The MCU fires a silver bullet into the heart of classic horror with ‘Werewolf By Night’
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues leaning hard into the horror genre this phase with the surprise television Halloween special Werewolf by Night, which world premiered at Fantastic Fest and became widely available for streaming on Disney+ this past weekend.
What’s special about Werewolf is that it plays out like a one-off homage to classic monster movies like The Wolf Man (1941) and Hammer Film Productions. They present it in black and white, with an appropriately grandiose score and musical cues. This format change signals to viewers that all bets are off, which becomes clear when the blood begins to spill more graphically than we’ve seen in the MCU other than a particular sequence in Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness.
Adding to the unpredictability, Werewolf also updates some things about the source material. Jack Russell (I know) first appeared in Marvel Comics in Marvel Spotlight #2 in 1972 as a teenage boy who comes from a long line of lycanthropes. In the special, Gael García Bernal plays Jack as someone who has seen some shit and is wisely cautious about the horrific transformative power he possesses.
The plot of Werewolf is somewhat incidental whereas this special is all about the look and feel, while promising that the MCU isn’t falling into a creative rut as many—myself included—have suggested during Phase 4.
Jack has infiltrated a sort of Illuminati for monster hunters. Their leader Ulysses Bloodstone recently passed away, so the actual physical Bloodstone he wielded is now looking for a new owner. The stone grants monster hunters great power, essentially allowing them to control supernatural creatures. The hunters gather on a particularly creepy night to prove their worth and stake claim to the Bloodstone by being the first to slay a powerful creature.
Spoilers follow: That powerful creature is none other than Marvel fan favorite Dr. Ted Sallis—better known as Man-Thing, not to be confused with Swamp Thing. Jack and Ted go way back, so Jack poses as a monster hunter while he figures out how to free Man-Thing.
Ulysses’ daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly) is one of the participants of the hunt, but she’s got this whole, “I don’t want to be here because I’m above this,” vibe going on. She and Jack link up and reach an agreement. If Elsa helps Jack free Man-Thing, he’ll just give her the Bloodstone. And then Jack gives us the full wolf. Fin.
Werewolf will likely most be remembered for the introduction of an impressive live-action Man-Thing. For monster fiends, it will be an exclamation point to the MCU’s foray into horror and the darker corners of Marvel canon in Phase 4, beginning with the stinger at the end of The Eternals and likely culminating with next year’s Phase 5 reboot of Blade. Morbius never happened.
The audience response to Werewolf By Night seems to be largely positive, so why stop there? I’m somewhat of a lycanthrope expert, so trust me when I say that where there’s one werewolf there must be more not too far away. Be careful out there this Halloween and on the next full moon.