Who says the holiday special is dead? Marvel’s Special Presentation Werewolf by Night is the fright-filled addition to the MCU you need this Halloween season.
Although Marvel hasn’t shied away from horror in Phase 4 (Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, What If…?) this time it embraces characters specifically from its horror comics past.
Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), aka “Werewolf by Night,” debuted in Marvel Comics in 1971 and comes from a corner of Marvel comics where monsters are real. Although maybe lesser known than some of his monstrous counterparts like Blade, he’s the perfect character to explore for a spooky special.
On Werewolf by Night, we find Jack at the Bloodstone Temple for a deadly competition with other monster hunters to win a powerful relic. The true intentions of those in attendance unfold as the story progresses with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Jack’s counterpart throughout the special is Elsa Bloodstone, played by Laura Donnelly. Elsa is a badass monster hunter whose estrangement from her family increases the tension of the story.
I can already see the internet swooning over both characters.
This is Marvel’s first “Special Presentation,” but the run length feels adequate for the stylized look director Michael Giacchino goes for. Werewolf by Night pays homage to classic horror films of the 30s and 40s (as well as some other surprising much less scary classic cinema references).
There is plenty of gore but it’s subdued compared to many modern-day horror films. Between the black and white film, flashing lights, and bone-chilling sound effects, your imagination will be doing part of the work which makes it all the more fun.
The story’s reliance on practical effects makes it feel even more like a retro monster movie.
Giacchino, best known for his work as a composer, creates the perfect unsettling score to go along with the story.
Although the first third leans heavily into the grim and macabre, Werewolf by Night also imbues some humor into the plot. The switch in tone did initially take me out of the story a bit, but eventually, the pieces start to fit together.
Bernal is charming as Jack who develops an unlikely friendship with the prickly Elsa and exchanges witty banter with the wordless Man-Thing, who shows up later in the film.
Judging Werewolf by Night purely as a standalone story, it is an effective throwback to classic films that will entertain while dredging up some nostalgia. In fact, its seeming detachment from main continuity might draw in horror fans who are otherwise disinterested in the MCU.
Jack gets a little bit of backstory but this is not an origin story. The monster hunter versus secret monster setup is straightforward enough if you’re willing to accept the scant mythology presented without too many questions.
It’s always satisfying when Marvel welcomes directors to break out of the franchise box, and Werewolf by Night might be the most extreme example of that so far. That said, it’s hard to not wonder how and if these characters will fit into the future of the MCU with the studio marketing this as “a new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
For now, Marvel fans will just have to be satisfied with having something new and spooky to watch this Halloween.
Werewolf by Night premieres on October 7 on Disney+.