The Munsters Review: A Baffling, Painful Take On The Old TV Comedy

Considering the spate of TV-to-movie adaptations that were released in the 1990s, it's genuinely surprising that there hasn't been a modernized feature-length take on "The Munsters" before now. A mashup of '50s-era sitcom tropes and classic horror, "The Munsters" would have seemed ripe for a big-screen take. And yet, though the 1990s brought us very shrewd and funny adaptations of both "The Addams Family" and "The Brady Bunch", it has taken until the year of Our Lord 2022 for Universal Pictures to scrape deep enough into its vast barrel of intellectual property to unearth the family of monsters known as "The Munsters," the new PG-rated effort from cult genre favorite writer/director Rob Zombie. The result – which is headed simultaneously to home media and Netflix on the same day – is a 110-minute example of staggering cheapness masquerading poorly as a feature, whose only meager defense is that its top-to-bottom wretchedness is intentional, not accidental.

Instead of using the common image of the Munster family – Frankenstein's-monster-esque father Herman, mother Lily and grandfather The Count (both vampires), werewolf son Eddie, and non-monstrous niece Marilyn – as the jumping-off point, the new "Munsters" focuses squarely on the courtship between Herman and Lily, after spending the first 20 minutes riffing on "Frankenstein" as we follow a moderately crazed scientist (Richard Brake) and his idiotic assistant (Jorge Garcia) as they attempt to bring dead tissue back to life. The result is Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips), a large undead man given the brain of a cheap stand-up comedian. (That's because the idiot assistant grabbed the brains of said comedian, instead of the brains of the comedian's much smarter brother.) Eventually, the hammy Herman attracts the attention of Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), whose father the Count (Daniel Roebuck) wants her to marry someone, anyone, except the lunkish Herman.

To describe this film's plot is to do a disservice to the word "plot" because, inherently, there is none. "The Munsters" is a plotless, formless mess that can't even be said to aspire to the notion of being a hangout movie where we're just glad to spend time with the characters. This film answers the question of how Herman and Lily met just as it answers the question of what led the Munster family to 1313 Mockingbird Lane: poorly, slowly, and uselessly.

The Count may seem positioned to be the film's antagonist, but as soon as Lily sets eyes on Herman, her search for a suitor is over, no matter what her grouchy father says. (And his sole attempt to create a perfect man for her peters out quickly thanks to one of the many inexplicable and unsuccessful attempts at humor.) The closest the film comes to a villain is the Count's long-ago ex, a plotting psychic played by Catherine Schell (perhaps best known for her work as a Bond Girl in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). And even her character has little arc aside from wanting something (the Count's mansion), getting it, and vanishing from the story.

A monstrously un-scary and unfunny affair

If there is any value in "The Munsters," it can only be for those die-hard fans of Rob Zombie, best known within the horror genre for more extreme efforts like "The Devil's Rejects" or his two "Halloween" films than for this ostensible family film. (There are some risque attempts at humor, but nothing remotely gruesome.) From the start, there's a handful of notable horror-film tropes or references, from a blind date Lily goes on with a Count Orlok, who looks ... well, exactly like the title character from the German horror classic "Nosferatu," to the "Frankenstein" references in the opening 20 minutes, to an eventual cameo appearance by Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The references are easy enough to spot, but it is difficult to see it as anything more than being rewarded for having some cultural savvy.

The performances – for ill, though they're trying for good – all approach varying levels of camp. Roebuck and Brake both seem to grasp the movie they're in, and so their over-the-top performances seem apt to the material they're given. (The same goes for Garcia, who's primarily in the first third, before becoming one of the many characters who just ... y'know, leaves because there's nothing else for them to do.) Phillips leans in very heavily to the bad-comedy stylings of just about every line of Herman's, which is both meeting the material where it lands and also often immensely painful to watch, especially considering the thuddingly slow pace of each scene. Sheri Moon Zombie, too, has an overly theatrical way of reading each line, but in a way that's matched by every canted angle, and every attempt at being weird from the costumes to the production design.

It's difficult to not let your mind wander a bit as you watch "The Munsters," so it's fitting that this film is going straight to Netflix, which boasts many films and shows custom-built to let you multi-task instead of paying close attention. So it's difficult to not wonder who this movie is actually for. Are modern kids champing at the bit for a "Munsters" movie? Do Rob Zombie's fans want to see him work in a PG-rated mode? Perhaps they will, and perhaps they'll embrace this as a film that's so bad it's good, or as a film whose badness is the point. (Gee, it sure would be nice for a film attempt to be good, though.) But the half-hearted way in which "The Munsters" was produced, from its meandering start to its abrupt finish, implies that it exists to mark a box on a checklist, to ensure that Universal Pictures has proved it finally mined one more bit of IP. What a baffling, misguided film.

/Film Rating: 2 out of 10