The following contains spoilers for the MCU’s Werewolf by Night, released on October 7, 2022
Just as it only takes one silver bullet to take down a werewolf, we only need one episode of Marvel’s Werewolf by Night to know that they have developed a monstrously interesting and fun new world for their fans. Billed as an MCU “Special Presentation,” the combination of classic horror throwbacks, unique cinematography, and opportunities for future creature features surely has Kevin Fiege and company plotting how to get even more monsters haunting the superhero universe.
Right from the opening credits we are transported to a place where you forget you are watching a modern tale from the the modern Kings of CGI and forward-thinking television technology. Michael Giacchino (in his directorial debut) takes us to places where we would expect to find Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney 80 years ago. If you are a fan of or nostalgic for classic horror and monster movies, Werewolf by Night is the closest you’ve been to that experience since perhaps 2005’s Call of Cthulhu.
Co-stars Gael Garcia Bernal (Jack Russell) and Laura Donnelly (Elsa Bloodstone) are dressed and are filmed in such a way that they look as though they were transported here from the 1941 set of Wolf-Man. In just a quick 51 minute run-time, we only get literal seconds of backstory and character development. But what we have from the context within the story and the mysterious nature of why Jack Russell is at a gathering of monster-hunters fills in most of the gaps.
You also get the sense that Giacchino did not only draw from 1930s and 1940s Hollywood monsters to set the stage and heighten the fear factor of this show. There are other horror and monster themes layered throughout. In true Jaws fashion, we don’t even see the full titular character until three-fourths of the way through the episode. Giacchino’s brooding musical score keeps reminding you through that entire time, however, that something haunting is still to come. But much like Halloween or The Mist, the lack of obsessive violence is overtaken by a soon-to-come danger that is always lurking.
But while the acting, the visuals, and the storytelling take us back to the classic age of Hollywood monsters, it’s the opportunity for what this show can mean to the future of the MCU that makes it that much more appealing. Perhaps it’s fitting that Marvel’s first real entry into the horror genre comes at the end of such a convoluted and maligned Phase 4 of the MCU. When so much of the past two years has been spent on opening doors and portals to other dimensions, alternate timelines, and mind-bending realities, Marvel perhaps did not realize that the dark monster-filled underbelly of the superhero world just might be the best place to go next.
Werewolf by Night actually opens the possibility of two new dark paths to explore. First, as clearly defined in the show’s prologue, there is a fraternity of monster hunters in our world of which we know nothing about. The Marvel wiki page makes no mention of Werewolf by Night hunters in their canon such as Javon, Liorn, and Barasso so these are blank slates from which to craft compelling monster-centric stories.
But the real surprise (once again, SPOILERS!), is that there is also apparently a community of monsters in this same world that serve as a sort of support system for one another. They are constantly living in a state of fear from being hunted, after all. We are introduced to Man-Thing in this show, a Marvel creature from 1971 that harkens back straight to the Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954. Man-Thing (or “Ted,” as Jack knows him) and Jack Russell both help the other escape the hunters at different points throughout the episode, only to share in a fireside cup of coffee after Jacks’ lycanthropic tendencies fade away in the daylight.
It was almost…heartwarming.
Who else do Ted and Jack know? Where are they hiding out? Who’s on the monster group Slack channel these days? These are now important questions since the door to a monster-verse has been kicked open.
Kevin Feige recently proclaimed that this special introduces “a world that will ultimately become quite important to the MCU,” and it’s easy to see the through-line from this special to characters like Blade, Morbius, or Ghost Rider. Over the years, the Midnight Sons have battled the darker elements of Marvel’s universe and both Elsa Bloodstone and Man-Thing have rostered appearances on that team.
The most essential question that remains, then, is why did it take so long to get this world? After just 51 minutes, I find myself much more invested and interested in the Monster Cinematic Universe than anything related to the complex multiverse. I do fear, however, that it will be a while before this world is reintroduced in another Marvel property. There are rumors of trouble in the production of the Blade movie, Morbius was a theatrical flop, and other characters like Ghost Rider or Doctor Voodoo have zero traction to their names. Where’s the link to the GoFundMe to make a feature-length Man-Thing/Werewolf by Night film?
In the end, this special piece of the MCU is a perfect blend of nostalgic call-backs and innovative opportunities. It’s the home run that Marvel needed to hit. With this special premiering one day after Daredevil officially made his MCU appearance and one month before the critically-anticipated Black Panther releases, dare we say that hope is beginning to reappear in the MCU again? Whether hope is back or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure. Fear and horror are now a part of the MCU and it’s off to a roaring start.