Sunday, July 24, 2016

Here Come the Munsters – review

Director: Robert Ginty

Release date: 1995

Contains spoilers

The Munster’s original series was pretty much a favourite of mine and spawned two films starring (mostly) the original main cast. Munsters Go Home worked fairly well but the eighties’ the Munsters’ Revenge didn’t work so well, unfortunately.

There were two more movies with different casts. I have already looked at the 1996, and average holiday vehicle, the Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, but this one, from the year before, has languished in the “to watch” pile for too long. Again this had a different cast, though it did have a pleasing cameo of original cast members.

the mob
The film starts in Transylvania with an angry peasant mob making their way with torches and pitchforks to the Munsters’ castle. We quickly meet the new version of the family; Herman (Edward Herrmann), Lily (Veronica Hamel), Grandpa (Robert Morse) and Eddie (Mathew Botuchis). Jokes such as Herman saying, “villagers… you can’t live with ‘em, and you can’t get spare parts without ‘em” and the subsequent over affected “amused looks” from Eddie and Lily felt like it was trying too hard. Anyway Lily is concerned and wants to move but Herman thinks otherwise until the mob gathered outside fire a bazooka at the castle.

Christine Taylor as Marilyn
They escape the castle through a secret passage and find where Spot – the dragon – has buried the postman. There is a letter from their niece Marilyn (Christine Taylor, Room 6) that is barely readable due to holes burnt in it but seems to be inviting them to America. They take Transylvanian Airways (Grandpa flies besides, whilst Herman and Lily watch the Bride of Frankenstein) to America and give the names of Herman’s sister Elsa (Judy Gold) and her husband Norman Hyde (Max Grodénchik) as their immigration sponsors. When they get to the Hyde’s home (1313 Mockingbird Lane) Marilyn greets them but she hadn’t socially invited them. Norman is missing and Elsa has gone into a Transylvanian Trance with the shock. To save Elsa and stay in America they will have to find Norman.

the cops
Of course, with the name Hyde, you can guess the plot direction but what hit me as I watched it was the fact that they are fighting through the film against anti-immigration rhetoric. This really starts early on with the cop Detective Warshowski (Troy Evans) complaining about foreigners and his partner Detective Cartwell (Sean O'Bryan) pointing out that Warshowski is hardly an Apache name and expands to an anti-foreigner political campaign and a call for the Munsters to be deported. Some nice side swipes, such as Herman not wanting unemployment benefits, preferring to work for a living, were included. As I watched twenty one years on I found it sad that such rhetoric is still central to both UK and US political language, blaming the woes of a country on the “other” (of course fear of the other is at the core of the vampire genre) being the cheap political tool and appealing to the base instincts of the tabloid driven mob.

Lily bites
Before we get too deep, however, this is a Munster movie and, whilst the under-current is there so is some slapstick (and grandpa in drag as a disguise). It also has some definitive vampire activity and not just Grandpa in crap bat form and confirming himself as Count Dracula. We actually get to see Lily bite someone – in this case a female cop in order that they can get her walkie talkie (“she’ll be fine… just feeling a little drained”). At the end of the film we also see Grandpa’s fangs momentarily. Eddie in this is all werewolf – there was some degree of werewolf/vampire hybrid in the original.

original cast members
I mentioned a cameo and we get a scene with Herman taking a job as a waiter and, for his first order, the table has four surviving cast members from the original show; Yvonne De Carlo (Nocturna), Al Lewis (My Grandpa is a Vampire & Fright House), Butch Patrick and Pat Priest. Whilst dressed normally their dialogue is pretty much owing to their original characters and the inclusion was welcome and amusing.

fangs on show
The film wasn’t too bad. Eddie had at least a little to do in it and, whilst not a patch on the Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo versions, the Herman and Lily weren’t too bad. Star of the film, for me, was Robert Morse. Al Lewis would always be a hard act to follow and, at first, it did feel that (vocally in accent and delivery) Morse was impersonating Lewis but as the film went on he became Grandpa Munster and that is a high compliment indeed. There are some canon changes in film (Marilyn being from Herman’s side of the family for instance) but nothing that was too radical. Of course it would never match the series, too late chronologically to get away with the innocence or naivety of the original and too slapstick to draw a more modern (for the time) furrow, but it was worth watching. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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