Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Horror Of...Mockingbird Lane

Thanksgiving. And what goes with that? Family. So what better than to watch something about a macabre fam...No, it's not the Addams Family...

Anyway, I am talking about the The Munsters. The Munster family. Specifically, the recent remake Mockingbird Lane.

The Munsters
The characters were first brought to life in 1964. A black and white sitcom, it ran until 1966. It took vampires, Frankenstein's Monster, and a wolf child, then placed them in a somewhat conventional family drama. That was the key. They were like most sitcom families, but they were horror based figures. It became a long beloved show, locked in people's memories.

Munsters Go Home
Following the show, an attempt was made to bring the show to theaters, with Munsters Go Home. And the actors would return to many of the roles off and on, like in The Munsters' Revenge, in 1981.

The Munsters Today
A continuation of the series was made in 1987. The Munsters Today. The family gets placed in suspended animation for twenty years and reemerges. Yeah. This exists. It did star John Schuck and Lee Merriwether, which is interesting unto itself. It lasted for 3 seasons.

Here Comes The Munsters
Then in the mid 90's more attempts to restart the show occurred. First was the TV movie, Here Come the Munsters, Then, the next year, there was The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas. In both, completely new casts were used.

I bring all this up, because knowing is half the battle. Also, to remind people that the idea of continuing or rebooting The Munsters is not new.

So, a few years ago NBC decided it wanted to restart The Munsters. To bring this about, they hired Bryan Fuller. Fuller is well known for his work on a number of other shows. Wonderfalls. Dead Like Me. Hannibal. Pushing Daisies. (He also worked on Heroes and Star Trek: Yoyager, but I won't hold that against him.) Making Pushing Daisies alone means he deserves a shot, and plenty of respect.

I mean, Pushing Daisies!

But I think, sadly, most everyone judged and condemned the idea of this show before it was even made. And the fact Fuller said he was going to modify the characters only turned people hostile.

I hope I can get you to reconsider.

First, the show was renamed (like we've seen with many new takes on older ideas). It was called Mockingbird Lane, the name of the street they live on.

For the pilot they reimagined the characters as more modern. Also, like you can expect from Bryan Fuller, the characters have a darker edge to them (while maintaining a fantastical quality). Vampires are vampires. Being a wolf kid has repercussions. And being a collection of parts isn't all that great.

That can mean for many that this idea is DOA. A no go. Changes can be hard to take. And often they can do nothing to improve things. There are many examples in TV and movies where the results are a mess. But there are others where it can be an interesting new approach. And, it's Bryan Fuller. It's going to be a treat for the eyes, at least. So I will be dropping in some images from the show at time to just marvel at the art work and sets.

"And all through the woods, everyone could hear the creature bellowing,
'I can't believe they remade it! There's no originality left in TV!'"

Please don't be Michael Jackson...You know, the video,
Black or White?
The show opens on a national park. Some scouting troop is out camping. They are arguing about who's been sneaking the food they brought.

They are interrupted when a dark figure pulls one of the kids into the bushes.

As the scout master approaches, he sees black fur and piercing eyes stare back out at him. A werewolf then leaps out of the brush, and pounces on the scout master. It then proceeds to race around knocking the scouts around, as they flee.

"Sir? Why didn't we just drive away last night?"
 The next morning all the scouts are crowded in a vehicle, looking around for the creature. They also wonder what happen to Eddie Munster.

Eddie Munster, played by Mason Cook.
So it looks like the creature didn't kill anyone. I wonder if that was the plan? He did snatch that kid into the bushes for a minute, nail the scout master hard, and threw a lot of kids around (and into trees). Did they decide to remove any fatalities to lighten the tone of the start? To not start the character with blood on his hands? I can accept that, I suppose. It could be reasonable. It can fit with this character.

After all, we learn that the werewolf was in fact Eddie Munster. He's getting to that age. (And he may not be driven by hunger yet.) Unfortunately for him, he doesn't know it.

Marilyn Munster, played by Charity Wakefield
We now move to Mockingbird Lane, where a real estate agent is showing the house at 1312. It's a lovely idyllic spot. He's met by one Marilyn Munster. A bright sunny figure.

As the estate agent goes through the house's lovely history. She grows less pleased. It will not meet the needs of her family.

But she turns and looks across the street and sees something that looks more appropriate to her. 1313 Mockingbird Lane. It's a massive Victorian house. (And you can notice the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.) It is run down, with police tape along the front fence of the property.

The estate agent tries to dissuade her. It is a murder house. Many lives were lost in it. Homeless people were taken there and killed. There could still be bodies buried on the grounds.And it's possible some were placed in the walls of the house. And Marilyn replies that they all found a home then.

She won't take no on this.

Marilyn seems to have a macabre, but optimistic view. The actress playing her is Charity Wakefield. She's been in The Raven, and before that, in Marple and Midsomer Murder mysteries.

Next we meet Herman Munster. And this is one of the points in the show where people could be pushed into a rage. As we first see him in shadow, the camera work plays off our expectations. A lantern sits behind his head, making him look more like the classic Frankenstein's Monster.

This is being played by Jerry O'Connell. He's been in many shows and movies, including My Secret Identity and Sliders. In animation he's been the voice of Captain Marvel (Shazam these days) and Nightwing.

Herman Munster, played by
Jerry O'Connell
Once he steps out of the shadow, he looks far more human. He's covered in obvious scars, showing his construction, but he looks far less inhuman than the original take on the character.

Some won't accept this change. I'll be honest, when I first saw this show, I balked at this reveal. It's so different.

But if you've seen the earlier takes on the character (in the other remakes), Herman has only grown to be more and more a caricature. It seems the only way to attempt the character now is to try and go back to the original ideas of Mary Shelley and take another path. The result is a being who is inhuman, being a construct of dead bodies, but filled with a genuine heartfelt humanity. And while he's not normal, he's eager to find a way to give his son some level of normalcy. (But being Munsters makes that difficult.)

"Oh, look son. A family...dungeon..."
Particularly he's trying to avoid telling Eddie that he's a werewolf, and that he's attacked people.

So far Eddie's blacking out during his change, and just accepts the stories his parents tell him. Last time, it was a baby bear that tore up the camp site. Still, that only confuses him as to why the family so quickly up and moved.

As it is, just Herman, Eddie, and Marilyn have moved in. When we meet the rest of the family, it's obvious why.

Then night falls. And a moving truck arrives.

Two movers begin pulling off two large crates. They are bothered as the crates made the truck unnaturally cold. And as they move one of the crates, they begin hearing movement inside the crate.

This leads them to drop the crate, cracking it. A mass of rats race out of the crate. This panics the movers, who race off and leave the crates lying there.

The rats begin coalescing, climbing on top of each other, growing into a larger and larger pile. Then out of the pile emerges a figure. Grandpa has arrived. And he's nude.

He's played by Eddie Izzard. A great comedian. He's also appeared in a number of movies, including The Avengers (the other one) and The Shadow of the Vampire.

Grandpa Munster (D.), played by Eddie Izzard
Marilyn appears and quickly places a red robe over his form.

This scene does suggest that they've borrowed a lot from the imagery of Dracula, as we've seen it since the 90's. A number aspects shown in
Grandpa during this pilot remind me heavily of the Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula. (He even asks to be called D. by people he meets.)

Well, now we know where Charlotte's kids ended up...
The older version of Grandpa was a vampire, but really tame. Also inept. This one seems far more capable. His argument with Herman about the family will be more serious.

From the other crate, a mist emerges, and a woman forms from it. She stands quietly as spiders mass above her.

...Vampiric servants.
And then they descend on webbing to her. They wrap her in silk, forming a dress around her. (And, oddly, shoes.)

Lily has arrived. And, as a break from the original show, she seems to be more like her father, Grandpa. This version of her seems to be someone who has actual powers and abilities, but uses them sparingly.

Lily Munster, played by Portia de Rossi.
 She is being played by Portia de Rossi. She's been in a number of interesting shows of recent years, including Arrested Development and Better Off Ted. She's also appeared in Cursed and Scream 2.

With the family all in place, they sit down for breakfast, and a talk. They try to figure out how to explain to Eddie what is happening. And, how to help him suppress it.

The trouble is that Grandpa has a different idea. He wants Eddie to embrace his nature. He wants him to love it.

This troubles Herman. He doesn't want Eddie estranged from him. So he walks Eddie out to the school bus, and tries to reassure him.

But Eddie is mostly frustrated that everyone seems to be lying to him. And he leaves.

Damn Ikea hearts.
Saddened, Herman walk back to the house. Then his heart goes out on him.

...Hope you've finished Thanksgiving dinner.

His modified heart pops. And he collapses on the steps outside the house.

That night Eddie helps setup lightening rods and equipment on the roof. And the devices soon light up.

Down in the house, Grandpa has set up his lab, and he restarts Herman.

Herman jumps, and lies there as Grandpa explains that he blew his heart out. So Grandpa built a mechanical one to replace it.

"Why do I keep waking up like this?"
This isn't acceptable to Herman. He wants his heart. It's his last original part.

"You don't want to know where I
could stick this heart."
So Grandpa pulls it from the garbage, wipes it off, and pops it back in, then staples it. All better.

The scene nicely shows how patchwork Herman is. Also it shows his fear that he could loose "himself".

I guess the show didn't get that Zip
Loc money.
Also Grandpa shows he cares some for Herman. Heck, he created him. He let's him keep an inferior damaged heart, but chides him that it isn't going to last. It's time for Herman to accept his own nature, and his son's, and Grandpa's.

"Why does everyone keep calling me Gwen Stefani?"
"Darling, everyone keeps calling me Elton John.""
The next day, Grandpa starts surveying the neighborhood. He decides cookies are in order to help garner them some good opinion.

Oh you never would believe where those Keebler cookies come from...

Ah. It's a Julia Child's recipe.
So Grandpa starts making cookies. And then bleeding into them.

Blood cookies.

"...and I'm killing the next person that
calls me Truman Capote."
And Grandpa heads out, with Marilyn in tow. They go to the first house, and find a suspicious woman. But her husband proves to be more open.

"Mmm. I can taste my doom."
He takes and eats a cookie. Then Grandpa freezes him in place.

"I told you they'd never notice if I switched out the jam."
He turns to Marilyn, confused by something she said in her greeting. She is moving into the house?

She explains that she moved to a nearby college. And she hoped to live in the house with the rest of the family.

Grandpa doesn't like this. He tells her that he's planning to "start drinking" again. And he doesn't want her around. When she was born, Grandpa's other daughter almost ate her. Grandpa stopped this. And now he doesn't want that on his mind as he "drinks".

But this issue seems to pass. And Grandpa gets the man to tell them they can enter his house (so Grandpa can actually enter).

"I got this badge for guest starring." 
Later, the family visits the local scouting organization. They meet a very eager scout master, who is keen to engage and share with the kids. He takes to Eddie. In talking to Herman, he learns about Eddie's last scout group and sympathizes.

"Sir. I think you would be a perfect fit."
And Grandpa just sizes him up. Healthy. Athletic. Young. Likes Eddie. Attracted Lily. Perfect...

But Herman is trying to not let anything happen.

"This is the part Disney leaves out. Where life has it's
throat ripped out."
Later, Grandpa takes Eddie and Marliyn out, to talk about nature and the circle of life. Animals die, and help sustain plants, which feed future animals. But more important, something usually kills the animals. They watch a mountain lion on a deer.

Is the mountain lion the top of the food chain? No. That's Grandpa.

Eddie is troubled about this. Is Grandpa trying to show Eddie how Grandpa will be acting once again? Or, what? Lily tries to comfort Eddie.

He wants to know if she's like her dad. She admits that she is. But that she fights to refrain from her nature, for her families sake. (And she's seen what happen with her own sister and Marilyn.)

But Herman is pissed at this. He wants Grandpa to stop. He wants Eddie to not have to deal with it. But Grandpa tells him that both he and Eddie have to soon face the realities of their existence.

That's when Herman sees the neighbor is painting there house. He realizes that Grandpa feed the guy some blood and enslaved him. Herman tells Grandpa to stop enslaving the neighbors.

"I do hope you have a donor's card."
That's when the neighbor collapses dead.

That night, Grandpa invites the scout master over.

He questions him on his life. He has no kids. He is a widower. And has little in his life, outside of scouting. He's perfect...

Herman is nervous at dinner. He's not sure if Grandpa brought him to the house to feed on, or organ harvest.

Herman finally takes Lily aside and admits that his heart is faulty, and that Grandpa is plotting.

Herman, Lily, and Marilyn try to get the scout master out of the house fast. But grandpa is at the door, in monster mode.

He backs Marilyn and the scout master up. With a flick of the hand, he causes a secret passage in the stairs behind the two to open. He keeps backing them up until the scout master "accidentally" falls down the hidden stairs, to his death.

"How does it even work? How does a vampire give birth
to a werewolf?"
Herman later finally is honest with Eddie. Eddie is a werewolf. He's been changing, and blacking out.

It is a little odd idea. Grandpa is a vampire. Lily is a vampire. And now her son is a werewolf? Is it because Herman isn't a vampire? Or, just chance? Grandpa does mention that one of his sons is a werewolf. So it may be in the blood. Or, it came from Grandpa's late spouse. (He seems to imply he's had many over the centuries.)

Eddie is still upset, and doesn't like the idea he may kill. He wants to be normal.

He runs off from his dad. And it breaks his heart. Literally.

His heart breaks. And then he falls off the roof.

"I love when dinner is delivered."
When Herman awakens he has a new heart. Beside him, the scout master is lying dead, his chest pulled open.

And Grandpa is having a grand time, finishing off the rest of the blood in the scout master's body. He dances around a bit. Also, he's looking a lot younger.

Up to now Grandpa's looked grey and very wrinkled. But now...He looks like a regular Eddie Izzard. Guess staying off the regular human stuff is rough on a vampire that is his age.

"See? It was a win-win scenario."

 But he's got some of the good stuff. And he loves it.

"So we're creepy and spooky..." "No that's a different
Later Herman and Lily take Eddie outside. They explain that they want him to have as normal as possible life. But they need to find ways to protect him. So they've gotten him a dog.

 He's credulous. He's a weirdo. And being this, a dog won't help.

Then Herman whistles to the dog. A great wind whooshes up. An invisible form lands, and slowly becomes visible. It's a huge dragon.

I think he'll name it spot. What do you think?

"If you're anything like Eragon, I'll eat you to."

Like I mentioned at the start, this is a clear reimagining of The Munsters. The characters all have new aspects. New depths. They are also darker in their own way. For some this is just wrong.

And I understand. There have been changes before to other characters and stories that sat wrong with me. It's a question of how married you are to some images, stories, or characters. If changes can't be accepted...What can you do?

In the new Star Trek movies, the Kirk character just bugs me, he comes off as lesser. I can enjoy the movies, but the character continues to bother me.

The first Fantastic Four movie -played fast and loose with some aspects of the characters and history, but I saw some merit. But with the second movie, the concepts were so poorly done that it's...unacceptable.

It's a line these ideas walk. I don't know how the show would have changed if they got an actual season. But just on the pilot, it's an interesting idea. And if the characters weren't the Munsters, I imagine more people would have given it a chance.

But for me, the new ideas seem interesting. I would have liked to see where they would go. And part of this is the fact it was being lead my Bryan Fuller. This feels like it could have worked much like Pushing Daisies. It could have had a certain fairy tale quality, with a dark twist. It may have been quite impressive.

If's and but's... At least we have the pilot to contemplate.

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