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Reel Talk: Werewolf by Night, a spooky Marvel Halloween special

MONICA BAGNOLI // THE FLAT HAT

Finding the right film to watch for the Halloween season can be trickier than one might imagine. There are many types of horror movies out there, ranging from family friendly frights to horrific will-keep-you-up-all-night kind of films. 

When it comes to horror, everyone has different tastes. Some people are more squeamish and can’t stand the sight of blood or the many jump scares, while others relish in the number of scares and disturbing imagery. If you fall somewhere in between these two extremes and are looking for something that’s not outright scary, but will still satisfy your horror cravings, then look no further than Marvel’s “Werewolf by Night” television special on Disney+. 

“Werewolf by Night” is the latest offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, you read that right: the special was made by Marvel, as in the studio behind the series of interconnected superhero extravaganzas. “Werewolf by Night,” however, is very much the antithesis of that and bears a stronger resemblance to old fashioned horror rather than comic book superheroes. 

Think of the universal monster movies of the 1930s and 40s such as “Dracula” and “The Wolf Man.” In fact, the special was released in black and white in order to emulate the feel of those classic films and even contains cue marks or cigarette burns, which were used in old movies to indicate when the film reel needed to be changed. All of these seemingly superficial details work very well to make the special feel like a product of the times it’s homaging, distinguishing it from the rest of the MCU. 

Really, the only thing that reminded me that I was watching something part of the MCU was the Marvel logo in the opening. The rest of the special, though, feels completely like its own separate thing, detached from the rest of the company’s catalog. There are no surprise cameos, overabundance of CGI, or typical snarky humor that is typically included in a Marvel production. Instead what we have is an atmospheric and moody genre piece populated with obscure characters who have yet to appear in the MCU. 

“Werewolf by Night” is directed by longtime film composer Michael Giacchino, who has composed many pieces for past Marvel movies including the scores for this film. The special explores the darker, previously unknown side of the MCU, concerning monsters and those who hunt them. The premise is that a group of experienced monster hunters are summoned to compete for a powerful stone that can only be obtained by killing a deadly creature. 

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Jack Russell, a monster hunter who takes part in the hunt. Other important characters include Verussa Bloodstone, who assembles the hunters, and her estranged daughter Elsa Bloodstone, who also takes part in the hunt.

The special runs at a brisk 53 minutes and has no time for filler. Surprisingly, the filmmakers were able to efficiently introduce and develop all of these brand new characters in a satisfying way within the short runtime. Props should be given to the writers for making us care about these characters so quickly. 

The audience does not learn too much about Jack or Elsa’s backstories — just enough to keep us engaged while still retaining a lot of the mystery around them. Both characters are plagued with dark secrets and troubled family history. Despite all the killing they do in the special, they are still able to be empathetic characters for the audience. 

Speaking of killing, there is a lot of bloodshed in “Werewolf by Night,” more so than in your average Marvel film. I believe the filmmakers may have been able to get away with the level of violence thanks to the black and white look that toned down the gruesomeness a bit. It’s not quite at the level of something from an R rated film, but there still are plenty of genuinely shocking moments. 

 In particular, the werewolf transformation scene was extremely well done as Giacchino does not actually show it. Instead he presents it through the use of shadows, which, in my opinion, makes it even more frightening. Additionally, the one scene in the special that’s in color transitions from black and white to color stood out as it was reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. It even had the Judy Garland’s song “Over The Rainbow” playing during the moment. 

“Werewolf by Night” was definitely a gamble for Marvel, but one that I think paid off. Currently there has been an abundance (or overabundance) of superhero films and television shows, so this is a welcome change. While it may be coming from the same studio that spearheaded this cultural dominance of superhero movies, “Werewolf by Night” does not fail to offer a unique experience for many of its viewers. Hopefully, this will encourage Marvel Studios and Disney to keep experimenting and take more risks with their content. For now though, enjoy “Werewolf by Night”: the perfect fun-sized film to watch during this spooky season.


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