Unknown to the Munsters, their lookalikes in the local Chamber of Horrors are not merely wax dummies, but robot doubles that commit a rash of crimes, framing poor Herman and Grandpa as “The Monster Muggers.” After they bust out of jail, a young detective, Glen, keeps one eye out for them – and the other out for Herman’s attractive niece, Marilyn, while he and Grandpa try to clear themselves. Television legend Sid Caesar is criminal mastermind Dr. Diablo, who believes himself a direct descendant of the Pharaohs, and uses the wax museum as a cover for his mad scheme to recapture the riches of the Nile.
eyelights: the mildly improved Munsters formula.
eyesores: the extremely simple-minded script.
“You hear that, Herman, hm? The pride of Transylvania treated like a common criminal. Heh, Well, I’ll tell ya, that’s enough to drive a man to drink! Hm. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a nice Bloody Mary. Or Dorothy or Emily.”
I’ve said it before, and I say it again: I’m no fan of The Munsters. Although I adore The Addams Family, The Munsters are like plastic fangs in the neck. Surprisingly, though, I’ve tapered my disdain following the viewing of the subpar ‘Munster, Go Home!‘ and this barely enjoyable television movie. Produced by Universal in 1981 to pave the way for a follow-up to the cult series, it failed miserably on TV and only found its way to home video many years later.
Bizarrely enough, this is probably my favourite of ‘The Munsters’ all the television episodes and films I’ve seen. Which isn’t saying much, given just how much I’ve loathed them thus far.
In this final appearance by the key members of the original cast, Herman and Grandpa Munster are falsely accused of terrorizing their city. The real culprits: the robots from a “wax” museum – who, under Dr. Diablo’s control, are set out to steal a fortune from a local museum. Herman and Grandpa, with the help of a young officer who is smitten with Marilyn, are going to try to clear their name – after they break out of jail, of course. And after they cause all sorts of havoc. Of course.
‘The Munsters’ Revenge’ is by no means great television. Even by 1981 standards, it was likely poorly-conceived and written by a bunch of baboons: the jokes are trite, the gags are lame, and the story simply doesn’t make any sense to anyone with the intellect of at least a five-year-old. It has all the brilliance of a Scooby-Doo episode, but it’s a significant improvement over the ’60s original, which didn’t even offer the solace of a few groaners to compensate for all the soul-destroying pain.
I don’t know if the characters are faithful to the original iterations, given that I couldn’t even muster courage enough to make it through a season, but I found them rather inconsistent. The performances were decent enough (at least for what this is), but there were moments when Herman was relishing his family’s love of horror (ex: saying that they should visit the Hall of Horrors for decorating ideas) and then would act naïve (ex: not being able to recognize torture devices).
At least there was the introduction of a couple of new Munsters to make things more interesting:
- The first, which was a total surprise to me, was Aunt Elvira. She is only referred to, but she is notable: ‘The Munsters’ Revenge’ came out only two months before Cassandra Peterson’s own Elvira first graced the boob tube. I couldn’t find any information to the effect that Peterson was indeed inspired by this TV movie, but it’s an unusual coincidence.
- The second, is a newly recurring character called Cousin Phantom of the Opera (I guess the writers couldn’t come up with a more original, and less wordy, name for him. Or they figured that viewers wouldn’t get the obvious Lon Chaney references. I mean, they could have called him Cousin Chaney, ya know?). He could be grating because he kept singing (a gag that would have been better served in small quantities, but which ultimately affected the plot), but he had his moments, and he helped make the others more palatable.
And there were a couple of additional supporting players:
- Jo McDonnell, as the latest iteration of Marilyn Munster. She’s cute, in a standard ’70s blonde sort-of-way, but she also can’t act herself out of a bag. She’s of TV sitcom caliber at best.
- Peter Fox plays Marilyn’s love interest, a police officer assigned to the Wax Museum case. He goes through the motions but is hardly stellar.
- Legendary comedian Sid Caesar plays Dr. Diablo, the ring leader. Caesar is amusing, but he does no small amount of scenery-chewing and could get on some peoples’ nerves. Let’s just say that he’s from a different era of comic performance.
This was clearly a low budget affair: Not only were the so-called robots obviously people in make-up (who tended to have a difficult time staying still, it must be noted), but they often looked very human-like – except hidden beneath a wig. Urgh. Furthermore, the few monster sounds that were made were obviously lifted from old-school kaiju movies – so even Herman, when upset, sounded like Gamera or Gojira. But filtered through a tin can. Le sigh…
Which lead me to wonder how these so-called robots could frighten people so easily:
1. In one scene, a wolfman lurches through a window, scaring off a half-dozen middle-aged poker players. None of them even hesitated: the moment he showed up, then ran. Hmmm…
2. In another scene a couple are necking in a parked car, when the robot version of Grandpa Munster stops at the window and leers – thereby spooking the crap out of them.
Neither robot does anything special, so what gives? How is it that they scared people so effortlessly? How is it that these and many other robots terrorized a whole city without doing anything remotely scary?
But this brings up so many other questions:
- Why didn’t anyone wonder about the legitimacy of monsters running amok? Surely cynical city folks wouldn’t believe in monsters?
- Why would these monsters pick such lame targets as neckers and poker players?
- How did they get to and from the wax museum without being followed or identified?
- Why were only Herman and Grandpa arrested when there were robots of Lily and Eddie as well?
- When Herman and Grandpa lead the cops to the wax museum, why can’t they find any clues? Didn’t Herman and Grandpa tell them where to look? And why were most of the robots only wax figures suddenly?
I suspect that the issue is twofold: 1) the writers weren’t especially sharp, and 2) this show was designed for younger/simple-minded viewers.
- When Herman and Grandpa escaped the wax museum’s hidden laboratory through a back door into an alley and bumped into the police, why didn’t they just lead the police back to that door? Why did they let themselves get arrested? They were right there, for goodness’ sake!
- How did Herman and Grandpa manage to replace the two waitresses at the pizza joint that launders money for the crime ring without anyone noticing? How in the world could anyone not notice that they aren’t women? Or human? I know that this was a gag, but it was as grotesque a gag as it was a grotesque sight to see them dressed in drag. Ick.
- Why would Herman and Grandpa knock at the house window to be let in, if they’re not even trying to avoid the cop who’s waiting for them in the house? Why didn’t they just walk in through the front door?
- Why did Herman and Grandpa go off to Transylvania just to get one of Grandpa’s life-giving potions? Couldn’t he remember how to make it? Or at least try to? And if they both had to go (dubious), why would they go in metal caskets? And how would those caskets leave the country without alerting the authorities?
In the end, ‘The Munsters Revenge’ is a poor-crafted film that reeks of television’s worst offenses, including a misnomered title (there is no revenge at any point in this picture). And yet, it is imbued with a somewhat enjoyable vibe that will likely delight small children, die-hard fans of the series and drooling idiots.
As far as I’m concerned this is as good as the original series got (it was rebooted at least a couple of times since), so anyone wanting to try out The Munsters should start here.
…if one must, that is: it only gets worse from this point back, unfortunately.
And that‘s scary.
Date of viewing: October 14, 2013