I didn’t make the time to review Werewolf By Night last year, and I missed the boat on Halloween THIS year. But I don’t care. I’m doing it now.
Marvel re-released Werewolf By Night in 2023, in FULL color. Why? No doubt to capitalize on the film’s unexpected success. But that’s stupid, cause the point of WBN was to copy the style of old monster movies– black and white and all. So I choose to ignore the 2023 version and instead review the original.
The Bloodstone family, among other monster hunters, has protected humanity for generations against foul creatures of the night. But when Ulysses Bloodstone– the world’s greatest monster hunter– dies, he leaves the source of his power to whomever is brave enough to retrieve it. Hunters from around the world gather to face an unknown beast and earn the prize. But are they up to the challenge?
Werewolf By Night is a refreshing change of pace from the usual crap Marvel’s tossed out of late. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it TRIES to do something different with the superhero genre. Most of these movies and shows are inspired by other superhero entertainment, while Werewolf By Night is inspired by classic monster films.
It even features a black and white colour palette, melodramatic performances, and claustrophobic environments– all hallmarks of traditional horror pictures. Michael Giacchino even included a healthy heaping of film grain, for good measure, to make it LOOK like it was shot 80 years ago.
Speaking of Giacchino: he’s one of Hollywood’s best modern composers and, additionally, he’s a promising director! Werewolf By Night wasn’t an exceptional project, but Giacchino showed a competence here which more seasoned directors sometimes lack. He was especially adept at setting tone.
And his score was phenomenal! The Werewolf By Night special, on the whole, isn’t too frightening– but its music hit that horror sweet spot. Giacchino’s chilly melodies left me desirably uneasy.
To expand on my last point: Don’t go into Werewolf By Night expecting full-on horror from Marvel. It’s creepy and atmospheric and somewhat gory but not “scary”. I was still surprised how far Marvel studios pushed the envelope on this one. It’s probably the most bloody MCU project (which didn’t find life on Netflix).
But WBN isn’t without levity! I know some of you groan at the mere prospect of humor in a Marvel project, “Ugh. Not more of that.” Yet I appreciated the humor of this special– ’cause there was JUST enough to balance the horror, without being overbearing. And the STYLE of humor wasn’t so much that irreverently quippy, Joss Whedon-inspired dialogue which every Marvel movie since 2012 has overused. The comedy was more subtle, and situationally appropriate.
Onto characters now: Elsa is the estranged daughter of Ulysses Bloodstone, who must compete for possession of her family heirloom. Laura Donnelly’s performance strikes a lovely balance between “normal person” and “badass hero”. She’s combat-capable, and obviously of above-average intelligence/ physical prowess, yet she isn’t immune to fear or emotionally dead to the weirdness of her situations.
Jack (Gael Garcia Bernal) is this special’s most endearing character. He’s crafty, a delightful oddball, and offers more depth than you might think to start. Jack’s story takes multiple good twists, and leaves you wanting more of the character in the MCU’s future.
The other hunters, however, are take-em-or-leave-em. They aren’t developed whatsoever. We glean their kill counts, and their favourite weapons… and that’s about it. They’re just around to pad the body counts and contribute to action scenes. And that’s fine. I didn’t need them to be more.
Werewolf By Night features melodramatic and over-the-top acting– especially Harriet Sansom Harris as the wicked step-mother. That style doesn’t appeal to everyone. Many would see these performances as cheesy or bad. But I love it! Melodrama is, many times, MORE investing than “realism” if you can get into it. And who REALLY wants realism in the franchise with magic, monsters, and multiverses?
WBN’s story is simple, but effective. There’s nothing too meaty here, or anything which will leave you especially shocked, awed, or disgusted; yet the themes and plot are cohesive and well-handled. Basically the idea is: the moniker of “monster”, like beauty, is given by the beholder. Both the humans and monsters in WBN are capable of monstrous actions, and compassion.
Is Werewolf By Night relevant to anything in Marvel’s Phase 5 and beyond? Not so far as I can tell; not yet. Though WBN impressively establishes an ENTIRE branch of MCU lore in its short run-time. We’re given a history of these monster hunters and a whole family lineage. And it’d be a shame if Marvel never capitalized on these building blocks (though my first guess would be that the Blade movie would be the one to try).
How about the creature effects? WBN featured dodgy CGI on its monsters. But the (practical) werewolf looked good! Though effects can be over-rated. My favourite shot in the special (the werewolf’s transformation) actually avoids fancy special effects shots and is MORE effective for the choice.
And the action is largely competent. It features wide-takes, and doesn’t break your immersion. There’s some cool acrobatics and gore. It’s been done better elsewhere, but it’s good.
Werewolf By Night accomplished something few Marvel projects have done in recent years: it left me both satisfied AND wanting more! Though I don’t necessarily need more of THIS world, compelling as it is. No. I want more risky one-offs which care less for continuity or furthering the world than they do for artistic intrigue.
The MCU is a beautiful world with many unexplored corners. Why water down the uniqueness of said corners by appealing to mainstream audiences ALL the time? Give us stuff which fewer folks will like! Take chances! Marvel is the world’s biggest franchise. They can afford the risks.
Werewolf By Night was all it needed to be. There wasn’t much to the story, but I was entertained throughout. And its best moments stuck with me.
So Werewolf By Night (the original black and white version) is Worth a Watch.
FURTHER ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP!
What weird corners of Marvel lore should the MCU tackle next? What did you think of Werewolf By Night? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,