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Rob Zombie’s ‘Munsters’ Movie Ignores Everything That Worked about the ‘60s Series

The Munsters and the Addams Family have been locked in a family feud since both of their TV shows debuted in September 1964. These two families of fright didn’t ask for this comparison, but it doesn’t help that each franchise’s trajectory has been eerily similar over the past 58 years. They’ve both enjoyed (sometimes endured) feature film adaptations and TV reboots in a kind of never-ending one-upghoulship. And just as the Addamses prep for a return to TV via the new Netflix series Wednesday, here come the Munsters with their own feature film (coincidentally also streaming on Netflix).

In this round of Frightful Family Feud, the Munsters just heard the buzzer. Three strikes. They’re out. The Addamses move on to the Fast Money round.

If that metaphor is too murky, let me clarify: The Munsters, directed and written by Rob Zombie, completely bungles the job and mangles everything that made the original series an enduring piece of pop culture. Even saying that the film is just for diehard Munsters fans would be damning it with faint praise — and it would also be incorrect. Zombie’s lethargic and lazy reinvention of The Munsters will be even worse If you grew up watching the Munsters or if you’ve watched the original Munsters sitcom recently. It’s that bad.

Let’s talk about the ’60s Munsters TV show.

THE MUNSTERS, Butch Patrick, Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Pat Priest, 1964-66
Courtesy Everett Collection

First of all, it’s not good. It’s kooky. It’s fun. It’s campy. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, funny. To compare it to some classic TV peers, The Munsters’ physical comedy lacks the edge of I Love Lucy and the jokes are nowhere near as sharp as The Dick Van Dyke Show’s, and The Munsters — which wasn’t filmed in front of an audience — lacks the live-wire energy of both of them.

Even compared to the ’60s Addams Family series, The Munsters feels timid — but comparisons between these two shows misses the fact that they’re fundamentally different. The Addams Family was about a bunch of macabre weirdos creeping out the normals. The Munsters was essentially The Donna Reed Show or Father Knows Best or any other squeaky-clean family show… but with monsters and vampires. The Addams Family’s humor came from the nonchalant way they carried out their bizarre, sometimes unsettling behavior; The Munsters’s humor came from essentially taking 1950s sitcom scripts and letting monsters say the lines. The place where the shows overlapped was in how the outside world freaked out in response to them, much to each family’s surprise and confusion. So no, a Munsters movie packed with wall-to-wall LOLs would actually be unfaithful to the source material.

Photo: Universal

In this area, Zombie comes close to matching the original series’ tone… primarily because every joke in the film has been resurrected after dying on stage in 1964. Not only does Rob Zombie not know how to write an original joke, he also doesn’t know how to direct a joke. There are eternities between setups and punchlines — and every punchline lacks punch. Again, the original show did not pride itself on its wit, but at least the jokes were closer to being new 60 years ago.

Still, this new Munsters movie didn’t need to be funny, per se! The script’s also missing a plot and any conflict, but the movie could literally speed past those shortcomings if it wasn’t such an interminable slog. Someone, dear lord, someone tell me why a Munsters movie needs to be 110 minutes long. Both Addams Family movies clocked in at a lovely 90-ish minutes! They also, like most film comedies, had jokes, antagonists, and a plot. But this Munsters experience lacks all of that and is nearly as long as 4.5 episodes of The Munsters.

Photo: Netflix

The original show remains watchable because, as poorly as those scripts may have aged, it’s still a zippy half hour of actors in monster makeup slinging zingers and puns at each other. Instead, The Munsters as envisioned by Rob Zombie is nearly two hours of establishing shots and ill-timed “jokes” delivered by actors who really make you miss the natural and legendary charm of Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo, and Fred Gwynne.

The only thing that Zombie brings to the Munsters mythos is a vibe. He paints over the black and white original with the loudest colors available, and that works. But then again, everything else about the movie feels embarrassingly low budget — especially any time a “monster” appears. With its lazy script, low budget, charmless yet over-the-top performances, and bloated runtime, The Munsters feels like the answer to a question no one asked: “What if a 57-year-old goth wrote and directed a Disney Channel Original Movie for adults?”

The Munsters may be an objectively goofy relic of the mid-’60s fascination with supernatural sitcoms, but man, the show deserved so much better than this.