Rob Zombie can only see The Munsters from one perspective. He identifies with them. Belongs to their brood. Rob Zombie is also a creation of his own self-mythologizing. His total perspective is limited to getting a rise out of someone. He understands, perhaps better than anyone still at it today, the power of iconography. He is obsessed with symbols and aesthetics and his functional resemblance to monsters as a cult of personality in rock music. His horror films even adopt the most troubling insignias, functional items of Confederate or Nazi occult messaging, because these are bold and obvious symbols, designed to cast inexorably large shadows of propaganda behind their deeply troubling meanings. Artistic license outweighs difficult connotations because if the effect is meaningful, Rob Zombie has fulfilled his role not as a proper director but as a leading carnival barker for the macabre aberrations of counter-culture.
Here, Zombie is anchored by three symbolic touchstones: he is making an adaptation of The Munsters in the visual style of a Hammer Horror film, as a conceptual throwback to Universal Horror movies. His first PG-rated film, The Munsters relies more heavily upon his aesthetic fixations while not allowing his most problematic tendencies, drawing from the original black-and-white show to inform character designs while operating in bright slime greens and cartoon textures as a formal palette.
Mr. Zombie gets the look and feel of The Munsters. And what is the rest of it? Gags. But what else, deeper than kooky monster costumes and gags, made the show unique? It was always that they were strangers in a normal land. For Rob Zombie, all he might see is that the out-sized personas are the show, what he would stage at his concerts, what he would put in a funhouse carnival exhibit. But what made the show click were the moments when this family intersected with other kinds of surreal monstrosities: the bland normalized American family that was seen in all the programming blocks around them and the various run-ins with bureaucracy as these outsiders just tried, often to comedic effect, to fit in. What happens when a pipeline must be installed beneath The Munsters’ home and the gas workers are terrified to learn of their existence and want to report them? What is this existence, of hiding and blending into the world, of utilizing your oddness for acts of public good, of finding a place in the world through the beauties of your own eccentricities? Zombie does not totally get this because to him the themes are literalized and the costumes are another function of his branch of showbiz. It’s just an act of showy inclusion and not a meaningful distinction of curious characters juxtaposed with normative culture and spaces.
Zombie has carried the project with him for so long there is a clear catharsis of finally getting it all down. Between his first two solo albums, he directed his first film, House of 1000 Corpses (2003), and Universal asked what his next project would be if he could make another film. The Munsters. The idea was gestating for over 20 years, over several different calls and non-starters, until it has finally come to fruition as a straightforward costumed rom-com. Maybe it’s surprising then that there are so few ideas here. There are a series of sitcom-like episode premises mashed into a feature length runtime but it’s just a series of things that happen between dad jokes. Is that the dream project? Or is the aesthetic realization enough?
So, the gang immigrates from Transylvania to America, again, and while more contemporary familial issues are not explored, it’s no surprise Zombie fixated on an American past. Even when he arrived as a musician, the character actors of the rock scene were an old fad. The leather pants full of armadillos were traded in for cardigans, another kind of costume. And Zombie arrived as an affectation of the costume rock past, pulling up late to the party in his “Dragula” (a fiberglass coffin attached to a V8, from The Munsters) but making so much noise you had to pay attention, or maybe you hummed along while playing Twisted Metal (note: eventually Rob Zombie was a playable character — “he writes the sooooongs [evil laughter]”). The man, the Zombie, arrived so divorced from his time, a spectacle not of modern American counterculture (status as the Howard Stern theme song notwithstanding) but as counterculture of the fictional past. So, his attachment to a decaying brand, is not just earned, but is patently what works about him. This should be his source of enthusiasm — where he says he discovered television and where so much of his iconography is drawn from. It’s a dream project for him and for us, it’s sitting through someone else’s sometimes shapeless dreams.
There is a movie here. You can go in just for Rob Zombie’s ambitions. Humor him because he’s wanted to do this forever. Let him make another one and really go wild now that he has it out of his system. Let him do what he did with his second Halloween movie with The Munsters property. If there is any inevitability here, it’s that the film should attract a small seasonal cult audience. It will get play during the season because it’s higher effort than so much seasonal fare. Because there is at least some burning passion and want to create this image for the screen. There’s nothing deep to find here, in the total reverence for a better television show, but it does feel like a natural spiritual continuation. The film makes up for its sole aesthetic interests by being so seasonally interested that it fits the bill. It’s The Munsters from Rob Zombie.