Welcome, guys and ghouls, to Marvel’s Halloween special, streaming now on Disney Plus. This one-hour, one-off mini-movie is called Werewolf by Night and it’s a frightfully fun and different Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure (see CNET’s review). Let’s dive in to the comic book references, salute the tributes to classic horror and speculate about what’s next for Gael García Bernal’s Jack Russell and Laura Donnelly’s Elsa Bloodstone.
Werewolf by Night is streaming now. Read on… if you dare! (Not because this article is scary, just because of spoilers).
What’s the ending about?
Monster hunters have gathered at the home of the late Ulysses Bloodstone to claim the Bloodstone, a supernatural super-weapon that’s the source of his family’s power. But the hunter with the most kills, Jack Russell, is not the deadly slayer he professes to be: Instead of killing creatures, he frees them. With Elsa’s help, Jack helps the hunt’s prey escape, revealing the tentacled terror Man-Thing is more of a gentle giant (named Ted). In the process, Jack is captured and forced by the Bloodstone to transform into a monstrous alter ego of his own: He’s the comic book character Werewolf By Night.
Before transforming, Jack gets up close and personal to Elsa’s scent, in the hope his bestial form remembers her — a trick that’s only worked once before, which suggests an interesting story from his past. Fortunately it works, and the werewolf and Elsa hack and slash their way through the remaining hunters and henchmen. Elsa claims the Bloodstone as her own and takes her ancestral seat in the Bloodstone mansion, while Jack awakes in his human form thanks to Ted’s timely intervention.
Why is it in black and white?
The TV movie is a tribute to vintage horror from roughly the first half of the 20th century. From the vintage-styled opening credits to the contorted, maze-like graveyard setting and crackly 1940s gramophone tunes, there are nods to the expressionist horror of silent movies like 1922’s Nosferatu and 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Another big influence comes from the movie studio Universal, which in the ’30s and ’40s made an assortment of horror films featuring golden age ghouls like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and, of course, the Wolfman.
It even has those little blink-and-you-miss-’em “cigarette burns” in the top right hand corner of the screen, which were added to old movies to show theater projectionists when to change the reel (if you don’t know what any of these words mean, it’s memorably explained in Fight Club).
The screen fills with color as Elsa claims the Bloodstone, while the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland swells. Somewhere Over The Rainbow comes from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz which also shifted between monochrome and color. Interestingly Werewolf by Night is the reverse of The Wizard of Oz, which played in luminous Technicolor for most of the story but began and ended in monochrome. In that movie, the black-and-white sections denoted the ‘real’ world, and color signaled a shift into the fantasy realm of Oz (which may have been a dream).
This use of color is probably just a stylistic nod to a classic movie, but we’re here to overthink things so it’s tempting to wonder whether this is some kind of comment on the nature of reality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps it’s saying that the supernatural aspects of the Marvel universe are now coming out of the shadows, and shifting into color to show that characters like Elsa Bloodstone, Jack Russell and Man-Thing are properly part of the MCU.
Who are the hunters?
Aside from Jack, Ted and Elsa, most of the film’s characters are created for this story and don’t have obvious comic book counterparts.
Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night.Laura Donnelly, who you may recognize from Outlander and The Nevers, plays Elsa Bloodstone.Carey Jones plays Man-Thing AKA Ted. Jones previously played grumpy Wookie Black Krrsantan in The Book of Boba Fett.
Laura Donnelly in Werewolf by Night.
Harriet Sansom Harris is Verusa, caretaker of the Bloodstone legacy.Eugenie Bondurant plays Azarel. You may have seen Bondurant in Hunger Games and The Conjuring movies.Leonardo Nam is Liorn. Nam previously appeared in Westward.Kirk R. Thatcher is Jovan, the burly Scotsman. As well as appearing recently in Star Trek: Picard, Thatcher is perhaps best known as the punk rocker who encountered Spock on a bus in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.Daniel J Watts plays Barasso. Watts previously starred in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.Al Hamacher plays Billy Swan. Hamacher previously appeared in Cobra Kai.David Silverman is The Flaming Tuba (seriously).
Interestingly, initial reports suggested Jaycob Maya would play a character called Jake Gomez, known to comics fans as the second incarnation of Werewolf by Night. But he doesn’t appear in the finished film.
What are the names on the tombs?
You’d think the tomb in which Elsa and Jack are momentarily trapped would be ripe for Easter eggs, but the various names on the headstones aren’t obvious Marvel comics references. They’re in-jokes paying tribute to friends of director Michael Giacchino — “Mika Brandonen Kleyla”, for example, is a nod to art director and former Disney imagineer Brandon Kleyla.
Who should we look out for in the credits?
Director Michael Giacchino previously directed a Star Trek short but is better known as the composer of various movie scores. He’s done the music for several Mission: Impossible, Jurassic World, Star Trek and Pixar movie soundtracks, as well as The Batman, Lightyear and several Marvel flicks including Thor: Love and Thunder.
The credits nod to Werewolf by Night creators Roy Thomas, Jean Thomas, Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog.
Comic creators Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Michael Lopez are saluted for creating Elsa Bloodstone in 2001, along with John Warner who created Ulysses Bloodstone in 1975 (with Len Wein and Marvel Wolfman, not mentioned in the credits). Stuart Immonen is thanked for his work defining the look of Elsa Bloodstone in anarchic comic series Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (written by Warren Ellis, not mentioned here).
Also thanked are legendary horror comic artists Gray Morrow, Sonny Trinidad and Pat Boyette (who incidentally created Peacemaker, seen more recently as part of DC’s Suicide Squad) and Mike Vosberg (who worked for Marvel and DC as well as illustrating the 1989 Tales From the Crypt series).
Special thanks are extended to Giacchino’s brother Anthony, an Oscar-winning documentarian; movie producer Bryan Burk; Brad Bird, the animator and director behind The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; the production team; and “parents who encouraged their kids to have fun imagining a world full of classic monsters.” Awww.
What’s next for Marvel?
Current MCU series She-Hulk just wrapped up with a hilariously meta finale, as well as bringing back fan favorite Daredevil.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters Nov. 11.
After that it’s back to Disney Plus for another one-off, a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special written and directed by James Gunn in December.
Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More
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