There was clearly something strange in the water during 1964, as US TV managed to more or less simultaneously produce two comedy shows featuring macabre families. While The Addams Family was the edgier of the two shows, The Munsters was the more popular with the public, probably because its satirical take on wholesome family sit coms and Universal monster movies was rather more familiar and comforting. Still, it’s interesting to note that the series only lasted for two seasons, and much of its popularity was achieved after the fact, when the show went into syndication.
To help sell the defunct series worldwide, a feature film was shot immediately after the series ended, and although not a hit – and, like many a TV spin off, rather stretching the point somewhat – it remains an interesting addition to the original Munster canon.
Starring most of the original cast – with Debbie Watson replacing Pat Priest as cousin Marilyn – Munster, Go Home was made in 1966 and feels very much like an extended version of the original series. Directed by Earl Bellamy – who had also helmed several TV episodes – the main attraction is that, unlike the series, it is in colour, so we finally get a better take on why visitors to the Munster’s house on Mockingbird Lane were freaked out even by Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), who never looked that creepy in monochrome; here, we see that she, and the rest of the family, have a decidedly ghoulish skin tone. The film also, intriguingly, gives us the first chance to see the Frankenstein Monster in colour, even if it is in the form of Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) – and yes, his skin actually is green. And the film does make it clear that Herman actually is the Frankenstein Monster, something that the TV show kept rather ambiguous.
The film sees the family inheriting Munster Hall in England, with Herman becoming Lord Munster. And so the family – Herman, Lily, Marilyn, Grandpa (aka Sam Dracula, played by Al Lewis) and wolf boy Eddie (Butch Patrick) take the SS United States to merry olde England and the county of Shroudshire to take up residence.
Inevitably, the England they encounter is a ridiculous pastiche of cockneys and upper class twits, though how much of this is a deliberate nod to the Universal horrors of the Thirties and Forties is anyone’s guess. Chief among the latter group are the dastardly English Munsters, led by Lady Effigie (Hermoine Gingold) and her children, Grace (Jeanne Arnold) and Freddie (Terry-Thomas). Thomas is clearly having a ball playing a villain who is dastardly even by his standards, hamming it up wonderfully as he schemes to get rid of the new arrivals and claim the title of Lord Munster for himself.
Mixed into this is a tale of counterfeiting, a romance for Marilyn (the long running joke being that the family assume this beautiful girl to be the most homely member of the family) and a road race that fills up the final act and introduces the Drag-U-La racing car. This final half hour feels rather like a Disney comedy of the era – think The Love Bug and its like. This is no bad thing, and it makes the movie rather more fun than it ought to be.
With John Carradine as a decrepit butler, a few amusing in-jokes (like Herman referencing Fred Gwynne’s earlier TV hit Car 54 Where Are You?) and a light touch that doesn’t try to expand the basic Munsters concept too much, this is pretty good fun, and a nice coda to the TV series.
Except, of course, that this wasn’t the end. There was a failed 1981 TV movie bringing back some of the original cast and a sequel series in 1988 that actually ran for longer than the original show. Then in 1995 came yet another revival, in the form of TV movie Here Come the Munsters.
With an all new cast, this is something of an ‘origin’ movie, opening with the family living in Transylvania but growing tired of the local peasants attacking their castle (the portrayal of Romanians here is as basic as the portrayal of the English in Munster, Go Home), decide to head off to America, thinking that Cousin Marilyn (Christine Taylor) has invited them over.
These opening scenes hint at a rather darker version of the Munsters – there is no doubt that they have been killing the locals, either to supply Herman (Edward Herrmann, appropriately!) with body parts or to supply blood for Grandpa (Robert Morse). There definitely seems to be an Addams Family movie influence in these scenes, with Lily (Veronica Hamel) more darkly glamorous and Eddie (Mathew Botuchis) more feral.
However, on their arrival in America, the film takes a lighter tone, and instead becomes a none-too-subtle, but surprisingly biting satire on immigration – or more accurately, the demonising of immigrants by politicians. It turns out that Marilyn’s invitation was to help find her father and Herman’s brother in law, Norman Hyde (Max Grodenchik), who has mysteriously disappeared. At the same time, the family find themselves a target for populist right wing politician Brent Jekyll (Jeff Trachta), who is running on a ‘send ‘em back where they came from’ ticket. Unless you have no knowledge of horror characters, you can probably see where this is going…
The political subtext of the film is rather unexpected, and rather welcome in a film like this, even if it is laid on a bit thick – every friendly person the family meet is a foreigner, every dreadful person a born and bred American, and of course the Munsters themselves represent every immigrant trying to get by in a new country. The Daily Mail would hate this film.
Of course, you have to get used to a new cast playing the familiar family, but that’s less of an issue than you might expect – everyone fits the roles well, and the film pays a nice tribute to the original cast by having De Carlo, Lewis, Patrick and Priest make a came appearance (Gwynne had died two years earlier). The supporting cast includes cult favourite Mary Woronov, and the direction by Robert Ginty – The Exterminator himself! – is solid, if unflashy.
The result is a film that is a lot more enjoyable than it has any right to be, and a worthy addition to the Munsters legacy. Both this and Munster, Go Home are well worth picking up if you are a fan of the series.