‘The Munsters’ Origin Revealed in Rob Zombie’s Colorful Romantic Comedy [Review]
Writer and director Rob Zombie‘s new feature film The Munsters is a fun and colorful origin story of how Herman and Lily met and fell in love back in Transylvania, tracking their courtship through marriage and eventual arrival in America.
The new movie nails the often goofy but always heartfelt comedic tone of the iconic original series, while adding even more classic monster madness and a healthy dose of groovy, 1960s-flavored vibes.
The imagery may take a few minutes to adjust to if you enter with the black and white series in mind, but then you will be awed at some of the framing and effects, which often recall the classic genre films that the original show paid homage to with its look. The ultra-vibrant colors combined with Zombie’s injections of vintage-style humor give the whole movie an almost cartoonish feeling. As Zombie says in his Blu-ray commentary track, “It’s like a spooky ride come to life,”
The story serves as a prequel to the existing show, taking place (at least apparently, though Zombie says otherwise on his commentary) in the early 1960s, just before The Munsters debuted on network TV in the fall of 1964. This is essentially When Herman Met Lily.
And best of all, The Munsters is a Halloween movie, with the family arriving at Mockingbird Heights and their home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane fittingly on October 31st. At first seeing all of suburbia dressed in costumes, they are pleasantly surprised and believe they will love their new neighbors, only to be horrified the next morning when the holiday is over. The whole substantial sequence is one of many additions to the pre-existing Munsters mythology that not only totally works, but does not contradict or rewrite anything from the classic TV show.
Jeff Daniel Phillips (Halloween II, The Lords of Salem, 31) has huge shoes to fill playing a character so synonymous with the great Fred Gwynne’s indelible performance, but he absolutely succeeds in making Herman as lovable as ever, even channeling some of his signature traits, like the big bellowing laugh and the childlike giddiness with which he experiences, well, pretty much everything. Phillips wisely does not try to impersonate Gwynne’s delivery, but effectively captures the same spirit.
Herman is a bit of a newborn, after all, having only just been “born” as a creation brought to life by the Frankenstein-like Dr. Wolfgang, played by another Zombie regular, Richard Brake (Halloween II, 31). All of the main cast play multiple roles in the film, but Brake’s techno-loving version of Nosferatu‘s iconic vampire Count Orlok is a major highlight of The Munsters.
Sheri Moon Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, 31) channels Yevonne DeCarlo’s spirit as Lily, while Zombie endows her with some cool new Big Trouble in Little China-style lightning shooting powers. Her epic entrances are at once beautiful, creepy, and hilarious. I especially adored the bats (appearing to be done with old school string technology, like in the original show) lifting Lily’s bridal veil at her wedding to Herman.
Daniel Roebuck (read our interview here) was born to play Lily’s father, who is of course Dracula, but is referred to here simply as The Count, not yet “Grandpa” because he has no grandchildren yet. At times Roebuck fully dives into an Al Lewis-accented voice, effortlessly tapping into the mischievousness of the original Grandpa, as he excitedly concocts a new spell in his bubbling cauldron.
There are numerous cool throwbacks and Easter egg references that hardcore fans of the original show will appreciate, such the Count’s loyal friend/assistant/butler Igor, played here by Sylvester McCoy. Igor appeared in many episodes and was always seen as a bat in the show, and, yes, the reason why he is a bat at that time is explained in the film. Herman’s seemingly endless memory of countless jokes on the show, and his sometimes inflated ego, are also explained to be left over from his brain’s previous life as a comedian.
Many side characters from the show also show up in the movie, including Lily’s werewolf brother Lester (played by Tomas Boykin), Mr. Gateman (as well as his partners Mr. Goodbury and Mr. Gates of Gateman, Goodbury, and Gates Funeral Home, appearing like The Haunted Mansion’s hitchhiking ghosts), Uncle Gilbert (aka The Creature from the Black Lagoon), and a reimagined version of Tin Can Man, now voiced by Butch Patrick (watch our interview here), who played Eddie Munster in the classic show.
Another legacy cast member, Pat Priest, who played Marilyn Munster in all but the first 13 episodes of the original series, also has a fun voice cameo.
Jorge Garcia (Lost) rounds out the cast as Dr. Wolfgang’s hunchbacked assistant Floop, along with Catherine Schell (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) as gypsy queen Zoya Krupp, who is also one of the Count’s ex-wives he forgot about (a callback joke from the show), and the great Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) playing the exact opposite of what we all know her best for as American realtor Barbara Carr. Looking nothing like Elvira, but with Peterson’s unmistakable voice, Carr is fittingly the first American that the Munsters meet.
When the new family arrives at Mockingbird Heights, the whole neighborhood is decorated and kids are out trick or treating, as the Halloween atmosphere is abundant and awesome. As Zombie says in his Blu-ray commentary track, “The Munsters don’t know what Halloween is, so they just think they hit the jackpot with the beautiful people.” (If you’re keeping score, this is Rob Zombie’s sixth feature film that takes place at least partly on Halloween.)
The Blu-ray, which does not come with a digital code, includes about an hour of behind-the-scenes footage with Rob Zombie and the entire cast participating in a well-rounded documentary, titled, The Munsters: Return To Mockingbird Lane.
The disc also thankfully includes a feature length commentary track with Rob Zombie, taking viewers deeper into his first foray into what he says is both his version of a classic Universal Monsters movie, hence the classic opening logo that harkens back to legendary genre movies like Bride of Frankenstein, but also his version of a legitimate romantic comedy.
Read on for some of the highlights from Zombie’s commentary track.
- He says he tried to make the film appear not specifically set in any particular time period, though he admits the heavy ’60s influence throughout.
- It is actually Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips really singing the Sonny & Cher classic “I Got You Babe”, and Rob had no idea his wife could sing until this.
- There was originally a whole backstory written for Tin Can Man, explaining that he is one of Dr. Wolfgang’s failed experiments.
- The witch photo seen on the cover of the Playghoul magazine the Count is reading is actually an outtake originally shot for Rob Zombie’s 1998 compilation album Halloween Hootenanny.
- A real practical town of Mockingbird Heights was built for the production, and it still stands there now in Budapest, Hungary where they filmed.
- The Halloween party scenes were all shot in one night, and no one in Hungary knew what Halloween was. As a result, most of the decorations and costumes had to be made by the crew, because there are no stores that sell any Halloween items in Hungary, though some 1960s-style masks were shipped in from America.
A must-own for Zombie aficionados, the new Munsters movie will keep fans of the classic show laughing, while opening the door for a new generation of monster kids to fall in love with them too.
The Munsters is currently available to watch on Netflix or to own as a Collector’s Edition on Digital, Blu-ray (order it here via Amazon), and DVD, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Universal 1440 Entertainment, a production arm of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
Watch our exclusive interview with original Munsters star Butch Patrick here.
Watch Daniel Roebuck and Butch Patrick’s Q&A panel at Haunted Screams Expo here.
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