Writer/Director Rob Zombie’s The Munsters premiers today on Netflix.
No critic wants to go into a movie hoping its bad. If we’re going to be spending our time watching, thinking and writing about something, it is far better to spend that time on a movie that is good, that makes us want to share our enthusiasm for a movie that we have just discovered. So yes, I did sit down to watch writer/director Rob Zombie’s reboot of the 1960s monster sitcom The Munsters hoping that it would be good. This, despite of the fact that Zombie seemed like an odd match to the material and the one released trailer did not inspire much confidence.
But friends, this was not a good movie. In fact, it was a downright terrible and disappointing one.
The Munsters is certainly not the first TV show to get a bad theatrical film made from it. But at this point there have been at least a few good TV-to-feature film adaptations that should certainly set an example for anyone else to follow. Big screen versions of both The Addams Family and The Brady Bunch have their source material in the same decade that The Munsters does but they managed to take interesting individual new takes on the material. The Addams Family took the characters and translated them into a big screen comedy, forsaking some of the more sitcom trappings found on the old TV show. The Brady Bunch deconstructed the idea of the eternally happy family that the original show seemingly promulgated by moving the characters into modern times, but not updating them in any other way.
Here, Zombie is much more concerned with recreating the look and feel of the original series in order to give us an unwanted origin story for Herman and Lily’s relationship rather than in doing something interesting or new. He certainly gets the idea that the comedic core of the Munsters appeal is taking classic Universal monsters and juxtaposing them against standard sitcom tropes. But the execution here just doesn’t work. And while humor can often be subjective, it all comes down to the jokes just not being funny. The attempt for laughs here doesn’t replicate so much mid-1960s sitcom sensibilities so much as it falls short. Speeding up the footage to show people running away in fright from Herman and Lily may have been funny in the 1960s – And who can say really because the show was sweetened with artificial laughter as a matter of course – but it just feels cringey now. He also spends time recreating classic monster movie images only to quickly subvert them with a weak joke, as if the act of subverting the classic imagery should be funny enough in itself. It never quite works and after the third or fourth time it really starts to grate on the nerves.
To be fair, the recreation on its surface is fairly meticulous. The costuming, makeup and set design seem lifted directly out of the original series and the new characters and locales the movie gives us feel like authentic extensions of that ethic. Roebuck’s Count feels as if he is channeling the spirit of original actor Al Lewis. But all totaled, it isn’t enough to make this a worthwhile venture.