To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Werewolf by Night is a supernatural horror television special based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The special is produced by Kevin Feige with Michael Giacchino (Monster Challenge) directing a screenplay written by Heather Quinn (Hawkeye) and Peter Cameron (Moon Knight). Featuring Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Kirk R. Thatcher, Eugenie Bondurant, Leonardo Nam, Daniel J. Watts, Al Hamacher, Harriet Sansom Harris, and Carey Jones. It is the first Marvel Studios Special Presentation set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), sharing continuity with the films and television series of the franchise. The story follows Jack Russell as he competes with a secret group of monster hunters to win a powerful relic that’s attached to a dangerous monster.
A voiceover (Rick Wasserman) explains that monster hunters have existed for a long time operating in the dark where monsters dwell. The Bloodstone family is considered to be the most prolific monster hunters of all time. A feat they achieved by using the family’s powerful supernatural relic known as the Bloodstone which provides the owner strength, protection, and longevity. For many years Ulysses Bloodstone led the clan but now that he has died someone new shall take possession of the ancient artifact.
At Bloodstone Manor, hunters from around the world gather to honor Ulysses at the behest of his widow, Verussa Bloodstone (Harriet Sansom Harris). Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) arrives and admires the beasts’ heads mounted along the wall eventually stopping to admire the Bloodstone and speak with fellow hunter Joshua Jovan (Kirk R. Thatcher). Verussa advises the hunters that a ceremonial hunt will determine who will be their new leader and who will wield the powerful Bloodstone next. Verussa is then notified that her stepdaughter, Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) has arrived and rushes to the corridor to meet her. Elsa states that she’s come for the Bloodstone as it is her birthright. Verussa berates her and says she has to fight for it like the other hunters. After an introduction from the animated corpse of Ulysses (Richard Dixon), the hunt for the artifact begins.
Marvel Studios has had a rough outing with Phase Four of the MCU. While projects like WandaVision, Loki, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have garnered praise other ventures have been considered below par. Several reasons are floating around as to why this is from Marvel giving the directors more control to Kevin Feige being spread too thin to keep an eye on everything in development. Usually, when movies or shows don’t fit perfectly into the MCU design it turns fans off, but Werewolf by Night breaks those preconceived notions in a way that fans can enjoy.
While the special is firmly set within the MCU it uses characters and locations we have never seen before. Similar to what was done with Guardians of the Galaxy, although even that film had a Thanos cameo. From the start, the Marvel Studios logo changes to black-and-white and the music becomes more horror infused as claws tear through the screen. This helps the audience know things will be a little different than what they are used to. Gael García Bernal is great as Jack. I love how he incorporates his Mexican heritage into the character as Jack speaks a little Spanish during the special. While in human form jack is quiet and reserved yet sweet and kind. He does his best to avoid confrontation if he can. His relationship with Ted/Man-Thing (Carey Jones) is the most interesting aspect of the show and I can’t wait to see them team up again in the future.
Laura Donnelly also turns in a fun performance as Elsa. Her character has been away for some time and only returns to gain possession of the Bloodstone. She has no love for her father or stepmother and it feels as if she has some ulterior motive that is not divulged to the audience. Given the briefness of the story, it’s guaranteed these characters are expected to appear in more upcoming Marvel projects. (Hopefully the recently delayed Blade reboot.)
Michael Giacchino shows promise as a director. The use of vivid color amidst the black-and-white is innovative. The only color shown for most of the presentation is the red of the Bloodstone. Eventually color does fade in at the end in a Wizard of Oz-style moment. Werewolf by Night is the first Marvel project to experiment with this style aside from Logan Noir. The black-and-white format and score help Giacchino pay homage to the Universal Classic Monsters namely the Wolfman. The use of violins, drums, and horns echo in the background evoking a sense of helplessness and dread. Practical effects are used to create Jack’s werewolf form. Which looks better in this show than going with the typical CGI model. The black-and-white also allows for more gore and violence as the blood isn’t red. Some of the most brutal kills in the MCU appear in this special. It also helps hide VFX on Man-Thing due to the budget probably being smaller than a full series.
Werewolf by Night is a major win for the MCU. The special feels like a modern version of a classic horror picture. It’s gritty, gory, and at times claustrophobic. I give Werewolf by Night a Good 4.5/5. Marvel Studios could have easily added 30 minutes to this and released it as a theatrical film. Can’t wait to see what James Gunn does with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special next!