Werewolf by Night, 2022.
Directed by Michael Giacchino.
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Eugenie Bondurant, Leonardo Nam, Kirk R. Thatcher, Jaycob Maya, and Al Hamacher.
Werewolf by Night follows a lycanthrope superhero who fights evil using the abilities given to him by a curse brought on by his bloodline.
Officially announced at this year’s D23 Expo, Werewolf By Night excitingly lays the groundwork for the exploration of a brand new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the studios’ first ever Halloween special.
By introducing the first lycanthrope through the lens of Jack Russell – who’s original appearance in Marvel Spotlight #2 back in 1972 led to his own horror comic book series and further team ups in Legion of Monsters and Midnight Sons – the spooky special is perfectly primed to spotlight Marvel comics’ fascinating supernatural side.
Directed by Michael Giacchino, Werewolf By Night centres on the eerie gathering of a secret cabal of monster hunters at Bloodstone Temple, following the death of their notorious leader, Ulysses Bloodstone. Driven by the hopes of winning Bloodstone’s powerful Bloodgem relic, the ensemble are pitted against one another in a deadly competition, while hunting down a dangerous monster in the process.
The composer-turned-director’s debut passion project is a refreshing and unique offering, with a spooky yet fun central tale which breaks free from the typical Marvel format, daring to shake up the cinematic universe which is unfortunately feeling more and more formulaic. Within the brisk 50 minute runtime, writers Peter Cameron and Heather Quinn impressively balance suspense and strong character work within the unravelling mystery.
Introducing a veritable monster mash of fan favourite classic comic characters including Man-Thing, Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) and monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), this special is a real treat for both old and new fans alike. Balancing genuine scares with a surprising amount of heart and humour, the core cast excel in both the action sequences and quieter moments, with Bernal and Donnelly’s dynamic particularly shining.
While Gael García Bernal is as charming as ever in the titular role, Donnelly is undoubtedly the most exciting new addition as Elsa Bloodstone – Marvel’s own badass, Buffy-esque hunter. An outstanding fighter, she excels in the fight sequences with flair, whilst also bringing a brilliantly dry humour to proceedings (much like Jessica Jones). Be prepared for Man-Thing to steal your heart though, as the giant will undoubtedly become one of your favourite new characters.
Giacchino’s black and white horror special is an unabashed, nostalgic love letter to the classic horror and monster movies of old. By incorporating distinct visual styles such as vignette edges, cue marks/cigarette burns, freeze frames and embracing traditional practical effects, the creative team has earnestly captured the distinctly old school look of the Universal Monster and Hammer films. This foray into genre is a great introduction to Marvel Comics’ under-appreciated horror legacy.
The black and white format also allows the director to dial up the striking blood splatter and dismemberments, while staying on the more family-friendly side of gory. A particularly savage sequence is shot using well placed light sources, cleverly keeping certain elements hidden in shadow. The tense, gothic score also ramps up the suspense, with jumpscare sound effects and gradual string crescendos peppered throughout, evoking a distinct sense of dread.
Following genre elements introduced in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night is allowed the freedom to finally explore the supernatural/paranormal corner of the MCU, with Giacchino’s wonderful enthusiasm for monsters at the forefront. The design of the werewolf harks back to the original Mike Ploog design, with the use of textural and tactile practical effects paying homage to the classic films Wolfman and Frankenstein. The creepy animatronic zombie-esque corpse of Ulysses Bloodstone is also a nicely macabre touch, especially the cackling delivery of the line “good luck, I’ll be rotting for you!”
One of the main drawbacks to the special however is the short runtime, which has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the titular werewolf’s presence. Similarly, the dynamic blossoming between the trio of core characters feels unfinished, leaving you wanting more.
Werewolf By Night is a howling good time and perfect for the Halloween season. Giacchino’s debut is certainly one of the strongest and most visually distinct of the recent MCU outings, laying the exciting groundwork for a new corner of the universe. The exciting introduction of Elsa Bloodstone may just prove the connective tissue between Blade, Moon Knight and Dane Whitman’s Black Knight – teasing a promising future for the horror and supernatural genre within the MCU.