Werewolf by Night, starring the lycanthropic character of the same name as played by Gael Garca Bernal, is the first Halloween special to appear on Disney+. The Marvel Cinematic Universe dives into the deep end with this well, as much as it can within the MCU’s strict PG-13 guidelines. Being only 53 minutes long, it’s the shortest and snack-sized Halloween treat before the scariest season. It’s also by far the creepiest and bloodiest Marvel project.
The series understands what makes a horror tale, right down to the condensed nature that was so popular in the early days of film. It is not just your standard stale Marvel tale disguised under a layer of black-and-white Photoshop. A few monster hunters have assembled to vie for the namesake of the infamous family, a ruby-red gem with extraordinary powers, the only item of colour in the otherwise monochromatic special in Werewolf by Night, which takes place over the course of an entire night inside the Bloodstone Manor.
In order to transport viewers back to the 1940s, when Universal had a firm hold on the horror genre and Hammer Films wasn’t far behind, Michael Giacchino pulls inspiration from the first periods of horror. Werewolf by Night eschews the straightforward style of recent Marvel movies in favour of dipping its toes into the enigmatic, plunging right into the action without any preamble. From the very first scene, viewers are told to forget their expectations because superheroes wouldn’t dare enter a world filled with such terrors. The foreboding encircles the audience like the fog snaking around Jack Russell’s ankles as he explores the Bloodstone Manor.
The humour of the episode clearly reflects the MCU expertise of co-writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, who wrote for Moon Knight and Hawkeye, respectively. The jokes, which feel like a poor stand-up routine gone horrifically wrong, are the kind that pull on the natural campiness of classic horror rather than the MCU’s customary self-referential style, and when things start to fall apart, the stars’ chemistry makes up for the rest. In contrast, Bernal is a standout in everything he does, and he fits into Giacchino’s vision like he was always meant to. He gives Jack Russell a life of his own that makes him captivating to watch even though, in the end, he receives little screen time in his own special.