Some months late, finally reaches VOD platforms in Spain ‘The Monster family’ (The Munsters, 2022) by Rob Zombie, a film based on the mythical comedy television series that became a landmark in pop culture with its parody of horror film archetypes. Now, the famous singer and director has recovered the charm of the original to present a personal and respectful vision that wants to encapsulate the spirit of his legacy.
In a review for Collider he says that the prequel “It is not good. It’s a video to put in the background at a Halloween party” and it surely represents what many have felt when they saw it, although is not conceived to be anything other than a great celebration of what the festival of the dead means in United States. ‘The Monster Family’ can be judged by whether it is “good or bad” but it works in another category: there are movies that are Halloween and movies that are not. This is it.
The series premiered on television in 1964, six days after a similar sitcom about a family of macabre monsters: ‘The Addams Family’. Now, almost 60 years later, it seems that the two competing franchises are not capable of being separated, as this new incarnation arrived on Netflix in the United States just two months before ‘Wednesday’, the new spin-off series of Tim’s Addams Family. Burton. But of course, Rob Zombie is not Tim Burton, although their visual universes are connected by variations on the same love of classic monsters.
Let’s not forget that Zombie is a rocker whose biggest hit was the ubiquitous late ’90s hit ‘Dragula’, the title taken directly from the television series in which it appeared uploaded to the original car itself in a video that summed up very well what the series means to him. Then the singer became a respected and valued filmmaker, in whose cinema bloody images and shock abounded, so many could now expect an extreme and harsh reinterpretation and not a device rated for all audiences.
However, Zombie has crafted a fairly clean and harmless homage to the family comedy, trying to stick with the show to the point where it seems like all it’s doing is coloring it with green, purple or orange light. Besides, the feature film serves as a kind of “origin story”, in which we will learn how Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) met Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips). The vampire still lives in her Transylvanian castle with her father, the Count (Daniel Roebuck).
It is in this scenario where we see crazy little sketches like a date with Mr. Orlock (Richard Brake), the Nosferatu vampire, or the attempts of a mad scientist, Dr. Wolfgang (also Richard Brake), and his hapless assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia), for create a Frankenstein monster-looking creature, which is, of course, Herman Munsterwho was supposed to be created with the brain of the smartest man in the world, but is given the brain of the dumbest man, which explains his constant litany of bad jokes.
A return to the anachronistic-festive camp
There we attend as Lily and Herman experience love at first sight, which leads us to their wedding and the misadventures that lead to the couple arriving in a suburb of the United States. Along the way we meet Lily’s brother, a werewolf named Lester (Thomas Boykin), Zoya (Catherine Schell), a gypsy who was once married to the Count, and Zombo, the host of a horror TV show. And that’s it, There is no real conflict. There are no big twists or anything to move the plot forward except decrypt how they got to the beginning of the series.
You may miss a work so devoted to the camp and the naive in the body of work of an artist who began with ‘The House of 1000 Corpses’, but except for his ‘The Haunted World of the Superbeasto’, which keeps a similar commitment to the reproduction of moments and visual elements of a culture, Few works in his filmography align as much with his debut as ‘The Monster Family’since part of the charm of the first was its vocation as a hybrid between a house of terror, a traveling fair and a video clip.
The passages of terror are an increasingly worked and popular cultural element in the United States, and in the Zombie Cinematic Universe they have always had a key role, also, for example, in ’31’. ‘The Monster Family’ also has the spirit of one of those fairs of fear, only that instead of appearing in a diegetic way, it puts us with the camera in a world that is in itself an attraction made of plastic, papier-mâché and decorations placed without measure.
All the colors from the crypt
Every corner of the film is packed with references to classic monsters like the creature from the black lagoon, the sequels to the first Universal movies, the cemeteries, laboratories and mansions full of cobwebs. As if it were cinema from another era translated into technicolor visceral. Zombie wanted to do it in black and white, but the studio forced him to do it in color, so his response was to fill it with it until it exploded, along with his cinematographer Zoran Popovic, using a palette based on primary colors that he quite reconstructs. true to that of the original feature ‘Munster, Munster, Go Home!’ from 1966.
Of course, the idea of using an unreal color range gives the director the opportunity to channel his influences from Giallo, ‘Supiria’, Mario Bava and even the moving EC comic moments of George A. Romero’s ‘Creepshow’, with characters violently silhouetted against bright psychedelic backgrounds. It all makes for a visually luscious experience with neon lights of blue, red, green and purple bathing an over-the-top production design, with each scene packed with spooky props.
The settings are a gothic delirium, from the castle of the grandfather to the new neighborhood of the Munsters, to his carefully dilapidated house, which is in stark contrast to the suburban fantasy of Mockingbird Lane. The expressionist and exaggerated lighting takes everything to the extreme, entering between the liters of artificial fog and the recesses of the great sets built in Budapest. The makeup, from Wayne Toth’s Ex Mortis studio, brings character design into the world of the director alongside a costume party wardrobe. No one who has entered the visual universe of White Zombie’s video clips and album covers can grate on it.
The Rocky Horror Zombie Show
‘The Monster Family’ only cares about being loud and festive enough to be worth watching on TV in a rockabilly bar with people dancing in creepers, of being part of the mythology that has turned the image of Herman and Lilly into a model for T-shirts of people with toupees. It’s rock’n’roll, it’s punk, and it’s psychobilly. It is The Cramps’ favorite movie of the year, although their music was used for a scene from ‘Wednesday’, and Zombie’s intentions with it could not be more different from the Netflix series.
Far from seeking commercial success by transforming a brand for a new generation, going through all the steps of marketing by engulfing its personality and spitting it out in a way that makes it homogeneous, or adapting the language of the original for a broad audience of modern sensibilities,’The Monster’ family is an excuse for Zombie to do whatever he wants with a brand you love. With a minimal budget, the director uses the opportunity to make a new film in the franchise by embracing himself and his passions.
as a result leaves a representation of the impact on popular culture of the creation of Allan Burns under a kaleidoscopic lens that many new generations will not fully understand, nor can those who have followed the work of the author of ‘Lords of Salem’ outside the world of Warren comics, the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines, the animation of ‘ Mad Monster Party’, the Forrest J. Ackerman collections, the Zacherley and Vampira shows, the Hot Rod Monster art or the Groovie Ghoulies cartoons.