For the longest time, I was totally convinced that this movie didn’t really exist. We’ve known since March 2021 that Rob Zombie was writing/directing/producing a cinematic reboot of “The Munsters”, complete with Sherri Moon Zombie — his lovely wife and business partner — starring as Lily Munster. We knew the movie would be an origin story detailing how Lily and Herman Munster (here played by Jeff Daniel Phillips) met and fell in love against the objections of The Count (Lily’s father, here played by Daniel Roebuck).
In short order, we had a full cast list, an MPAA rating, a poster, a teaser trailer, and a library of production photos on social media. The one thing we didn’t know was when or how we’d ever see the fucking thing! Through all these clickbait articles and hollow news updates, the only word we ever got about a release date was “2022”. We didn’t even know if this would be a theatrical release, DTV, or streaming, much less which streaming platform it would be released on.
Only on July 18th of 2022 did we get any of those answers: The film was to be released on Netflix, September 27th of 2022. They seriously withheld that information until two goddamn months before the release. I know I’ve said early and often that Netflix is the absolute worst at promoting their own material, but that’s just fucking disgraceful!
Anyway, now that all of that is behind us and the released film does indeed exist, what exactly have we got with The Munsters (2022)? Well… how shall I put this?
Back in the ’90s, the late Joel Schumacher set out to make a film in loving tribute to a television show from the ’60s, namely the Batman series starring Adam West. Thus Schumacher turned in Batman Forever and later Batman and Robin, two bright and colorful neon-lit pictures filled to the brim with campy and cartoonish performances, made in an over-the-top way for an extremely young audience.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened here with Rob Zombie’s cinematic tribute to a different ’60s TV show. Everything is brightly lit and aggressively colorful. The shots are loaded with obnoxious tilts and pans. The sound design and score sound like something out of freaking Hanna-Barbera. (The iconic Jack Marshall theme song doesn’t play until just before the end credits.) Every actor in the cast seems to be in a scenery-chewing competition. Every other joke is a groaner.
But at least both of Schumacher’s attempts with Batman — most especially Batman Forever — had some sense of underlying pathos to take the edge off, while this movie’s got jack-all to stay grounded. Additionally, while the Schumacher films were visibly high-budget affairs with polished production design, literally everything in Zombie’s picture from the sets to the costumes looks laughably dirt-cheap. Perhaps most importantly, at least the goofy and colorful change in direction made sense for a franchise desperately trying to course-correct after the grimdark Batman Returns.
From start to finish with The Munsters, I kept asking myself who and what this picture was made for. It was clearly built from the ground up to be a PG-rated movie, but what kids would be interested in seeing a romance between two hyperactive adults acting like childish buffoons? And regardless of whether this film was made to bring in new fans or appease those who loved the old TV show, the same question applies: Was this really the best story to tell? Did anyone out there genuinely care about where Herman came from or how he and Lily fell in love or how they came to 1313 Mockingbird Lane? Because I’m pretty sure leaving all of that stuff unexplored didn’t get in the way of anyone enjoying the original series or these characters.
Oh, and it certainly doesn’t help that the plot is straight-up broken. Too many plotlines and character arcs are abruptly dropped and left completely unresolved, too many climactic problems are either forgotten entirely or resolved through no effort from our main characters, and there’s not even a sequel tease to hint at Eddie or Marilyn. Sure, the first act and the second act are at least structurally sound, but that third act is a shapeless mess.
With all of that said, I have a difficult time bringing myself to say that it’s a bad movie, much less to say that I hate this movie. After all, the filmmakers were clearly going for a broad and cartoonish vibe with a precise sense of comedic timing. I’m not saying that going for this particular tone or this particular story was the right call, but the objective is so specific and the filmmakers put so much effort into getting it so exactly right, I can’t help but commend the craftsmanship. It’s sort of like the man who brought us an HD Blu-Ray restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate — I can appreciate the talent and effort that got put into such an endeavor, but I can’t for the life of me understand WHY?!
The other crucial factor is that I’m not picking up any malice here. This doesn’t feel like the work of a filmmaker who’s apathetic or disdainful toward the original show or those who love it. This doesn’t feel like a cynical cash-grab made for an audience of nitwits eager to buy any slop placed in front of them. In point of fact, I genuinely believe that Rob Zombie grew up as a huge fan of the original show and we’re seeing the original characters filtered through his own childhood nostalgia. Hell, even the cheapest of the sets and costumes are put together in an endearing sort of way.
Watching this movie, I’m convinced that Rob Zombie deeply loves the show and the characters, and this is his means of expressing that love. As to whether anyone will love the show in the same way or read this love letter with the intended sentiment, that’s another story.
And anyway, this is freaking “The Munsters”. We’re not exactly talking about a Jordan Peele picture here. If the film offers us groan-worthy jokes and cheap-ass production design, then really, what more could anyone reasonably expect? Furthermore, we’re talking about concepts and characters built specifically for self-contained 30-minute episodes of television — trying to extend them to a feature-length story was always a dicey proposition.
The Munsters (2022) is a tough one to gauge. There’s care and affection pouring from every corner of every overcooked frame in this dirt-cheap picture. The filmmakers put so much effort into striking such a precise yet off-the-wall tone that I can’t bring myself to call it a bad movie. Yet every single creative decision is so misguided, every performance and character so obnoxiously heightened, that the movie fails to justify its own existence, except maybe as a cinematic guilty pleasure.
In the end, I submit that the movie is like the characters themselves: A hideous yet well-intentioned and totally harmless oddity, defiantly proud to exist on its own peculiar terms.
As with so many Netflix releases, going directly to streaming really was the best possible outcome for this picture. This movie was made for an extremely narrow sense of humor, and you’ll know within the first ten minutes if it’s right for you.