Like many of my vintage, the first ten years of my life featured three TV channels – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, sometimes known as Anglia in these parts. Apart from Saturday mornings, Top of the Pops, repeats of Star Trek, Westerns, war movies and occasional animal documentaries like Survival, two of the three were, from memory, a couple of hours of kids’ TV in the afternoon surrounded by boring stuff like Crown Court and The Sullivans; the third was just boring stuff. That all changed at 4.40pm on 2nd November 1982 when Channel 4 came to town… Well, at least in so much as we now had four channels of stuff we mostly didn’t want to watch, like the never-ending quiz show Countdown that was the channel’s first show proper! Over time it did start to serve a slightly older-me niche though, with stuff like Trans World Sport in 1987, which served up obscure sports before the usual Saturday morning favourites like Going Live started; would be a whole different show nowadays! There was also alternative chat show The Last Resort with Jonathon Ross that started the same year, complete with early Vic Reeves, whose own unique Big Night Out comedy show on there would totally change my outlook on life a few short years later in 1990. And that’s also true of The Word, which originally took cult launch music show The Tube’s old time slot on Friday evenings but would become legendary when it then moved late night and hosted notorious performances by the likes of Sepultura, Nirvana and a very naked L7! Speaking of which, Eurotrash, but you’ve probably got the point by now. Ahem…
All the way back in the late autumn of 1982 though, there was one Channel 4 launch line-up programme that would have an impact on me like no other though – even The Tube – and that was The Munsters. That said, smash it together with The Tube and you’re pretty much left with a perfect replica of me today! Anyway, The Munsters was an American sitcom all the way from 1964 about a supernatural family of classic movie monsters who lived in a spooky old house that ran for seventy episodes until the middle of 1966, when ratings tanked after a new show called Batman came along and nicked all their viewers! It will never catch on… Now I think about it though, it was around this time that my brothers and me were totally obsessed with the old Adam West Batman movie spun out of the TV show the same year, but ironically I think the reverse probably happened for me when I got properly hooked on The Munsters! As another related aside, I seem to remember first watching this on the black and white portable TV that got moved around a bit (and I’ve genuinely never thought about that term “portable” before so am seeing it in a new light right now!) but I think was in our dining room at the time, so l had no idea it was also filmed in black and white at the time. Much like those VIC-20 games I’d be playing on there when it got moved to my bedroom this time a couple of years later, it was one of those things you just didn’t consciously think about… At least until those very rare occasions when you were allowed to hook up to the big (relatively) TV in the living room!
The Munsters follows the exploits of a Transylvanian-American family made up of Herman, father, husband and Frankenstein’s Monster, his white-streaked vampire wife Lily and her father, Grandpa, who’s also very occasionally referred to as Count Dracula, their not-quite-teen wolf son Eddie and their regular college-girl niece Marilyn, who they consider to be the ugly duckling of the family, although they consider themselves average Americans too and it’s everyone else who’s weird! Apart from Marilyn, it’s all very Universal horror from the 1930s and 1940s, including their gorgeous, cobwebbed, spooky old mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, in the city of Mockingbird Heights – I’d do anything to live in a place like that! While everything did play off them being monsters trying to act normal though, it’s more satirical sitcom than horror-comedy, but always with the underlying message of being well-meaning whatever you look like. And it all looked great, from the incredibly gothic, dusty old black and white visuals to the authentic costumes, dusty old props and especially Grandpa’s exotic DRAG-U-LA hot-rod coffin! Let’s also not forget Jack Marshall’s iconic haunted house rock and roll theme tune as well!
DRAG-U-LA? Haunted house rock and roll? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that Rob Zombie fellow in a sec, but should close on the original show with what happened next, which included a couple of movies with more or less the original cast – Munster, Go Home! from 1966 and The Munsters’ Revenge from 1981, which, by coincidence as I write, I’ve just watched after I found my old DVD copy again recently, in a box in the garage. Then there was Here Come The Munsters in 1995, which was a coming to America story (which, as we’ll see, also now sounds familiar) then The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas followed the following year, and was very straight-to-TV. There was a bit more TV too, with the animated mini-movie The Mini-Munsters in 1973 (also with a bunch of the original cast behind the voices), then The Munsters Today from 1988-1991, which carried on from the original series after the family was sent into unintended hibernation following an accident in Grandpa’s lab, and actually brings us full circle back to that old Batman movie because Lily was now being played by Lee Meriwether, who was also Catwoman in that! There was a pilot for Mockingbird Lane, a big-budget series reboot that never materialised but was turned into a Halloween special in 2012, but so from a couple of other projects that were even less successful in getting off the ground, that was about it for The Munsters for another decade…
As much as I’m a fan of White Zombie, as well as every bit of his solo work, there was no one more horrified than me when this Rob Zombie chappie announced he was developing a movie adaptation of the original TV show. And I’m sure he’s a much bigger fan than I am, but this is the same guy who “reimagined” Halloween and its sequel as soulless grindhouse schlock, and insists on putting his bloody wife into everything he creates, and I can’t stand his bloody wife! At least he never got near The Blob in the end… Bad enough that was remade once already, without him (and especially her!) running hellbilly wild all over its sacred ground again – would be even worse than Nicolas Cage and that Wicker Man monstrosity! But maybe not even worse than The Munsters… Him! His awful wife! All over again but on even more sacred sacred ground! But there it was on American Netflix when I was in New York just before Halloween 2022, and knowing perfectly well it wasn’t available at home yet, I was curious to know if would play on my iPad app, and it did, and I couldn’t take my eyes off its gaudy, gothic good looks. I loved every second! And I was suddenly in love with Mrs Zombie, who’d finally found her niche as a wonderful Lily Munster. The whole thing, including her, could have been made just for me! And I hate myself for all of that because no one should be messing with my beloved Munsters and it certainly wasn’t supposed to end up my favourite film of the year or pre-ordered on Blu-ray the second it was available for pre-order…
It’s no coincidence, then, that if you were quick off the mark you might be reading this just as that Blu-Ray hit the shelves here, in the middle of January 2023. Never did get a UK Netflix release before that though, so in case you were less keen to get your hands on it than I eventually was, this is the tale of how Lily, a lovelorn 150-year old vampire, and Herman, a mad scientist’s grave-robbed creation and superstar stand-up comedian, end up together after meeting at Zombie-a-Go-Go, where he’s playing with his punk band, eventually get married in spite of her father’s dislike of Herman and, after some skulduggery by her werewolf brother, end up moving to California to start a new life there. Where, incidentally, they wind up in 1313 Mockinbird Lane after a misunderstanding with an estate agent played by none other than Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson! It’s not a million miles from the plot of that Here Come The Munsters movie from the nineties we saw earlier, just a lot more Zombiefied, and as an origin story that works just fine. Which is a good place to see where this game we’re supposed to be talking about fits in!
The Munsters the game came to Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Amiga and Atari ST – which we’re looking at here – in 1989 care of Again Again Software, with a DOS version bringing up the rear (complete with the worst rendition of The Munsters’ music you’ve ever heard!) in 1993. It was developed by Teque Software, who were also behind a few real favourites on mine on the ST like Badlands, Klax, Pac-Mania and Toobin’. As much as I’ve played the game over the years, what’s going on has never really made much sense to me, so let’s start with the back of the box and see if we can finally work it out! “From the depths of the darkside, 1313 Mockinbird Ave. has been invaded by Ghouls, Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts… Makes your blood run cold doesn’t it?” Okay, I need to stop you there! First, it’s Mockingbird Lane not Mockingbird Avenue. Or Ave. Why the abbreviation? Totally unnecessary. Just like the upper case G for Ghouls and so on! Okay, continue… “Because the Munsters are such nice guys Old Nick has decided to teach them a lesson in “ghoulology” and bring them back to the underworld. To this end they have kidnapped Marilyn – the swines!” Sorry but who’s kidnapped her? The Munsters? Why? And what’s this underworld business? It looks like they’re in their house from the screenshots also on the back of the box, and even more so when you’re actually playing the game. Anyway, it goes on to tell us that Herman, Eddie, Grandpa and Lily need your help to rescue her, so obviously the swines are the undead and the like from the previous paragraph. “Can you handle it?”
Well, before we decide, we’ll skip past the bit about superb graphics and superb gameplay, and see if the back of another box – from the “superb” Alternative Software rerelease in 1991 – can shed any more light on this… “The Munsters is a superb all action arcade game. Your objective is to help the Munster family rescue Marilyn from the evil clutches of ‘Old Nick’. Use your spells to send the ghouls and ghosts back to the underworld. Be careful, watch your energy level! Keep your ‘spellpower’ topped up and collect the mystery objects in order to take care of the ghouls.” We’re getting somewhere now (and I bet this version was budget price too!), but what this all translates to is you controlling either Lily, Herman or Grandpa, action-puzzle-platforming your way through various maze-like levels in and around The Munsters’ house, except where it becomes a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up when you take control of their pet fire-breathing dragon a bit later on!
In the main though, you’re going to be exploring creepy flip-screen environments filled with all kinds of monsters running or flying around everywhere you go, hunting down objects to let you progress while trying to keep the meagre energy bar bottle for your single life intact as you do your best to protect yourself with some magic projectiles to chuck at enemies. The trouble is, as soon as you leave the first couple of rooms with Lily, your starting character, they’re going to have no effect on the increasingly lethal meanies at all, who, in contrast, will drain all of your energy in a split second, meaning game over when you’ve barely had a chance to get beyond your bedroom! And there’s the secret – you don’t want to go beyond your bedroom until you’ve stood in the middle of the screen and shot enough weaker monsters to build up your magic power bar bottle and now you’ve got a fighting chance of seeing a bit more of the house. Which is all well and good but after all these words we’re still not really any the wiser about what we’re supposed to be doing!
If only we had some instructions, but for the life of me I can’t find them for my Atari ST version, or anywhere online for that matter either, nor or on Amiga or even DOS, so let’s go old-school and see what the Spectrum has hidden away for us deep inside its cassette case! Okay, it’s not going to tell us why, but it is going to precisely spell out what to do, like a walkthrough rather than regular instructions, almost as though it’s going to be completely unfathomable otherwise!!! Stage 1: We’re now controlling Lilly rather than Lily, but regardless, “…go right and stop at the top of the stairs. Keep shooting ghosts until your spell bottle fills up.” Which is the bit we just worked out we could do in the bedroom too. So far so good! “ Descend the stairs (careful now!) – collect the mystery object to the left – shoot the ghouls. Collect the next object to the right. Quickly back up the stairs and down the next staircase. Collect those mystery objects but watch out for the zombie! Shoot those ghouls. Quick up the stairs for a rest. Find the cellar – where you will meet Herman and Grandpa – now find the graveyard. Free Herman and Grandpa back at the cellar.”
Assuming you can survive the brutal onslaught of ghouls and such, this actually works for the ST version too, although I’ve still got no idea what these objects I’m collecting are, and for what purpose – there’s a cross (which you’d think Lily or Lilly might have a bit of a problem just picking up, being a vampire and all that) and what might be an orb, and some kind of pouch thing or maybe a book, and a key, a screw… Who knows, but it seems like when you’ve got enough of them you can (literally!) tag in Grandpa who then trots off with Herman to Stage 2: “You now control Herman and Grandpa. Find Eddie and free him.” Nice and brief. I like it! Then onto Stage 3: “Drive the hearst and control the pet dragon. Shoot these ghouls and witches – come on time is running out.” The hearst. Brilliant! Stage 4: Find Marilyn – where is she? Watch out what’s behind you… arghhh…”
After extended play again recently, and a lot of trial and error, I think I can finally conclude that what you’re doing initially is collecting this stuff in a specific order (although I couldn’t tell you what order that is) and somehow each item allows you to tackle one of the tougher foes, allowing you to go a bit further, until eventually you get a bolt that Grandpa might need to activate Herman to trigger the rest of the game. Bit like a primitive metroidvania. Really no idea though, but put it all together by chance and you’ve got something that can be beaten in ten minutes, if, by some miracle, you make it through intact! Where the first stage is about exploration, the second stage is a bit more of a traditional platformer, timing movements to avoid what I think are corpses grabbing at you out of those big body-drawers you get in a morgue, or formations of ghosts flying in a pattern overhead as you directly control Grandpa and Herman follows uselessly behind. You get to turn into a bat in this bit too! The dragon stage reminded me of the similar Statue of Liberty one in Ghostbusters II, not least in that it outstays its welcome more than a bit, but while it does now also go horizontal schmup like that did, it’s really not very exciting, and enemies are few and far-between as The Munster Koach plods along behind you, sometimes needing to be picked up by your claws to avoid what might be that vampire guy from the first stage or some other supernatural goons. Certainly no Thanatos or Saint Dragon! The final stage is a simplistic affair, with you as Herman dumped into a building with lots of doors in it (think prison or insane asylum), and behind one of those you’re going to find Marilyn, but not before you’ll let loose all kinds of monsters from behind the rest of them, and they aren’t going to take any prisoners… One life, remember? And after you’ve come so far!
But realistically you’re going to be spending most of your time – however long you stick with this game – in the first area, and mainly the first few rooms in the first area. Was certainly the case for me first time and every time around until I got serious with it recently. No matter how powered-up you get, there’s way too much within just two screens of the start that can take all your energy with a single touch. Game over! Actually, the collision detection stinks so bad that it’s not even a single touch – you can be at least a whole character width away from some of the nastier enemies, like the seemingly invincible Nosferatu guy parading around at the bottom of the first set of stairs; in fact, if you’re anywhere on those stairs when he goes by you’re dead, and that includes if he happens to be passing by as you enter the screen from above, so no warning either. He’s regular as clockwork though, so you can use two sets of stairs to get around while he’s somewhere else, meaning you can eventually get out of the house… So you can then get mobbed by a literally endless parade of zombies on the way back. Or possibly barely brushed by one of them – same result!
And so it goes on, into stage two and beyond, and it’s a miserable affair until you’ve worked out how to beat the game in ten minutes, step by step, death by death, fluke by fluke, then right back to the beginning to see if you can remember what you did the last time so you can try again. You know what though? For all of that, once you have worked it out it’s not terrible! Apart from a bit of stickiness when you’re trying to swap between breathing fire and picking up the car on stage three it controls alright in the main, and yes, not being able to properly directly control Herman in stage two, combined with the rubbish collision detection, is a recipe for frustration, but you can get lucky there and simply breeze through without stopping. The trouble is, I’m not sure anyone but a Munsters diehard who’s embarked upon writing a deep-dive is going to spend long enough beyond the opening four walls to find any of this out, and I can’t blame them because that’s exactly what I did too, although that last stage with the doors is actually pretty fun…
Before any more contradictions, let’s close on how it looks and sounds, and I’m pleased to report not bad at all in either respect! Sound effects might be minimal and forgettable but there’s a lovely rendition of The Munsters theme looping in the background, layering melody upon melody with some cool flourishes and passable white-noisy drums giving it some gusto. That said, the Amiga’s music is another level again – absolutely exquisite, with way more sounds and depth and sophistication, and it’s worth playing the game on there for that alone. Looks good on the ST though! The characters themselves are full of life and motion, even if Herman is far more recognisable than the others. Like the gameplay does its best to pull off too, there’s also loads of variety as you traverse the house and the graveyard, the morgue and the prison or asylum, but where it really shines is in that shooter level – we’ve seen better-looking dragons (as well as played them better) elsewhere, but the car is perfect, and the street you’re driving down really pulls off the Halloween evening vibe! Each of these different environments is detailed and imaginative, and crammed with those dusty old props and cobwebs and in their own way are very evocative of the show if you ignore all the colour!
Worst case you could try the Spectrum version if it bothers you that much though. Glorious black backgrounds and white everything else! Actually, of all the versions I mentioned earlier, apart from Atari ST that’s the one I’m most familiar with – no sound and much less to look at but otherwise just as brutal if that’s your bag! I did have a really quick look at MSX, which is similar but with nice music, and CPC which has a splash more colour and even nicer music. For 8-bit music you want Commodore 64 though – it’s gorgeous, as is the game itself; lacking in the background detail of the bigger boy versions but the subject matter is really suited to its colour palette and chunkier stylings.
As you might have noticed, I’ve always wanted to like The Munsters the game far more than I do, and end up conflicted as a result. I definitely think it’s worth more than the 40% or so I remember it reviewing at everywhere at the time, but on the other hand, the only way to get any higher level of enjoyment out of it is trial and error, step by step, until you’ve worked out everything it’s asking from you in the first stage, as well as remembered in what order, then similar for stage two but with a bit of luck required now too, followed by the endurance test behind your pet dragon and finally a simple game of hide and seek after you’ve worked out where to stand before you open a door at the end! Which all adds up to having fun eventually, several decades on admittedly, and only when you’ve sucked all the proper fun out of the game first! It’s alright though, but maybe stick to watching The Munsters on the telly is the conclusion here, however you choose to take them!