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'The Munsters': A guide to the spooky family's big and small screen incarnations
As Rob Zombie prepares to drop a new version of The Munsters, let's take a look back at some family history.
For a lot of people, The Munsters is a black-and-white TV show that's been in re-runs since the 1960s and... nothing else. The series, created as a satire of standard American sitcom fare in 1964, left a lasting mark on American pop culture, but it picked up a new wave of interest in recent months thanks to the news that writer/director Rob Zombie is about launch his own feature film incarnation of the spooky family.
That means a lot of new fans are checking out The Munsters, and a lot of old fans are returning to the classic series to follow the adventures of Herman, Lily, Grandpa, Eddie, and Marilyn all over again. But what you might not know is that The Munsters has actually endured in far more than re-runs. In fact, pretty much ever since the show ended its run in 1966, the family has lived on through the small and big screens with a whole franchise of spooky adventures, some a little more rewatchable than others. So, in preparation for the new film, let's take a look back through the family's many TV and movie incarnations.
The Munsters (1964-1966)
The show that started it all, The Munsters was a send-up of family sitcoms of the time that centered on the monster family of Herman (Fred Gwynne), Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), Grandpa (Al Lewis), Eddie (Butch Patrick), and Marilyn (Beverley Owen and Pat Priest) as they worked to navigate everyday life in an American neighborhood. Best remembered for Gwynne's mirthful laugh and the great comic timing of Lewis, it remains a classic of its era, and for a time it was even earning higher ratings than The Addams Family. So, does it still hold up? Well, a few jokes definitely haven't aged well, and you have to get used to the rhythms of a 1960s sitcom if you don't go down that road very on, but overall The Munsters is still a delightful experience full of great character moments and charming old-school effects and makeup.
Munster, Go Home (1966)
Almost immediately after the original series ended its run, The Munsters graced the big screen for the first time with this color film starring most of the original cast (Pat Priest was replaced by Debbie Watson). Munster, Go Home follows the family as Herman learns that he's inherited a manor house and a lordship in England, but it's not as amazing as it sounds. While the Munsters head over across the pond, other distant relatives are plotting to kill Herman so they can usurp the land and title, and hilarity ensues. Watching the family in living color is fun, and the film really does attempt some ambitious things that set it apart from the series.
The Mini-Munsters (1973)
Star Trek's not the only franchise that went animated in the 1970s. As part of ABC's Saturday Superstar Movie series in 1973, the Munsters took on cartoon form for this one-hour special, featuring an all-new voice cast with the exception of Al Lewis as Grandpa. The story features two teenage Transylvanian cousins arriving and forming a band with Eddie, a haunted hearse that Grandpa retrofits to run on music, some jealous gangsters, and more Munster madness. It's an interesting little pop culture curiosity if you want to go and hunt it down on YouTube, and the animation style is charming in a sort of School House Rock way.
The Munsters' Revenge (1981)
The Munsters kicked off the 1980s with their first live-action made-for-TV movie, featuring the return of Gwynne, De Carlo, and Lewis as Herman, Lily, and Grandpa. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite hold up as well as Munster, Go Home. The plot features a mad scientist who creates an army of robots who look like movie monsters to do his bidding. Of course, some of these robots look exactly like The Munsters, which means that Herman and Grandpa end up getting framed for their crimes. It plays like a plot from the TV show that they never got to use, which means the feature-length drags quite a bit. Still, it's fun to see the gang back together again for what would turn out to be the last project with the original cast.
The Munsters Today (1988-1991)
With the original cast done with their roles, The Munsters entered a period of several reboot attempts with varying degrees of success. The first of these, The Munsters Today, was the second attempt at a TV series, and an attempt to adapt the series to the various changes of the 1980s. The setup explained that the family — this time an all-new cast featuring standouts like Lee Meriwether as Lily — was put to sleep by one of Grandpa's inventions at the end of the last series in the 1960s, only to wake up two decades later. It's an interesting idea that seems to set up all kinds of fish-out-of-water comedy, but the show never lives up to the comedic punch of its original cast. A valiant effort, but one that never quite made it.
Here Come the Munsters (1995)
A few years after The Munsters Today, another revival arrived in the form of this Halloween night movie that aired on the Fox network and attempted to offer a new origin story for the family. Rather than simply redoing the show, Here Come the Munsters begins in Transylvania and shows exactly how and why the family ended up moving to America, why they live where they live, and more. It's got some great casting choices, including Edward Hermann as Herman and Robert Morse as Grandpa, but it didn't really stick.
The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas (1996)
A year after Here Come the Munsters, the family returned yet again, this time for a TV movie set during the Christmas holiday. Featuring yet another all-new cast in the title roles, Scary Little Christmas features Herman (Sam McMurray, who's having a lot of fun) drafting the whole family to put together the best good old-fashioned Transylvanian Christmas they can in order to cheer up Eddie. The results are both typically Munsteresque and even surprisingly touching, and things get particularly wild when Grandpa accidentally ropes the real Santa Claus into the mix.
Mockingbird Lane (2012)
A decade ago, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal writer Bryan Fuller tried to reboot the Munsters for the modern age, making them sexier, scarier, and a bit more stylish while still keeping some of the humor of the original show. The result was a one-hour television special that, sadly, didn't get picked up to series at NBC. That's a shame, because a lot about Mockingbird Lane really works, from the revamped look of the Munster House to Eddie Izzard's wickedly sharp portrayal of Grandpa.
The Munsters (2022)
Which brings us to this year, and Rob Zombie's efforts to revamp The Munsters yet again with what he's promised will be a sincere, comedy-focused take on the family. We don't know yet just how close the film will stick to the original show, but we do know that we'll get at least some of Herman and Lily's love story this time around. It'll be really interesting to see how Zombie, a lifelong Munsters fan, adds to this surprisingly robust, lengthy legacy of stories about lovable monsters.
The Munsters arrives Sept. 27 on Blu-ray and Netflix.
Stream the original The Munsters series on Peacock.