After Marvel flirted with horror this summer in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, they’re finally going all in. Just weeks ahead of Halloween, the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases one-off seasonal special, Werewolf By Night. It’s a smart move for a couple of reasons. Anyone old enough to remember television before the streaming age likely has fond memories of the various holiday specials studios regularly released. And as the Marvel Cinematic Universe buckles under the strain of its massive continuity, it’s a relief to explore a new corner. If Moon Knight was obscure for most viewers, Werewolf By Night is an absolute unknown perfectly timed for the season.
Legendary monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone has died. Now his widow has summoned a collection of revered monster hunters to compete for the right to possess the mysterious ‘bloodstone’. Among the hunters is Bloodstone’s estranged daughter, Elsa Bloodstone, along with Jack Russell, a man hiding a secret. On this evening, the hunters must track a monster with the bloodstone affixed to it. And the rules are simple. The first one to find the monster and retrieve the stone is the new master of Bloodstone manor.
Werewolf By Night a Visually Spectacular Homage to Vintage Horror
Unburdened by expectations and free from pressure to connect to other MCU properties, Werewolf By Night is a fun departure for the franchise. Director Michael Giacchino goes all in with the movie’s vintage Universal Monsters vibe. From the shadowy black and white photography to the Gothic setting, Giacchino crafts a stylish homage to classic horror. Even Giacchino’s score recalls the sweeping orchestral pieces from movies like The Wolf Man. By and large, Werewolf By Night effectively mixes old and new. Afterall, it’s an MCU property so there needs to be some ‘superhero’ action. And Laura Donnelly’s ‘Elsa Bloodstone’ gets to go full ‘Black Widow’ a few times. Maybe the finale leans a bit heavily on a big CGI fight scene. But Giacchino never forgets what kind of TV special he’s making.
From the shadowy black and white photography to the Gothic setting, Giacchino crafts a stylish homage to classic horror.
And yes, Werewolf By Night gets nails its horror elements. By adopting a vintage style, Giacchinio wisely downplays expectations for the kind of gore Disney likely wanted to avoid. Nonetheless, Werewolf By Night still sees a few severed limbs and a bit spurting blood. As for the titular werewolf, the effects here improve on other recent Disney Plus series. What this television special delivers looks like a mix of the comic book monster and the 1950s I Was a Teenage Werewolf. In addition, Werewolf By Night doesn’t let CGI replace film-making innovation. A hallway fight scene near the end is a standout example of Giacchinio applying a nice touch to what could have devolved into an overstuff action scene.
Werewolf By Night Introduces Several Noteworthy Characters to the MCU
Where Werewolf By Night also excels is the way in which it marries vintage horror and familiar MCU conventions. Writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron weave in the comic’s mythology with overburdening the audience. Moreover, Quinn and Cameron ensure that the television special’s tone aligns with the overall MCU. Though it’s not overdone, there’s still the quips and quirks you’d expect to find in any other Marvel property. There’s the wind-up Ulysses Bloodstone corpse that’s wonderfully eccentric. And the exchanges between Jack Russell and the Man-Thing, or Ted as it prefers to be called, are Marvel touches that don’t feel out of place.
Here’s a Marvel property that leaves you wanting to see more of its characters sooner than later.
Speaking of Man-Thing, the obscure Marvel property may be the breakout character of Werewolf By Night. Courtesy of some practical effects and CGI, the Man-Thing looks fantastic here. Quinn and Cameron also allow a bit the character’s personality to shine through without giving away too much of its background. It’s an approach that works for both Jack Russell and Elsa Bloodstone. As the title character, Gael Garcia Bernal (Old) exudes charm, mystery, and hints of weariness. Likewise, Donnelly’s ‘Elsa Bloodstone’ is instantly a character with whom you want to spend more time. And that may be the overarching theme. Here’s a Marvel property that leaves you wanting to see more of its characters sooner than later.
Werewolf By Night Finds the Right Balance Between Horror and Marvel
To date, Marvel has had a lot of success exploring different styles with its Disney Plus series. And Werewolf By Night is another prime example of the benefits of letting a creative filmmaker have some free reign over the material. What Werewolf By Night delivers feels unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU. Both old-school horror fans and young Marvel audiences should love this television special. Most importantly, at less than an hour, Marvel leaves audiences wanting more thereby opening the door for exciting new projects. Maybe there’s a crossover with Blade, Moon Knight, and Werewolf By Night somewhere down the road.