Universal // 1965 // 825 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 9th, 2005
"Darn, Darn, Darn!" -- Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne)
Based on Universal's classic monster properties, The Munsters is easily one of the best-remembered sitcoms of the 1960s; it was a smash hit that transplanted a ghoulish family of creature feature stars to the wilds of suburbia. Debuting in 1964 and lasting for two seasons, the series balanced wholesomely silly schlock with enough clever satire of traditional family shows like Father Knows Best to appeal to kids and adults alike. Just a short year after the well-received first season DVD set of the show was released, Universal has invited us for a return trip to 1313 Mockingbird Lane for The Munsters: The Complete Second Season.
The Munsters are a pretty average suburban family a lot like yours or mine, except maybe for the fact that they all resemble horrible creatures inspired by the Universal monster movies of the '30s and '40s. Munster patriarch Herman (Fred Gwynne, My Cousin Vinny) and his wife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo, The Ten Commandments) bear a striking resemblance to Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride, while their feral son, Eddie (Butch Patrick, The Phantom Tollbooth) is a budding little Wolfman in short pants. Living with them is Lily's father, Grandpa (Al Lewis, The Boatniks), a descendent of Dracula who is always at work on another insane project in his basement laboratory. Rounding out the frightful brood is the Munsters' niece Marilyn (Pat Priest, Some Call It Loving), an "unfortunate" teenager not graced with a monstrous mug like her relatives. In spite of their unique appearances, though, the Munsters aren't out to kill, maim, and torture torch-bearing 19th Century villagers -- they're just trying to get along in their middle-class suburban world like everybody else.
The Munsters: The Complete Second Season features all 32 second season episodes on three double sided DVDs, all stuffed inside Herman's cardboard noggin. Here's what you get:
* Herman's Child Psychology
* Herman, the Master Spy
* Bronco-Bustin' Munster
* Herman Munster, Shutter Bug
* Herman, Coach of the Year
* Happy 100th Anniversary
* Operation Herman
* Lily's Star Boarder
* John Doe Munster
* A Man for Marilyn
* Herman's Driving Test
* Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?
* Underground Munster
* The Treasure of Mockingbird Heights
* Herman's Peace Offensive
* Herman Picks a Winner
* Just another Pretty Face
* Big Heap Herman
* The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World
* Grandpa's Lost Wife
* The Fregosi Emerald
* Cyrano de Munster
* The Musician
* Prehistoric Munster
* A Visit from Johann
* Eddie's Brother
* Herman, the Tire-Kicker
* A House Divided
* Herman's Sorority Caper
* Herman's Lawsuit
* A Visit from the Teacher
In the mid-1960s, North America's obsession with the all things fiendishly funny reached its apex, with the classic Universal monsters achieving an unprecedented kind of pop icon status. Suddenly, there were monster toys, monster model kits, monster collector cards, monster magazines, and monster rock 'n' rock novelty albums by the truckload, all offering humorous takes on Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman. It was a fad quickly picked up on by the television networks, with two different horror-themed sitcoms going into production almost simultaneously in 1964 -- ABC's The Addams Family, based on macabre drawings by cartoonist Charles Addams, and The Munsters, CBS' more conventional expression of creature feature mania that wedged several famous monsters of film land into tried-and-true sitcom mechanics.
While The Addams Family often seemed more concerned with staying aesthetically true to Addams's drawings than in offering the monster puns and third-rate Karloff impressions that were so incredibly popular at the time, The Munsters went barreling towards some of the most unpretentious slapstick silliness you would hope for in a far-fetched fantasy series. Often resembling a live action cartoon, the show was really more about generating laughs than it was its absurd premise, with the talented comic team of Gwynne and Lewis delivering a frightful send-up of both monster culture and sitcom banality. Combining slapstick, putrid puns, and some of the most hackneyed plotting ever seen, the show soared on Gwynne's expressive features and Lewis' buoyant enthusiasm. The Munsters is an often stupid, decidedly low-brow show, yes, but even today it remains a strangely charming period piece that gets by on the well-established chemistry apparent between the gifted lead actors.
After a highly successful first year on the small screen, The Munsters came back in 1965 for another 30-odd shows in what would eventually be its last season. Not opting to mess with a successful formula, these episodes continue much in the vein of the previous season, with lots of extremely typical plots built around mistaken identity, Herman trying to fulfill Eddie's boasts, and Herman's on-the-job woes. Those who noticed the premise of the show wearing thin on the first DVD season box set will find plenty of contrivance, including a Munster riff on Cyrano de Bergerac, an episode in which Herman's identical cousin Johann arrives from Europe, and perhaps corniest of all, "A House Divided," in which Herman draws a white line down the middle of the house and makes Grandpa stay on one side. Still, there are some great episodes included here, including "Zombo," a unique show that has Eddie Munster meet the prevailing monster culture head on when he gets to appear on The Zombo Show, a B-movie showcase presented by horror host Zombo. "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?" is a suspiciously Flintstones-esque story about Herman becoming a rock 'n' roll star, which also provides some cute moments as the budding Elvis' ego runs rampant.
All in all, it's a generally good -- but still patchy -- season for the Munster clan, with occasional lackluster writing indicating that the show was indeed on its last pair of vampire batwings. Of course, The Munsters was really just a novelty anyways, a one joke twist on the standard sitcom template, so there was little surprise when the bottom suddenly fell out of the monster market in 1965 to make room for Batman, an equally campy slice of TV fun that had kids tossing aside their Dragula dinky cars for plastic utility belts and Batarangs. Like their close rivals in weirdness, The Addams Family, The Munsters simply packed up and left the neighborhood at the end of the year, concluding an era marked by one of North America's more curious pop culture obsessions.
Good news for those who were impressed with Universal's presentation of The Munsters: The Complete First Season: these episodes look and sound just as good. Dust and debris is kept to a minimum, and soundtrack is a solid mono mix that delivers nicely. The biggest improvement is in the extras department, though -- while The Munsters: The Complete First Season was a barebones set, fans will be pleased to find a wealth of bonus material on this new season. A release from Image Entertainment, entitled The Munsters: The First Family of Fright was originally slated to hit shelves last year as a two-disc release of supplemental material, but it was pulled from shelves after Universal decided that they might like to release those extras themselves. As a result, the bulk (but not all) of the planned Image disc is presented here, four 45-minute documentaries culled from A&E's Biography program. First up is "The Munsters: America's First Family of Fright," a thorough overview of the show and its cultural relevancy, followed by the poorly named but bittersweet Fred Gwynne: More than a Munster. Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily focuses on the Canadian-born actress and her many high profile romances, while Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa depicts Lewis' colorful life after The Munsters, including his candidacy for the Governor of New York. All four documentary presentations provide a nice accompaniment to the episodes on the set, even of they're a little overdramatic in the typical Biography style.
The only conceivable problem with this set is Universal's odd packaging. What you get here is a plastic sleeve that houses a rather flimsy cardboard replica of Herman Munster's cubic cranium, which in turn folds out giving you access to the discs, which are stuck on jewel case trays glued inside. Visually, it's weirdly wonderful -- a wholly appropriate DVD case that is worthy of display, but practically, it's a little cheap, with a too-tight slipcase that is causing problems for many consumers (although I'll admit my difficulties have been pretty minimal). With this set and the debacle over Homer's cut-rate plastic head that held the last season of The Simpsons DVDs, I don't know whether studios will bother with this gimmick much longer, as nice as they look.
Although this set officially concludes Universal's collected episodes of The Munsters, the show's residual popularity propelled it well beyond the original 70-episode run. Like the Universal monsters they emulated, Herman, Lily, and Grandpa became horror icons of their own, and were resurrected countless times for movies, TV specials, cartoons, and even a "new generation" spin-off. Real fans know that it all started with the original show, though, and they will definitely want to pick this set up and finally complete their collection of The Munsters on DVD.
Not guilty -- a frighteningly first class show.
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 825 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* America's First Family of Fright
* Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster
* Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily
* Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa
* IMDb: The Munsters
* The Munsters: The Complete First Season