As soon as the calendar flips over from September 30 to October 1, the universally dubbed ‘spooky season’ begins. Horror season’s unofficial month has much to offer from a slew of films that have released, to a dedicated streaming service, there is something for everyone. People everywhere get into the holiday spirit, decorate and prepare for the coming Halloween holiday. Marvel Studios has decided to join in the festivities with the made for streaming special Werewolf by Night. Among the overcrowded phase 4 and the MCU as a whole, Werewolf presents a true breath of fresh air for the 30 plus films and series, straying from the straight and narrow path that Kevin Feige set out way back in 2008.
Not the regular ‘breath of fresh air’ that has been used with every new series or film the lineup has to offer. Werewolf by Night is different than it’s MCU cousins, a fun departure from the norm – free from the burden of establishing an explanation nor the cumbersome attempt of squeezing it into the timeline of events.
Outside of a few opening frames reminding viewers that this is ‘connected’, Werewolf by Night takes place away from the current MCU events nor references anything that has happened during the ‘Infinity Saga’ – an isolated tale that represents a few firsts for the connected universe. For 1, longtime composer of the Spider-Man trilogy and the Marvel Studios fanfare, Michael Giacchino doubles up on his duties composing the haunting bloodcurdling score along with acting as the special’s director. His debut aside from a 2018 short film and an episode of Star Trek. And 2, Werewolf by Night is technically the MCU’s first true horror special, film or television.
Shot almost entirely in black and white, give or take a minute or two at the end, Werewolf pays homage to the early 1930’s and 40’s Hollywood monster movies put out by Universal. However, what makes this special worthwhile is the use of practical effects over the heavy reliance on CGI for its creatures and action sequences. At 53 minutes in length, Werewolf utilizes the runtime effectively to tell a complete story, without tripping up or falling behind – moving into each stage of the narrative at a steady pace. The use of black and white in this special adds a crisp vintage aesthetic with the deep blacks contrasting the lighter whites.
Following the death of legendary monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone (voiced by Richard Dixon), pictured only as an animatronic corpse, wound up and used as a puppet by the butler (Billy Swan), several monster hunters are invited by Ulysses’ widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) to the Bloodstone manner to take part in a competitive monster hunt. The prize is the coveted ‘Bloodstone’ along with rights to be the new leader of this ‘dark world’. Participants range from Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), estranged daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), Joven (Kirk R. Thatcher), Azarel (Eugenie Bondurant), Liorn (Leonardo Nam), Barasso (Daniel J. Watts). All of whom have a combined 200 plus kill count.
Since the runtime is 53 minutes, Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron’s teleplay wastes no time getting into the action and melodrama set up by the arrival of all the monster hunters. Moving at a steady pace, Giacchino keeps a firm grip on his production – looking more like a veteran director than a brand new one. His score is also a standout among the creative choices, capturing the essence of a horror project with built suspense and tension as the hunters carefully creep along the grounds of Bloodstone manor in search for the beast they must kill. Though no real jump scares, this is the MCU, the deaths are unpredictable whether the script is telegraphing them or not.
Being released by Marvel Studios means the black and white cinematography keeps the rating family friendly. Blood and gore is toned down to look more camouflaged but there are plenty of limbs to be severed and eyes to be gouged when the titular Werewolf transforms and is unleashed in close quarters.
Among the strengths of this streaming special, Werewolf is anchored by its lead performances by Gael García Bernal and Laura Donnelly. Both morally sound among the rest, the only two characters that are given enough development and dimension to them to warrant lead performances, both have captured the chemistry needed for an old school monster flick. Just like King Kong protecting the girl from harm, the two hunters protect each other from the ruthlessness of Verussa and the effects of the highly coveted Bloodstone.
Unlike anything the MCU has attempted previously, Werewolf by Night is a fun trill ride. With spooks and scares around every corner, the addition of a modernized adaptation of the comic of the same name gives the opportunity to add more creature based adult oriented stories into the connected universe that wasn’t necessarily an option 5 or so years ago. With Blade on the horizon, vampires and others are slated to make their long-anticipated introduction. How it fits into the world with Captain America is another thing to be worked out later on. If the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special is anything like the taut controlled environment of Werewolf, the MCU could reinvent itself right before our eyes.
Screenplay By: Heather Quinn & Peter Cameron
Story By: Heather Quinn
Directed By: Michael Giacchino
Music By: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Zoë White
Starring: Gael GarcIa Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Kirk R. Thatcher, Eugenie Bondurant, Leonardo Nam, Daniel J. Watts
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: October 7, 2022
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Based On: Werewolf by Night by Roy Thomas, Jean Thomas, Gerry Conway & Mike Ploog