‘Here Come the Munsters’ is a Silly, But Crude Trip Down Mockingbird Lane
Numerous attempts have been made to revive “The Munsters” over the years. Ever since “America’s First Family of Fright” left the air in 1966, the family has appeared in theatrical romps (“Munster, Go Home!”), TV movies (“The Munsters’ Revenge”), animated adventures (“The Mini-Munsters”), and full-on revival series (“The Munsters Today”), before once again returning to their crypt, where they would wait for their eventual comeback.
This time, in the 90s.
Produced by John Landis, “Here Come the Munsters” was a FOX movie of the week that aired on October 31, 1995. Hosted by none other than the Cryptkeeper himself as part of the network’s fourth annual “Halloween Bash” — which also included Goosebumps’ “The Haunted Mask” special and The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VI” — it starred Veronica Hamel as the bewitching Lily; Robert Morse as her father, Count Dracula, better known as “Grandpa”; Edward Herrmann as her modern promethean husband, Herman; Matthew Botuchis as their lycanthropic son, Eddie; and Christine Taylor as the outcast of the family, the drop dead gorgeous Marilyn.
The plot follows Herman, Lily, Grandpa, and Eddie as they flee from an angry mob in Transylvania and immigrate to America. Upon their arrival, Marilyn enlists their help to wake her comatose mother, Elsa. But in order to do so, they must find her missing mad scientist father, Dr. Norman Hyde (Max Grodenchik), who’s inadvertently transformed himself into a xenophobic politician named Brent Jeckyll (Jeff Trachta).
In order to create an antidote, Herman and Grandpa must get a sample of Jeckyll’s blood. This leads to a series of zany hijinks, including: a funny little gag where Herman hides in a closets, scares a kid and his mother, and gets arrested; a jail break romp featuring a decoy Herman built out of spare parts and a dog brain; a hot pursuit where Herman and Grandpa evade cop cars by turning the Munster Koach into an amish buggy; and ultimately, a final confrontation at Jeckyll’s campaign speech where Eddie turns into a werewolf, Lily bites a cop, and a conductor transforms into Elvis.
Supplementing the main story are a handful of subplots that range from short character beats, such as Lily attempting to mingle with the neighborhood women, to recurring threads, like Herman’s quest to find a job and Eddie’s howling school experience.
Most of these segments don’t really go anywhere, but Herman’s leads to a delightful sequence in which he, albeit briefly, works as a waiter and serves four of the five original Munsters: Yvonne De Carlo, Pat Priest, Al Lewis, and Butch Patrick. (Sadly, Fred Gwynne passed away two years prior.)
Although these actors are technically playing new characters, with a “wink-wink nod-nod” sort of energy and a dash of that old trademark Munster charm, you can pretend for one brief wistful moment they’re still playing “The Munsters.” Lewis is as devilishly mischievous as always, De Carlo once again keeps “Grandpa” in line as the motherly patriarch, Priest is as sweet and kind as ever, and the now-grown Patrick harnesses his innocent, childlike energy of yesteryear as if, mentally, he hadn’t aged a day since 1966.
The new cast, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just off. Morse is nasally and wound-up; Hamel is warm and motherly, but also chipper; Herrmann is gentle and naive but lacks the strong commanding voice Gwynne brought to the role; Botuchis is your average, run of the mill 90s Nickelodeon kid; and Taylor is picturesque and wholesome, but with a touch of Taylor’s usual charm.
But the cast’s biggest handicap isn’t with their performance, but the overall film itself.
To say “Here Come the Munsters” is hokey would be a massive understatement — it’s an absolute cheese-fest from beginning to end. The tone is kept fun and breezy throughout with silly jokes and over-the-top secondary characters and its corniness is amplified even further by its sets decorated with big, beautiful and fluffy cobwebs and costumes that look like something you would find at Spirit Halloween.
Unfortunately, the zany atmosphere is heavy-handed and comes at the expense of the characters. Because of the film’s well-meaning desire to be as fast-paced and silly as possible, it rarely slows down long enough for us to really spend time and empathize with the family the way we did with the original Munsters. Instead, they are rushed from set piece to set piece, giving them almost no room to build chemistry and earn the audience’s rapport.
It doesn’t help that the humor is obnoxious and just never lands while the overall plot the Munsters have the misfortune of being glued to, is crude and uninteresting and the many, many crass jokes about immigration seem more at home with the Bundy clan than they do the Munsters. This makes for a rather crude mixture, one part a loving celebration of Munsters nostalgia and the other part, a mindless romp typical of FOX in the 90s.
Its nostalgic intentions are well-meaning, I’ll give it that. But the approach itself lacks sincerity (and sensitivity) and at its best, rarely amounts to anything more than another nostalgic trip down Mockingbird Lane, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps this is why “Here Come the Munsters” is barely remembered. It’s more concerned with capitalizing on something you already remember than being something you will remember.
Unlike its beloved source material, “Here Come the Munsters” wasn’t long for this world. Although the film was successful enough to spawn a follow up, “The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas” — which had a completely different cast — it came and went without much of a murmur, and by the end of the 90s, it already had faded in obscurity. The film did receive a home video release overseas and while I vaguely remember seeing it stocked at Blockbuster Video and in bargain bins at Walmart, I’m having the damndest time finding evidence of a VHS release in the United States.
Though VHS recordings of its original FOX broadcast are in circulation, a decent copy of “Here Come the Munsters” is damn near impossible to find domestically. Not without imported DVDs, region free players and/or bootlegs. As the film nears its 25th anniversary next month, not only does it remains the only “Munsters” film without either a DVD or Blu-Ray release in the US, but the mere mention of its name is met with, at best, forgotten memories, but more often than not, confused and oblivious faces.