Werewolf By Night


‘…Marvel haven’t shed their tedious reliance on magical stones to build a plot around, but most of Giacchino’s pastiche feels fresh enough…’

When is a film not a film? A Halloween holiday special from the Marvel imprint, Michael Giacchino clocks in at barely 45 minutes of content, which is probably about right for a rather half-cooked idea. Taking inspiration from a venerable comic strip that dates back to the 70’s, Werewolf By Night rings the changes on the done-to-death Marvel formula. The opening credits are in a 1940’s style, the whole venture is shot in black and white apart from the final scene, and there’s precious few cross-overs, celebrity cameos and vortexes; whether you like it of not, it’s clear that Marvel are getting bored with their own box of tricks.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Jack Russell, a monster hunter by day who can take on the powers of the werewolf by night; we arrive with him at Bloodstone Manor for the funeral of Ulysses Bloodstone. Surviving the patriarch are his widow Verussa Bloodstone (Harriet Samson Harris) and his daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), both of whom have aspirations to wield the fabled bloodstone itself. The jewel, which has the power to weaken monsters, is the prize offered in an in-house competition between Russell and a squad of other monster hunters; whoever emerges alive will take on the mantle of the supreme monster hunter.

So Marvel haven’t shed their tedious reliance on magical stones to build a plot around, but most of Giacchino’s pastiche feels fresh enough; the gleaming black and white photography recalls Val Lewton’s light and shade, and the design of Bloodstone manor and its lavish combat maze is an ideal setting for a monster hunter battle royale. The casting helps; Garcia Bernal manages to suggest Russell’s tortured state well before an impressive transformation scene, and Donnelly has just the right look for this, like Anne Hathaway cosplaying as Morticia Adams.

Unfortunately, there’s just not enough story here for an immersive feature, and Werewolf by Night pretty much stops when it should be getting started; all the trappings don’t compensate for an undernourished narrative that’s neither fish nor foul. The lines may be blurred, but streaming is tv, and while cinema remains the well from which all the most beloved ideas are plucked, Werewolf by Night is just a very high end pilot, seemingly unfinished, but likely to get developed as some kind of future project. For Marvel, it’s a quaint novelty item designed to suck a little more air out of Universal’s long-collapsed Dark Universe.


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  1. I didn’t know what to expect with this Marvel “special.” I enjoyed it. I think the strategy was to put a toe in the water and see what fans think of it i.e. the short run time. I’m hoping this opens up the “organizational chart” a bit more and introduces monsters into the MCU. Loved Laura Donnelly in The Nevers and thought she was good here also.

    • Yup, it could have been a taster for the Dark Universe if that’s still a thing. But I did appreciate Marvel stepping away from their comfortable, overused tropes and making something that was different enough to make a splash. Donnelly was new to me, but stood out.

      • I think a lot of us Marvel fans enjoyed taking a break from the characters they were “printing money” with and actually spread their wings a bit, getting back to doing something fresh and creative…which are words I know you wouldn’t normally associate with a black and white monster hour, but in this case “different” was what Marvel needed to show they were still capable of.

    • I have distant memories of Man-Thing, although I get him mixed up with Swamp Thing. That theme felt like an ancient, almost primal trope, of the monster hunter who runs a scam with a tame monster. He looked a bit like your generic Marvel monster, or A Monster Calls for me, but at least he was a key element of the story and not overplayed. My guess is the tv show with be hero and monster out having adventures, but Marvel will no doubt have it planned out in detail…

  2. Huh, Muppet Haunted Mansion was between 40-50 minutes. Wonder if Disney is going to try really short movies now?
    While I enjoy black and white photos, a new movie in black and white just doesn’t sound very appealing.

  3. Ceci n’est pas une film? Sounds like 45 minutes would be about enough of this for me. Thought the trailer covered things pretty well. And seeing as it’s Disney+ I doubt I’ll see any more of it anyway.

    You doing the new Hellraiser thingy?

    • It’s a gap in my knowledge; never made it through a Hellraiser film, although don’t mind Clive Barker. There’s something of a lag in the pipeline with so much Halloween stuff, so I may well get round to Pinhead at some point.

      It’s tough to make a feature work, so at least they didn’t pad this out too much, but they also dodn’t get the identification and engagement that feature length can provide. Still, something different…

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