Rob Zombie’s “The Munsters” – Actually, Not That Bad (Review)

Following a teaser that harkened back to the original series’ opening, and a trailer that left audiences incredibly concerned, Rob Zombie’s adaptation/prequel of The Munsters is finally out on physical media and streaming on Netflix.  And while the entire internet predicted it would be in the running for the worst movie ever made, the honest truth is it’s not that bad (albeit with a few caveats).

Genuine Prequel
It’s no secret that Rob Zombie has been a lifelong fan of The Munsters, after all there’s a scene in House of 1000 Corpses where Otis is watching it on TV.  So when his lifelong dream was fulfilled of getting to do his own adaptation, he rightfully decided that there was no way he could just try and mimic what had already been done.  So he decided the make this story a prequel that could honestly still fit into the continuity of the original series.

Opening in Transylvania, we meet the Count (Daniel Roebuck) and his daughter Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) as she searches for a potential husband, although that doesn’t seem to be going well.  Nearby a mad scientist (played by Rob Zombie regular Richard Brake) robs several graves and takes a page from Dr. Frankenstein’s book to give his new creation life, whom he names Herman Munster.

Herman and Lily begin dating, much to the chagrin of the Count because he doesn’t think Herman is good enough.  But eventually they become the family that we all know and love from that classic 60s sitcom.  In a way, it kind of fits perfectly as an origin story and lead into that later series.

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It’s certainly contrived at times, but Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips do have great on screen chemistry. No doubt from starring in no less than 3 Rob Zombie movies together.

Homage vs. Making It His Own
Given Zombie’s immense fandom for the series, his goal was to make it as faithful as possible and it’s very clear in the final product, for both better and worse.  It has that same campy/cartoonish tone of the original series and the jokes are very hit or miss.  Some made me chuckle, others made me cringe, and some went noticed at jokes but got no response.

And while the movie itself feels very cheap and cheesy, that’s sort of the point.  For those complaining about the jokes not working or the humor being too dumb or goofy, go back and watch the original series.  In a way, it almost feels like this movie was aimed more at audiences back then, rather than audiences today.  Or in other words, it was more so aimed at fans of that original series like Zombie himself.

That being said, it would certainly be understandable for those fans to take issue with how several characters are portrayed.  Yes, this is a Rob Zombie movie, which means Sheri Moon Zombie was always going to play Lily, and as much as I love her as Baby Firefly, Lily Munster she is not.  Most of her delivery comes off more as a cheap imitation of Yvonne De Carlo.  It plays more like an SNL impression than an actual performance as the character.

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I hate to point it out, because there are some who constantly criticize his frequent casting of his wife. Honestly, she really works in certain roles, but it just isn’t a good fit here.

Jeff Daniel Phillips’ take of Herman Munster is the exact opposite, which might actually be a good thing.  Phillips certainly has Fred Gwynne’s stature, standing at 6’4” (only an inch shorter than Gwynne), but he doesn’t have the deep voice or presence.  In fact, this movie’s portrayal of Herman almost feels like a completely different character.  He’s much goofier, zanier, and almost childlike.

But given that this is a much younger Herman in a prequel, it kind of works.  This isn’t the same settled down family man we knew in the old series, this is the immature young person he was before that.  Herman was the one main character that it feels like Rob Zombie made his own and honestly he works for the tone and narrative of this particular story.

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If you can get over his higher pitched voice and constant laughing at his own jokes, you can tolerate the whole movie.

And of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Daniel Roebuck, who without a doubt gives the best performance of the movie.  He somehow strikes the balance between Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips in that he never feels like he’s doing an impression of Al Lewis, but at the same time, this doesn’t feel like a different version of the character.  He simply is the Count, and you believe it from his very first scene.

It Is What It Is
If you’re at all familiar with Rob Zombie or if you’ve seen the trailer, you already know exactly what kind of movie you’re walking into.  It’s low budget, campy, and looks incredibly cheap.  In fact on that last issue, this movie definitely looks better in black and white.  It makes it look more like the original show, and it hides how cheap everything looks.  If you’re able to, it is highly recommended to mute your TV color settings and watch it that way.

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Rumor has it Rob Zombie wanted to shoot in black and white, but the studio insisted on color. Either way, you can adjust it that way yourself.

Rob Zombie brings out all the usual stops with his music video style of shooting, which does come in handy from time to time.  And like he always does, he stacks the cast with his regulars like Sheri Moon Zombie, Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dee Wallace, and Richard Brake, but he also includes OG Munsters alum like Butch Patrcik and Priest, along with other legendary character actors like Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who), Jorge Garcia (Lost), Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), Catherine Schell, and Thomas Boykin.

For those who are able to go into this without the highest expectations and not take it all seriously, it does make for an enjoyable watch.  It’s probably not something that has the greatest rewatch value, but it’s fun for what it is.  And it’s certainly far from the worst movie ever made!

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People who work with Zombie always say his sets are a lot of fun, and it really shows in this one.

What did you think of Rob Zombie’s Munsters?  Let us know in the comments!

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