Universal is putting out a boxed set that features some of their most legendary monsters. No, I'm not talking about another release of the Legacy Collection, I'm talking about The Munsters - The Complete Series! Black and white sitcom was always chock full of families that were so nice and sweet, they'd give you tooth decay. However, their charms and their spunk always kept people entertained week after week. Universal took the growing popularity of black and white sitcom, and merged it with their already well established franchise of monsters. If you've missed seeing this ghoulish family on television, or if you've been flip-flopping on the when right time would be to pick up any portion of this show on DVD, now is the time! It is just in time for Halloween, after all!
The Munsters are your typical, wholesome American family. Herman Munster fought in World War II, and holds a respectable job at a funeral home to support his family. He mingles with his neighbors, and does the important things around the house. He can shatter a mirror just by looking into it, he has superhuman strength, and is over seven feet tall. He's a creation of Dr. Frankenstein, and lives happily with his undead vampire of a wife (literally), Lily. Together they proudly raise their werewolf son, Eddie. If that's not enough to handle with one income, they also house Lily's vampire father, who they simply refer to as 'Granpda', and they even have a pet dragon that lives under the stairs!
OK, so I guess they're not exactly 'typical'. However, there is one member of the family that is normal, and that's Lily's niece Marilyn. She's not staying with her parents from Transylvania, because she came to America to go to college. So who better to bunk with than the loving Munster family?
I grew up watching this show on Nick at Nite. It was light, family fun, and it had monsters in it! What little boy wouldn't love a show with this premise? Now that I'm able to see this again on DVD fifteen years later, it seems even better than I remembered it being. I have a nostalgic appreciation for this show as an adult, and it's not just because I watched it as a kid. I have a much better appreciation for the influence the Universal monster films had on horror, since I'm now well above the age to watch horror without having nightmares, so I have a lot of fun watching those monsters act like an average American family.
And that's the foundation that every episode of the series builds upon. Almost everyone in the family is a monster, but they live day to day as if they're the typical American family. It's everyone else that's weird. It's a nice spin on the hokey family sitcom that never lost its touch after 70 episodes and decades of syndication.
You would think a show about monsters would be short-lived at best, since on paper it sounds like it would only be appropriate as a Halloween special. It was a bold step to take in television, because the success of the show hinged on every aspect being absolutely perfect, from the atmosphere, to the chemistry. Thankfully, a lot of attention was paid to both aspects of the show. The episode names at the beginning of each episode looked like dripping goo, the house was perfectly dressed as a monster's abode, and the characters were perfectly cast.
The best performances by far come from Fred Gwynne as Herman, and Al Lewis as Grandpa. Herman ended up being more innocent and sincere than most of televisions light hearted dads, and Grandpa was a wise-cracking vampire that was always trying to nibble a wrist, or a neck.
All 70 episodes are available on this 12 disc set, as well as both feature length Munster films, Munster, Go Home! (1966), and The Munsters' Revenge (1981).
Munster, Go Home! was actually released in theaters, but it bombed. The story follows the Munsters to England, as they've inherited a spooky castle from a relative that passed away. They're greeted by other members of the family that are trying to scare off the Munster clan with a bunch of scary boobie traps so they can take the castle. What the 'normal' part of the family doesn't realize is the Munsters furnish their home with everything ghoulish. Instead of fleeing for the hills, the Munsters feel more at home than ever! Once their English relatives catch on that they're not dealing with a typical family, they enter Herman into a race in an attempt to get him killed.
It's actually not a bad effort at all, but I can see why a movie going audience would have skipped out on this one. It could have been a TV movie, as it seems to be pretty much exactly like the show, except that it has a runtime of 97 minutes and is in color. The only charm from the show that's missing is the laugh track. It sounded incredibly phony throughout the entirety of the series, but it wasn't until I watched this movie that I realized how much I would miss it.
The Munsters' Revenge came close to two decades later as a reunion effort, but it failed to capture the charm of the series, or even that of its theatrical predecessor from 1966. The plot was set up to fail the moment the script was penned. Robots are running amok all over town, and they look just like Herman and Grandpa. So predictably, there's a lot of trouble for our favorite Munster family members, and they need to bring the criminal mastermind to justice to clear their names.
Reunions usually feel like a complete departure from the series, and this feature is no exception. Trying to stay true to the original formula of the show by keeping the young characters young, the people who played Eddie and Marilyn had to be replaced. I know they were trying to bring The Munsters back to form here, but is it really a reunion when the people who played the original parts are still alive, and aren't somehow involved? The acting from most of the supporting cast that wasn't part of the original series was nothing to write home about, and in the end, I wish I didn't have to watch this film.
I appreciate the fact that Universal decided to include the feature films in this release. I would have expected them to release the entire series in one boxed set, and then charge us for the movies in a re-release of the movies on DVD. I was pleasantly surprised to see Universal actually did this set some sort of justice by including them. They did seem to stop halfway though. There were additional feature length Munster films that aren't on this set, and I'm sure that's because these two films were already released together on a single DVD once before. Those two very same movies share the same disc in this boxed set as well. Think that's a coincidence? If you believe that, I've got the Dragula in working condition to sell to ya! I think if Universal was trying to make this feel like a 'complete' set, they did very good, but not great. There's still some stuff missing, unfortunately.
There's some other surprises that await on this set, but I'll discuss those when we get into the special features portion of my review.
The Munsters is one of those shows that's going to be remembered for generations to come. I'm very grateful to Nick at Nite for introducing me to this show during my childhood. I just hope that other networks continue to make the effort to keep classic television alive. The sitcoms today are so hit and miss. There's not very many that strike me as unique anymore. When you can pop a show like The Munsters in your DVD player, and then find yourself saying 'they sure don't make 'em like they used to', you realize you're not just watching a show anymore. You're watching a classic. The term 'classic' is something that gets used for more properties than it should, but if you're a fan of black and white sitcoms, I think you'll agree that The Munsters is a show that's more than worthy of that term.
**It has been brought to my attention the original season sets were comprised of double sided DVD's. This is a horrible practice in the DVD industry, as it's hard to keep a DVD in pristine condition, even without having to deal with two sided discs. You'll be happy to hear that every disc in this 12 disc set is single sided!
Video - The Series
I never had the chance to catch the individual season releases before, so this is my first time watching The Munsters on DVD. I find it highly unlikely that Universal did any digitally remastering for the series, and I don't think that should surprise anyone.
That being said, The Munsters looks very good. There's a bit of dirt on the film as well as grain on this 4:3 transfer, but these aspects of the picture actually make the experience a little more enjoyable. I think a completely clean transfer would have looked overly processed and unnaturally clean. This show is about characters that are similar to Universal's monsters, so the old film stock look seems appropriate. This shouldn't be misinterpreted in a way that suggests the specks or grain are distracting, because they're certainly not that bad.
The transfer itself is wonderful. There are no compression artifacts, black levels are fantastic, the picture never looks faded thanks to some excellent contrast, and edge enhancement isn't an issue. There's also a surprising amount of detail for a show that's been around for 40+ years, so you can see how much hard work went into each and every set for the show. Kudos goes out to Universal for providing such a nice transfer for such an old property.
The Video - The Movies
Munster, Go Home! - This 1.85:1 transfer doesn't look bad for its age at all. The image is pretty sharp for a film from the 60's, although it does seem to have some edge enhancement that's noticeable at times. There's grain from the film that only seems excessive in a few shots during movie overall, and there's hardly any specks from the film at all. Black levels are nice, and so is the contrast. The colors also have some very nice saturation.
The Munsters' Revenge - This made for TV reunion is in an aspect ratio of 4:3, and is less impressive than the theatrical film from almost twenty years before it. Black levels are decent, but not as deep as they could have been, so the contrast is muted a little. Colors seem to look accurate for what I imagine this would have looked like on TV, but they're not as impressive as the theatrical predecessor either. There's really no grain or print damage to speak of, but the picture seems pretty soft throughout most of the film. It's actually fairly disappointing.
Much like the episodes from the series itself, I have no reason to believe that Universal spent any time sprucing up these films for this release. Munsters: Two Movie Fright Fest featured both of these films on a single disc back in 2006, and they're here together on a single disc again.
The episodes are all presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and they sound pretty darn good. There's some very light background hissing and pops once in a while, but that's to be expected from a soundtrack of a television show from the 60's. I would believe what we hear is accurate from what the source was able to provide, as I couldn't detect any issues that would have been caused from a faulty audio transfer. Overall though, the show sounds as good as it can get. The dialogue is crisp and clear for the most part, and there doesn't seem to be any issues with the mix itself. Obviously this is an old show, so there's nothing in the way of bass here, but I'm sure if you're looking to see The Munsters on DVD, you're not really looking for that.
The films also sport Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks, and you can expect the same sort of audio performance from them as well.
The first season of the show offers English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The second season only offers English and Spanish. Munster, Go Home! and The Munsters' Revenge both offer English and French subtitles.
The menu system has been given a very nice layout. When selecting which episode you want to watch, there are some very descriptive summaries. If you forgot to select any subtitles from the main menu, it's ok! You can select the 'languages' menu from any specific episode menu so you don't have to go all the way back to the main menu.
Bonus Unaired Pilot Episode - This shows up as the first title on the episode selection menu, but it's advertised as a bonus feature on the box. It's the original 15 minute pilot, and it's presented in color. Different actors are used to play Eddie and Lily, and boy, what a different show it could have been. The actress that played Lily was lifeless, and the boy who played Eddie hammed up the werewolf thing a bit much. I wanted to slap the kids after listening to him try to talk like a were-kid after five seconds, he was that bad. As I said earlier in the review, the cast that was ultimately selected for the 70 episode run had great chemistry. It's very interesting to see what might have been with this pilot!
Family Portrait - Full Color Episode - If you've ever wondered what this show would have looked like in color, wonder no more. The black and white episode which is also available on this disc has been colorized to give you a taste of what the show would have looked like.
**The rest of the discs for season 1 have no additional bonus features.
The fifth disc is where all the special features are at this time around. The bonus features are listed on discs 1 through 4, but they tell you to go to disc 5 to see them.
America's First Family of Fright - This is a very informative documentary that covers The Munsters in its entirety, from creation to the after-life. It was an hour long special for television, which rings in at about 43 minutes with the commercials taken out. If you're a fan of the show, this is an entertaining feature that you shouldn't pass up.
Fred Gwynne - More Than a Munster - This documentary focuses on the life of Fred Gwynne. It runs at about the same length of the first documentary on this disc, and is also incredibly informative. Showing pictures from his life, interviews of those who knew Gwynne, experts in the entertainment field, and clips from other projects Gwynne was a part of, are all here and brilliantly put together.
Yvonne DeCarlo - Gilden Lily - This is put together much in the same way the documentary of Gwynne was. If you're interested in her work from The Munsters and want to learn more about her career and life, then you should give this a whirl. She wasn't a personal favorite amongst many fans of the show. There was nothing wrong with her, but the real stars were Gwynne and Lewis. That being said, this documentary that's also about 43 minutes in length may not appeal to everyone. You may find it pretty entertaining though, even if you don't think you're interested in seeing the life of Yvonne DeCarlo.
Al Lewis - Forever Grandpa - At the risk of beginning to sound like I'm repeating myself, I'll just say that this is much like the rest of the documentaries on this disc, and also runs to about the 43 minute mark.
The bonus content is scattered over the first couple of discs on the first season, and it's not until the fifth disc for season 2 that you see the rest. I wasn't sure what to expect when I popped in the disc that was dedicated to bonus material, but now I know why they decided to put it all in one place. You have four hours (minus commercials) worth of documentaries that covers the history of the show, as well as the main talent. Any and all information you ever wanted to know about the show is presented over these documentaries, and I guess you can't really ask for much more than that. On top of that we're given the original pilot episode in color, as well as the colorized version of a full length episode. Universal really did a great job at putting it all together!
The Munsters has made it on DVD in a full series collection just in time for Halloween. If you already own both seasons on DVD, as well as the Munsters: Two Movie Fright Fest release, then you're probably not going to miss out on a whole bunch with this collection. However, if you couldn't be bothered with hunting the separate seasons down, or have been waiting for just the right time, now is the time to jump on this collection. The MSRP is fairly priced for 70 episodes and 2 films, and you know you can find it for less than the full suggested retail price. If you're a fan of classic TV, there's no reason why this shouldn't end up in your collection.
I recommend this set. The transfer from film to DVD has been done splendidly, and there's a wealth of information that's provided through the bonus features. With the two movies included, Universal really was trying to deliver the most bang for the buck. I don't know why other Munster features didn't make an appearance on this collection, such as Here Come the Munsters from 1995, but perhaps this is a blessing in disguise if the 1981 film was any indication. It's possible that in the future, Universal could spring for a super release of this show if this sells well enough, and it may include some fancy packaging and the additional content that's not here. I highly doubt this will happen, so if you just want to own this set for the series itself, then jump on it. If you're the cautious buyer that's always looking out for potential double dips, then you may want to hold off on this one.
**I would like to mention I feel that the series itself deserves a rating of 4.5, but the movies included in this set brought down the overall 'Content' rating in this review.