The MCU has been broadly wrapped in a swirl of multiversal, time-bending activity. Within that vortex has been nods to the darker side of the superhero anthology — mainly with the Darkhold in WandaVision and Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. If we can meet time lords and mad titans, there is room for witches, vampires (hello Blade), and werewolves. Yes, werewolves. With the special presentation of Marvel’s Werewolf By Night, the MCU provides a quick 52-minute story that hearkens back to the 1930s era of monster movie lore — both in its black and white presentation and musical composition.
Werewolf By Night‘s premise is pretty simple. An elite group of monster hunters has gathered together at Bloodstone Manor, where their leader, Ulysses Bloodstone, has passed away. Given this vacancy, there are two things up for grabs. There’s a crack at being the head of the table and the Bloodstone relic, which holds great power. All the hunters must do is survive a dangerous game-like free-for-all and track down a formidable monster, where the winner takes all. Simple enough, right? Did I mention the stone is also attached to the beast as well?
In this competition, which boasts elite veteran hunters who boast about their immense kill counts, there is Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal). He tries to fly under the radar when asked about his hunter history and is a little evasive. Just enough to fly under the radar to throw people off the scent of a secret he’s carrying. First-time director Michael Giacchino and writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron have little time to build a quick story with enough setup and atmosphere to make everything successful. They accomplish this in a fun, sometimes bloody jaunt filled with action and some dry humor.
At the story’s heart is the plight of Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), Ulysses’s daughter, and Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris), his widow. This competition shouldn’t be happening, as Elsa is the rightful heir to her father’s position and a prized object. However, she has an issue with Ulysses’ hunting history and turned her back on it long ago. Verusa often reminds her how much of a perceived disappointment Elsa is because she didn’t follow in her father’s footsteps. Nevertheless, Elsa is present with her motivations for winning the Bloodstone.
If you’re coming into Werewolf By Night thinking it will be a violent, sometimes suspenseful affair, it is to an extent. The black and white tones allow Giacchino to play up the gore factor — including a scene where the blood goes on the camera lens directly. Specifics in tension building will be reminiscent of classic films like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein. Without the special event going full-on horror, Werewolf By Night brings a unique sense of mystique to an MCU canon that’s being pulled every way.
The werewolf’s transformation — while it uses CGI and is not entirely on the level of an American Werewolf In London, takes form when you can see the practical costume. As the episode continues, Man-Thing’s look and personality become more of a highlight. Zoë White’s camera shots are callbacks to Dracula, where things zero in on the character being terrified of what they see off-screen. It’s a different tone we are used to in the controlled Marvel Universe — even with all the experimentation of style and genre over the past couple of years.
While it’s been long understood and conditioned to watch a stable of films or a TV show season to get another piece of the MCU puzzle, this “special presentation” was nice. It allows Marvel to get a part of the Halloween piece and strike intrigue in where its ghoulish tales will go.
Photo Credit: Marvel Studios