While attending the prestigious Parsons School of Design, 20-year old Robert Cummings from the tiny New England burg of Haverhill, Massachusetts founded a noise rock-heavy metal band called White Zombie. He chose the band name (it's the title of a Bela Lugosi movie) as a tribute to his love of horror films, kitschy pop culture and all things macabre and adopted the stage name of "Rob Zombie." The band's catalog includes songs like "Ratmouth," "Shack of Hate" and the lovely "Welcome to Planet Motherfucker," which, curiously, is rarely played at wedding receptions. He developed a persona to go with his new moniker (which he legally changed in 1996), striking an imposing figure in long, unkempt hair, intricate tattoos and conversation peppered with talk of horror films and characters. Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne letting this snotty little upstart slide still doesn't sit well with me.
I am no fan of heavy metal, especially those bands whose lead singer sounds like an angry Cookie Monster over a bone-rattling bass line. I honestly can't tell one band in the genre from another. I'm sure that the leather-clad faithful would say the same thing about the Laurel Canyon contingency, but that's why there's chocolate and vanilla. That said, Rob Zombie is a pretty popular figure among that interesting intersection where hard rock meets Freddie Krueger. He is a platinum album recipient and a Grammy nominee. Obviously, Rob is a creative guy with an expertise (of sorts) in music.
Somewhere along the way, Rob decided to make movies. While I am not well acquainted with his music, I have seen Mr. Zombie's films. Well, not all
of them... and the ones that I have
seen, I haven't seen all of them
all the way through. I watched his notorious House of 1000 Corpses
alone. Was it great? I didn't think so. It had its moments. Filled with a troupe of players that would go on to appear in a number of Zombie's subsequent productions, House of 1000 Corpses
came off as a loving homage to the cinematic career of William Castle, the so-called "King of the Gimmicks," who made a slew of movies in the 50s and 60s. They were low budget, questionably-acted affairs that were creepy enough to evoke chills and silly enough to evoke laughter. The late Sid Haig as the malevolent clown "Captain Spaulding," grimaced and mugged and did what Sid Haig did best. Zombie even got Academy Award-nominated actress Karen Black to join in the fun. The story was campy and silly and the blood flowed in rivers. Zombie knows his audience and, among those particular circles, it is viewed as a classic. The follow-up, The Devil's Rejects,
was — in my opinion — unwatchable. This is based on the fifteen minutes I did
watch. The Devil's Rejects
ditched its "black humor" approach in favor of a presentation of what has become known as "torture porn," a cringe-inducing genre championed by director Eli Roth. I never got to see how The Devil's Rejects
ended or even progressed... and I don't care.
Zombie contributed a faux trailer to Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse epic, among entries by the afore mentioned Roth and Edgar Wright. Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS was a funny title with a half-hearted, poorly-executed, instantly-forgettable concept tacked on. I saw it when I saw Grindhouse, one of Tarantino's weaker efforts.
I saw Zombie's foray into the realm of animation in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto
. I only subjected myself to this because my friend April Winchell
voiced one of the characters and the style of animation was reminiscent of Tex Avery and John Kricfalusi (of Ren & Stimpy
fame). I never made it far enough to hear April's voice acting. I made it approximately ten minutes — five less than I lasted for The Devil's Rejects
Glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to watch Lords of Salem
, Zombie's 2012 take on the spooky world of witchcraft. Starring Zombie's wife Sherri Moon Zombie, this mess was a convoluted mish-mash of creepy for the sake of creepy. All of the boxes were checked — a mysterious recording, a coven of naked witches, weird neighbors and a thin plot tacked on as an afterthought. The current Mrs. Zombie has been cast in ten films to date — nine
of which were directed by her husband. She is the motion picture equivalent of Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and Patti Scialfa. While her acting ability is questionable, her husband
is indisputably famous. I stopped my on-demand viewing of Lords of Salem
about halfway through with the intent of watching the conclusion at a later time. I did. Three weeks later. Don't ask me what this movie was about. I don't remember. Oh, and I saw Zombie's remake of Halloween
. I hated it.
For years now, Rob Zombie has been
promising to bring The Munsters
to the big screen. Zombie claims to be the beloved 60s sitcom's Number One fan. If he was truly
the Number One Fan of the series, he would have let it be. Instead, he announced that he had written a full script and was scouting actors and locations. As expected, Zombie's fan base, chock full of head-banging horror fans — too young to remember The Munsters
in first run and only familiar with reruns, remakes and reboots... the last two dubious in their own right — were unsurprisingly ecstatic. "Rob Zombie's Munsters
will be great!" they proclaimed on social media. Of course, the overwhelming majority of fans, tired of Hollywood rehashing and "reimagining" their childhood, were rightfully leery of the undertaking.
Zombie's progress on The Munsters
was chronicled in great detail across social media. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were alight with "behind-the-scenes" photos and "script leaks." There were shots of make-up tests and stills of the iconic Munster homestead as it would appear in the pending feature. The film's stars were soon announced with Sherri Moon Zombie (of course) in the role of "Lily Munster," level-head matriarch of the family. Jeff Daniel Phillips would be portraying the childlike "Herman Munster." Phillips, whose previous work includes a caveman in a series of GEICO commercials and a subsequent TV show based on the ads, is a regular player in the loose Rob Zombie repertory company. Rounding out the cast is Daniel Roebuck, a busy character actor who gives his all in every role he takes, big and small. (I wrote about Daniel here
After many, many months of teasing, it was confirmed that Rob Zombie's self-proclaimed labor-of-love masterpiece would debut on the Netflix streaming service in the final week of September 2022. Scores of folks who had never seen a frame of footage began the debate. "It'll suck!" and "It'll be great!" and everything in between were splayed across the internet until premiere time arrived. I admit, I was curious. I asked Mrs. Pincus if she had any desire to watch it. Admittedly, she was not a fan of the original show, but she offered a non-committal answer. "I'd be happy to sit next to you on the sofa while you watch it.," she said. Well, it wasn't a "no."
So, I (we) watched last night.
Remember when Hollywood remade The Flintstones
as a live-action movie? Sure it stunk, but we all got a good laugh and a feeling of satisfaction when John Goodman made his first appearance in that familiar spotted orange one-piece and bellowed his first "Yabba Dabba Doo!" Well, I wasn't afforded that
satisfaction. Jeff Daniel Phillips, who I barely remember from Lords of Salem
, is, by no
stretch, a big enough name to warrant the "oh isn't that funny" reaction reserved for Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy or Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams. Sherri Moon Zombie seemed to have conceived her entire portrayal of "Lily," after only watching the opening sequence of the TV Munsters
. ("Yeah, that's all I need to see. She makes a lot of hand gestures and says 'oh!' a lot. I got it. Besides, my husband is directing this picture!") Only Daniel Roebuck treats his character with respect, thoughtfulness and insight. He is doing a dead-on Al Lewis pastiche. Sadly, the material he is given to work with is subpar. The dialogue is uninspired and lazy. I found the entire production lacking in humor
or any sort of combination of the two. Was this supposed to be a comedy?
Was it a horror movie?
I'm not sure what
was. I'm not sure that "superfan" Rob Zombie knew where he was headed. It's nothing.
It's a bunch of Rob Zombie's friends saying a bunch of words that Rob Zombie wrote. Everyone (with the exception of Daniel Roebuck) is phoning it in... on a ten-year old cellphone with a shattered screen and one blinking power bar left.
But, oh, I stuck with it. I don't know why. I think I silently hoped it would get better. It didn't. As a matter of fact, it got worse. I kept waiting for Eddie or Marilyn*
to show up, two important pieces of the TV show's central cast. They never did. Granted, the story was framed as a prequel to the events depicted in the series. But, that's like making a big screen version of Laverne & Shirley
and leaving out Squiggy and Carmine Ragusa. (Gosh! I hope no Hollywood producer read that.)
Someone online compared Rob Zombie to a modern-day Ed Wood. They cited his penchant to use the same group of actors in his films, his questionable choices and slap-dash style of storytelling. The difference between Zombie and Wood is Zombie's film's have zero "warmth." Ed Wood was trying his very best to be like his hero Orson Welles. Unfortunately, Ed Wood didn't posses a sliver of Welles' talent, creativity, innovation, production values or acting ability. But, he tried.
With shoestring budgets, Ed Wood did his darndest to make — in his
eyes — meaningful pictures of merit. Of course, he failed miserably, but he created unintentional entertainment. Zombie, on the other hand, is his own hero. He is also happily entrusted with substantial budgets. The Munsters
is estimated to have cost nearly $1.5 million. His sets, while deliberately grungy, are actual
movie sets. He has shot films on foreign locations. (The Munsters
was shot primarily in Budapest.) However, it is money that has been squandered. Zombie wishes to make films that "look
cool," but not necessarily "are
cool." His scripts make sense to him
, but he leaves out important details that allows the audience to follow along. Without giving anything away, there is a plot hidden somewhere in The Munsters
. It's about ten-minutes worth of hackneyed story buried under 110 minutes of garish lighting and smoke machines.
If I can offer a bit of praise to Rob Zombie's The Munsters — for a movie whose source material was in black & white, it sure was colorful.
Note: This should be taken as neither a recommendation or discouragement of Rob Zombie's The Munsters. You may like it. I did not.
*Pat Priest, one of two actresses who played "Marilyn Munster" on the TV series, makes a short cameo in a voice-over. She is not seen onscreen.