Recutting the Munsters

Yet again, a weekend project explodes into a weeks-long lift.

The compulsion to fan edit is a bit of a weird one. It's one thing to love a movie, to hate a movie, or even to be unmoved. It's something else entirely to invest in the idea that a film should be something other than what it is. Sometimes there's a clear reason to recut a film... Andy Muschietti's decision to disentangle the two timelines of Stephen King's It, splitting them into two films. George Lucas' insistence on replacing the practical effects of the original Star Wars trilogy with lesser-than digital facsimiles. The studios' insistence that George Miller release Mad Max: Fury Road in color, despite his insistence that the black & white cut was the best version of the film. There's a restoration of authorial intent to these projects. Others are more creative, like Steven Soderbergh's black & white edit of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom, a study of Spielberg's approach to staging & blocking. Still others still arrive from some kind of neurosis... a way of processing disappointment with a work of art, like the Star Wars prequel edits that attempt to minimize the screentime of young Anakin Skywalker.

I set out to recut Rob Zombie's the Munsters for all these reasons & more. Zombie stated that--much like Miller--he couldn't get get funding for a black & white film, nevermind a black & white film marketed to kids. The same could likely be said for a feature film in four thirds aspect ratio. The digital effects--like Lucas' Star Wars releases--are outdated, & the film works better without them. And, like Soderbergh, I was interested in intimating myself with one of my favorite directors' style of filmmaking. Chiefly, though, & perhaps selfishly, I wanted my own expectations met by a film that was my biggest letdown of 2022.

Despite the movie's flaws, there's great performances from Richard Brake (Dr. Wolfgang), Jeff Daniel Philips (Herman), Tomas Boykin (Lester), & Daniel Roebuck (the Count). Zombie's affection for the property is clearly evident, & the story works as a "How I Met Your Mother" to the original series. It just... lacks focus. But with a little but of editing, this film transforms from a swing-and-a-miss kid flick to a campy romp if not potential cult classic.

Daniel Roebuck as the Count: Rob Zombie's original (l) and my recut version (r).

A world without color

The original television series may have been forgotten by time if it hadn't first aired in 1964, just prior to the television networks switching to color broadcasting in 1965. The black & white color format was not originally a creative choice... nearly all network tv shows were black & white at the time. And had the show continued into the late '60s, it would've switched to color & the earlier episodes would've been colorized for syndication, like the 1964 season of Gilligan's Island. But, as fate would have it, the high contrast, black & white appearance has become an enduring, gothic trademark of the show. Later iterations of the show, even tv films featuring the original cast, were all filmed in color & consequently lack the cultural penetration of the original 70 episodes.

Disney recognized the value of black & white when it produced Werewolf By Night, a made-for-streaming film that debuted around the same time as Zombie's the Munsters. Werewolf By Night is also heavily influenced by the Universal monster movies of the '30s & '40s, but leans into the period elements. And while Zombie's Basil Gogos-style color explosion treatment really shines in a number of scenes, the film has to do a lot of unnecessary, extra work to manufacture nostalgia for the original show. And where it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.

Originally I just set out to desaturate the film, but--like these projects tend to--the scope quickly broadened. I ended up increasing the contrast, adding a heavy film grain, & applying a slight vignette. But this was just the start.

Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman Munster.

Capturing nostalgia

Once I had the film in black & white, it really started to occur to me how important the intimate four thirds aspect ratio was to the original show. Utilizing four thirds has become a more common recent years, used with stunning effect in Joel Coen's the Tragedy of MacBeth in 2021 to give the black & white film an intimate, stage play-esque feel, but it's still a rarity in modern film. This felt important to capture the era's sitcom feel, so I went about re-cropping the film not realizing exactly what I was getting into.

Sherri Moon Zombie as Lily Munster.

There are actually a lot of gorgeous shots in this movie underneath the super-saturation. But the framing, owed in part to the shaky, handheld camera work, is inconsistent throughout. This meant I had to "pan & scan" every cut, which was the vast majority of work that went into the project. The results are a little uneven... many scenes seem infinitely more considered while in others there simply wasn't enough film to properly frame the subject. In rare instances (for very wide shots), the best choice was to simply letterbox the widescreen original shot. But overall the improvement is instantly noticeable, giving the film that nostalgic look.

To complete the effect, I put a high-pass filter on the audio, gesturing slightly to the lo-fi sounds of '60s TVs.

Stills from the recut. (Lots of finger pointing.)

Camp, not cringe

With the look taken care of, I was ready to get down to the meat of the project: the pacing & content. Somehow I was able to cut the film from a bloated 110 minutes to a respectable 93 without opening up any plot holes or creating any awkward edits. This meant leaving in some scenes I'd have preferred to remove, but I wanted to preserve the polish of the original film (to the degree that it existed in the first place).

A major issue is the film's handling of period. The Mockingbird Heights section is set firmly in the '60s, & as is the Transylvania section... a soviet-era Hungarian power plant is used as Dr. Wolfgang's laboratory to fabulous effect. But Zombie tries in several parts to add in modern references. Count Orlock, for instance, is for some reason a techno DJ (a trope in modern youth marketing). And Lester "makes it rain" with dollar bills in the original ending. To the degree that I could, I removed or minimized these modern references to give the show a less schizophrenic feel.

Lily's unfortunate electric super powers in the original film.

Zombie also chose to give Lily electric super powers for reasons that are never made clear in the film. So I removed any references to these, as well as any jokes that either don't land or just slowed the film down. This trimmed down version is only 17 minutes shorter, but it feels at least a half hour lighter.

The Munsters land in Mockingbird Heights.

In the end, there's a film inside the film that's pretty true to the original show & infinitely more watchable. And for a first stab at film editing, I'm pretty stoked on where this ended up. The goal was to have a version that I could watch in the future but the real value was learning the editing ropes. You can watch this version at

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