? Will Lester the werewolf (Tomas Boykin) trick Herman into a deal he’ll quickly regret? Can characters introduced in the first act disappear without a trace?
“The Munsters” storyline feels like several sitcom episodes cobbled together, with no particular plot emerging as vital to our interests. Yes, Grandpa loathes Herman at first, but it’s hardly enough to carry a film.
The emergence of Grandpa’s vengeful ex is similarly wan and hardly worth our while.
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The film’s saving grace? Phillips and Sheri Moon Zombie share an odd, undeniably chemistry as two lovestruck Munsters. Their infectious spirit holds some sections of the film together, even when it’s clear the material is pure filler that screams for an editor’s blow torch.
Zombie chose to bathe nearly every scene in ugly neon light, ensuring nothing on screen is frightening or film worthy. That yields a PG-rated romp, but it also makes the entire production look like a straight-to-video affair, at best.
The content hardly helps.
You’ll sit, stone-faced, waiting for that first, elusive laugh. Zombie and co. try everything to make us grin, from silly fades to fast-action snippets and animated segues.
Rob Zombie talks about directing his first PG-rated feature with #TheMunsters: “A lot of people have said to me: ‘Finally, I can watch one of your movies with my kids,’ which I don’t have kids so that’s kind of meaningless to me. But that’s nice!” https://t.co/kV8p52qqsN
— Variety (@Variety) September 28, 2022
The film shoves its micro budget in our faces. In many ways, it feels like a product of another age – even before the ’60s-era inspiration. The comedy is Borscht Belt crude, the musical cues so bald you’ll swear it came from a silent movie screening.
The film traffics in a few black-and-white montages, but they add nothing to the laugh quotient or storyline.
It’s still hard to get grumpy about Zombie’s “Munsters” misfire. The cast is so game, so eager to do anything for their director, that to pile on the production feels cruel. It’s literally punching down.
Phillips nails Fred Gwynne’s signature laugh and foot stomps, while Sheri Moon Zombie flutters across the screen like her predecessor, Yvonne De Carlo. It’s all for naught, as the story barely moves forward, and the screenplay delivers one groaner atop another.
Some gags are meant to be old and dusty, of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety. It’s hard to distinguish them from the “fresh” pile.
We get the usual array of Easter eggs, from Phillips name-checking “Car 54, Where Are You?” (Gwynne’s previous sitcom hit) to minor characters from the show’s original run dropping by for a visit.
Keen-eyed types will notice original “Munster” Pat Priest made the cut, as did the voice of Butch Patrick A.K.A. Eddie Munster.
“The Munsters” feels like a robust high school production, one given ample space and a serious makeup budget (by scholastic standards). Even the best backdrops and monster goop, though, are marginalized by Zombie’s lighting scheme.
On this day in 1964, the Munsters first aired!
Here’s one of the best scenes from the show and the lesson still applies today! pic.twitter.com/YHv3UVqvRJ
— Scooby-Doo History (@scoobyhistory) September 24, 2022
The director responsible for “The Devil’s Rejects” and “31” isn’t known for his funny bone, and “The Munsters” won’t change that perception. He stomps all over the film’s few clever lines, either with the boisterous soundtrack or ham-fisted direction.
At least he didn’t trod down a woke path or discard the show’s PG roots. You’ll hear a gay sex joke but it should sail over the kiddies’ heads.
Children may be the best audience for the reboot, their young minds open to the garish coloring and “Barney”-level yuks.
“The Munsters” doesn’t directly tease a sequel or series extension, but the final moments suggest such a scenario. Now, that’s frightening.
The Blu-ray edition features audio commentary from Rob Zombie plus an hour-long featurette “The Munsters: Return to Mockingbird Lane.” The latter lets the writer/director do a deep dive into his creative process.
HiT or Miss: The first trailer for “The Munsters” hinted at a debacle in the making. The actual film does nothing to counter those thoughts.