Marvel Claws its Way into Horror with Werewolf By Night


Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

Andre Chabra, Arts Editor

In early October, companies were ready with their limited-time Halloween gimmicks. Costumes were everywhere, stores were selling massive candy bundles, and insurance companies were at it again with annoying advertisements that are supposed to be “frightening.” Despite all the corporate greed that makes Halloween what it is, one company did it right. Disney has hit the jackpot with their latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) installment in Werewolf by Night, which was released on Disney+ on October 7th. 

Werewolf by Night was directed by longtime Marvel composer Michael Giacchino in his directorial debut, and was written by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron. It stars Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) as Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, and Laura Donnelly (Outlander) as Elsa Bloodstone. The supporting cast includes Harriet Sansom Harris, Kirk R. Thatcher, Eugenie Bondurant, Leonardo Nam, and Daniel J. Watts.

The story is fairly straightforward. Our main character, Jack, pretends to be a monster hunter and attends a monster-hunting competition with other monster hunters who want to win a powerful artifact called the Bloodstone. It weakens and repels monsters while strengthening the human that uses it. Jack is not there for the Bloodstone, he is there to save his friend. Along the way, he meets Elsa. Jack and Elsa work together towards their respective goals, all while the hidden threat of the werewolf inside Jack looms above them.

This new adventure is not a movie, it is actually Marvel’s first-ever television special running at a very lean 53 minutes. Fortunately, the cast and crew make every second count. For their first attempt at horror, Marvel does a pretty good job. While not utterly terrifying, it has some good jump scares. It is also the first Marvel project filmed completely in black and white. Giacchino uses this to his advantage to increase the horror through gore. Without a doubt, this is the bloodiest project in the MCU. The black and white really gives the creators extra freedom in portraying the gore, because even though there is a lot of blood, the color scheme really tones it down. Had the film been in color, these scenes may not have made the cut. 

While not as gory or bloody as a regular horror movie, Werewolf by Night absolutely pushed the envelope and went beyond expectations for Marvel fans, which was a welcome surprise. Furthermore, black and white allows for a heavy contrast between light and dark. It makes the shadows so much darker and gives them much more weight than color ever could. These shadows are used beautifully to hide the werewolf’s face, making it that much creepier as its eyes glow through the darkness. It hides in the shadows and then pounces on its prey in a spectacular fight scene, very different from what fans have seen before.

Another great part of Werewolf by Night was its introduction of Man-Thing, a giant swamp monster that secretes acid and lights people on fire. Turns out, spoiler alert, Man-Thing’s real name is Ted, and he is the most lovable character in the whole special. Seriously, he could be just as popular as other modern Disney characters like Groot or Grogu (better known to the internet as Baby Yoda). 

Man-Thing’s CGI is very well done, and makes him very expressive, especially in his eyes. Jack’s werewolf, on the other hand, is less impressive. The crew decided that the werewolf was going to be practical with Bernal wearing a hairy suit and facial prosthetics. While the suit works, it is not as impressive as it could have been had they used CGI. When viewers see the werewolf on screen, they may not think of a strong, scary wolf. Instead, they may say, “Oh it’s just some dude running around in a fursuit.” This might become a bigger problem when Werewolf By Night joins the larger MCU, where all the heroes and villains have fantastic CGI that makes them look super. The werewolf will stick out like a sore thumb. Given all the great CGI on Man-Thing, why couldn’t they have done the same for the werewolf?

Ultimately, the special was entertaining and offered some very fun surprises that showed it wasn’t messing around in terms of horror. It is absolutely worth the watch and will leave you wanting more.