For all the love that the Addams Family gets, I grew up in a Munster’s house. For whatever reason, my parents were dialed into the events of 1313 Mockingbird Lane, and this burgeoning horror fan was dealt heavy doses of Lily and Herman. The simplicity of the shows premise, a family of monsters living the American dream, meshed seamlessly into the fabric that Donna Reed and Leave It To Beaver wove. Seemingly, I am not the only one. One of my favorite horror directors, Rob Zombie, loved The Munsters enough to make a modern tribute them.
The Trailer, Oh The Horrors
As a reporter of horror and horror movies, the double edged sword of social media demands participation. On one edge, the beautiful people and opinions that are endlessly available make it a wonderful place for discourse. On the other edge, the ugly people and opinions are endlessly available make it a cesspool of negativity. With respect to The Munsters (2022) trailer, the later half of that equation went bonkers. Truth be told, intellectually we were also in that camp… albeit less vocal and certainly with less venom.
For Malevolent Dark, it all started with the announcement. I had long known that Rob Zombie possessed a love for The Munsters, but when he announced that he was making this film, my eyes rolled. Here we go, Sherri Moon Zombie, Daniel Roebuck, Richard Brake and Jeff Daniel Phillips. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of these people, but jamming them into roles that I already knew and loved seemed like a stretch of epic proportions. Demonstrably, I was not the only one. The Interwebs agreed.
Then, the trailer came out. Literally dripping with cheese, bad jokes and saturated with dayglo lighting, my jaw hung to the floor. The Munsters looked to be as bad as I could possibly imagine.
Never Judge A Book….
I stand by my assessment of the trailer, and it could have been the iceberg that sunk this film. Taken out of context, the snippets of film appear abysmal. However, when interpolated into the whole vision that Rob Zombie lays out, these snippets become spectacular nuggets in a larger tapestry.
For starters, Rob Zombie uses intense colored light and over-saturation for two purposes. Clearly he likes it. The lighting lines up perfectly with techniques he used in House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Lords of Salem (2012). More artistically though, Rob Zombie reduces the pallet of colors on the screen by washing it out with colored light. What this brings the simplicity of the original black and white of The Munsters to the screen in a vibrant and psychedelic backdrop not seen since Batman and Robin (1997). Again, in small out-of-context quantities provided inthe trailer, it seems garish and synthetic. However, when the audience becomes immersed in the entire feature, it quickly feels like home.
Rob Zombie intentionally takes a schlock approach to the special effects in the film. Intentionally he creates cartoonish like monsters including Count Orlok and The Creature From Black Lagoon. The facial makeup of Lily, Herman and Grandpa are unapologetically bold and simple. Rob Zombies acceptance and appreciation for the simplicities of the original show prove to be the biggest strength of his film. Put simply, anyone that makes it through the first 30 minutes will have already professed their willingness to make the journey complete.
Being faithful to the original aesthetic Zombie created a Munsters universe that draws people in with its gravity. Still, he brings his own style to the equation to make it his own.
Rob Zombie clearly puts a premium on liking the people that he works with. That being said, his casting decision for The Munsters surprised no one. Overall, everyone rose to the challenge of their roles. Starting with Daniel Roebuck, he never fully captured the magic of Al Lewis’ grandpa, but could certainly be described as a valiant effort. Roebuck navigated the line between being disgruntled at Herman’s courting and later accepting him. This balance kept his role from detracting from the real story, Herman’s and Lily’s love. If nothing else, Daniel Roebuck shows extreme versatility.
Sheri Moon Zombie also provides a fitting performance as Lilly Munster. Throughout the film, in fleeting moments, she channels Yvonne De Calro, but those moments are few. Sheri Moon never really captures the elegance and grace of Lily Munster and for the most part seems more like someone playing Lily for Halloween. She tends to over-act and make too much use of robotic hand gestures. Over time it beings to feel pretty synthetic. Rob’s gonna cast Sheri as Lily. It’s just going to happen. I think given the challenge of universally loved character like Lily, she too performed admirably.
Most of the actors played multiple roles, and we would like to give Sherri Moon’s Donna Doomley some recognition. Well done Sheri!
Here is where we get some breakout performances. To date, I have only know Richard Brake as piss and vinegar. First, he breaks out of that mold with the strangely affable yet malevolent Dr. Henry August Wolfgang, the mad scientist responsible for creating Herman Munster. Using this analogy again, he feels a lot like a villain in Batman and Robin (1997). If you think that’s a bad thing, observe a child watching Batman and Robin. Brake then absolutely kills it as the awkward Tinder date Count Orlock. He’s weird, quirky, hilarious and he loves RATS!.
Count me among those that thought that Jeff Daniel Phillps could only disappoint in trying to become Herman Munster. Wow, was I wrong. If I were on a pedestal nit-picking, I could make a clear case that Jeff Daniel Phillips is not Fred Gwynne, but why should I do that? As far as I could tell, Jeff spent a massive amount of time perfecting every nuance of the character. From the bellowing laugh, to the Herman Hulk Smash and the charming break up of his voice, Jeff Nailed it. As far as tributes go, Phillips might have been the perfect man to play one of my most beloved character. Bravo.
Lest we forget Jeff Daniel Phillips fleeting moments as the comedic brain donor, Shecky von Rathbone!
Rob Zombie Makes What He Loves, And We Love Him For It
Rob Zombie makes his films about the things he loves with the people he loves. For that he deserves massive respect. For whatever reason, people either love his work or hate it with a passion so unholy that it could cause bibles to burst into flame. We at Malevolent Dark happen to love his work. Going farther, we love him for having the vision and the fortitude to make it work in a world where everything is boilerplate and predictable.
We went into The Munsters with the worst expectations, only to find a perfect little tribute to America’s favorite horror family. I was tickled to wake this morning to my kids having already discovered it, giggling on the couch. The Munsters is a Halloween treat AND believe it or nor, a whole family affair from none other than Rob Zombie!