Back in 2012, Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller tried to resurrect America’s first family of fright and fun, The Munsters, with Mockingbird Lane. But it wasn’t the first time that the cult CBS TV show, which ended its run after two season in 1966, was dusted off and reimagined.
Thanks to syndication, the popularity of the series was such that three members of the original cast – Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo and Al Lewis – were reunited for the 1981 made-for TV movie, The Munster’s Revenge, in the hope that a sequel series would be picked up.
But the jokes were old hat by then and nothing came of it, until seven years later when The Munsters Today ended up airing for three seasons, with John Schuck, Lee Meriwether and Howard Morton playing everyone’s favourite monsters: Herman, Lily and Grandpa.
Then came the TV-movie, Here Come The Munsters, which was first screened in the US on Halloween night in 1995, and starred Edward Hermann (The Gilmore Girls), Veronica Hamel (Hill Street Blues) and future Mad Men actor Robert Morse in the lead roles. Serving as a prequel and a reinvention of the original TV series, it found the family forced to flee their native Transylvania for America, where they settle down in the home of Herman’s comatose sister Elsa (Judy Gold) at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
While Lily tries to win over the neighbours, including the nosey Mrs Dimwitty (Mary Woronov), and Herman finds his perfect job at the local undertakers, it’s down to Grandpa to find an antidote for Marilyn’s dad, Norman Hyde (Deep Space Nine‘s Max Grodénchik), who has accidentally turned himself into a xenophobic Republican, Brent Jeykll (Jeff Trachta).
Hermann, Hamel and More do a great imitation of the original characters as played by Gwynne, De Carlo and Lewis, who great a neat cameo in a restaurant scene with Pat Priest and Butch Patrick (the original Marilyn and Eddie).
The slap-shtick comedy is lifted straight out the 1960s series, as are many of the puns and visual gags that made the series so memorable. Mind you there are also some new ones like Lily’s creaking stair-climber to bring it up to date (1990s style). The film’s script, from future Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Brady, meanwhile, errs on the side of caution in making fun of Republicans, low-fat diets and anti-immigration laws.
Playing Marilyn is Ben Stiller’s future wife, Christine Taylor, who is so annoyingly chirpy that she seems to be channeling her Marcia Brady character from the Brady Bunch movies, while cult favourite Mary Woronov is wasted as the Neighborhood Watch busybody and deserves more scream time.
Unfortunately, the Munster Mansion that was used in the TV series (and which ended up being redressed for Desperate Housewives) doesn’t make an appearance here. Making welcome return, however, is the original Munster Koach, designed by George Barris, who also did the Batmobile for TV’s Batman, the show that help sealed The Munsters premature burial back in the 1966s.
While Here Come the Munsters can’t beat the original series, or indeed the first screen outing (in colour), 1966’s Munster, Go Home! (also available from Fabulous Films), its old school charm pays a nice homage. Yet another TV movie, The Munsters Scary Little Christmas, was made in 1996, again with a different cast and a different house (it was shot in Australia).
Here Come the Munsters is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films
WHERE EVIL DWELLS
Sophomore student Samantha, played by Jessica Harper look-a-like Jocelin Donahue, finds her own apartment but needs cash to make the first month’s payment. After taking up a babysitting job at the remote country home of an elderly couple, the Ulman’s, she is stunned to learn she will actually be looking after their elderly mother instead. When Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan, aka Frankenstein in The Monster Squad) offers Sam $400 for the night, she accepts the offer – much to the displeasure of best buddy Megan (a brilliant PJ Soles-like Greta Gerwig). What follows is, in the best tradition of 1970s satanism and 1980s slashers, a night of sheer terror as Sam comes to realise that something sinister is afoot and that she is the key to a terrifying ritual.
BEYOND THE DOOR
Drawing heavily on Roman Polanski’s chillingly perfect psychodramas Repulsion and The Tenant, director Ti West has done a masterful job with this period psychological horror. He has even successfully pulled cult favourite Mary Woronov out of retirement (a feat in itself according to the director) to lend her dark presence as the mysterious Mrs Ulman. In fact, so great is her mystique that when she made her grand entrance, even John Landis (who was sitting next to me at the film’s UK premiere at 2009’s FrightFest) gasped in excitement. Now that’s an honour. Meanwhile, Howling actress Dee Wallace makes a decent cameo as Sam’s landlady. Too bad we don’t see more of her, though.
Thanks to a dedicated art department, the film faithfully recreates a 1970s feel in this house of the devil, right down to the brown flock wallpaper, terrible furniture and wall phone (which plays an essential role). Even the soundtrack and credits look like they were of the period.
The House of the Devil perfectly captures that horror staple of the era it evokes – Satanism. In fact, the movie opens with real statistics that 70% of Americans believed devil worshipping cults existed, while the other 30% believed government cover-ups prevented people from knowing about them.
If you like your horror served slow roasted with a dash of fright rather than a series of kills for thrills then The House of the Devil is just for you.
The House of the Devil screens in the UK on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149).[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71XjRbwcemQ%5D