In adapting the cult classic television show The Munsters (1964-66) into a feature film for Netflix, Rob Zombie chose to adhere as closely to the aesthetics and general spirit of the source material as possible. Zombie’s The Munsters (2022) embraces the camp of the show in every conceivable way; from the production design to the special effects. The world of The Munsters is one of low-budget artifice.
Though the look is intentionally low-budget The Munsters is in reality painstakingly designed and methodically plotted by Zombie. A considerable amount of time and money was invested in creating a film that evokes a specific era of television. Like Anna Biller’s masterful The Love Witch (2016), The Munsters is a work of nostalgia that, unlike Biller’s film, refuses to turn a critical eye towards its fetishized objects.
Rob Zombie really doesn’t appear to know what to do with the intellectual property of The Munsters other than to re-create it with a fan’s blind admiration. Some of the jokes may be updated but otherwise The Munsters feels very much disconnected from the present. All that Rob Zombie can offer his audience is an escape into a fictional world that he finds soothing and familiar. Those viewers who are unfamiliar with the original show are likely to be baffled by Zombie’s film.
The Munsters is essentially an origin story made up of vignettes and loose plot threads that, in terms of narrative form, follow the formula of sitcoms from the 1960s. Causality and agency are not priorities in Zombie’s The Munsters which, on a reflexive level, is written more like an extended television pilot than a feature film. While this concept shows potential in the abstract it feels like little more than homage in execution.
None of this really detracts from The Munsters as pure family entertainment. The “dad jokes” are appropriately painful and Zombie’s use of color preserves, and in some cases expands upon, the kitch aesthetic of the show. But it’s the uber campy performances of Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Daniel Roebuck as Herman, Lily and The Count that sells The Munsters. This trio of actors embodies that specific brand of broad, quasi-vaudevillian acting that was so prevalent on television in the sixties.
In addition to the stellar performances of the leads Zombie has added a few cameos to the cast that will likely give The Munsters a wider appeal amongst horror fanatics. The three most notable cameos are those of scream queen Dee Wallace, original Munsters cast member Butch Patrick, and (my personal favorite) the mistress of the dark herself, Cassandra Peterson. Unfortunately Zombie’s devout fidelity to the original Munsters show and his rolling out of horror super stars isn’t enough to ensure that The Munsters becomes a seasonal favorite.