WEREWOLF BY NIGHT – Review
Okay, who’s ready to take another trip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (like I have to ask)? Whoa there true believer, hold up, this isn’t a review of BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. That’s still four or five weeks away. No, consider this an appetizer, a tasty ‘nosh if you will since it’s not quite a feature and it’s too long to really be considered a “short subject’ at a brisk 52 minutes. Oh, and it’s not coming to your multiplex as it will be streaming into your home. This is being called a “Marvel Studios Special Presentation”. I’ll agree with the second word as it explores an “outer region” of the MCU, though it’s not set on one of the alternate dimensions that we saw bits of in Doctor’s Strange’s last adventure. You see this harkens back to a time at Marvel Comics when the self-censoring group the Comic Code Authority loosened some of its rules and allowed monsters (in the classic style, the CCC insisted) to roam once more. And close to the start of this era, now fifty years ago, we met the tragic hero who became a WEREWOLF BY NIGHT.
And it is a dark and stormy (well, windy) night as a group gathers at the country estate of the famed monster hunter the late Ulysses Bloodstone. His widow Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) has assembled a group of notorious monster hunters including an unarmed (the rest have their devices) Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal). Oh, and Verusa’s stepdaughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) has reluctantly returned. But this is no ordinary wake or memorial. Verusa tells them that the glowing red gem that aided Ulysses, the “Bloodstone” will be awarded, per his will, to the victor of a contest. The coveted jewel will be attached to a captured monster and whoever slays the beast will own it. And if the hunters start hunting each other, well… it’s allowed. A roar from the creature sends the group into a maze-like structure outside the dining hall. As if the evening wasn’t already fraught with deadly danger, one of the hunters has a deadly secret that may be more horrific than anything that blood-red ruby harbors. Who will win and possibly survive this night of fright?
Bernal utilizes the full force of his brooding stare as the haunted (those dark eyes) Jack, Although many of the hunters tower over him, he projects an inner strength and ferocity that commands our attention. And surprisingly, he lets his guard down and shares his affable humor when dealing with an old pal (I’m not saying). Donnelly is another smoldering beauty who will not hide her contempt for the family legacy but will risk it all to gain what she believes is rightfully hers (that gem). And most entertaining is the always compelling (really, she should’ve gotten a Supporting Actress Oscar nom for LICORICE PIZZA) Harris who is a raging, venom-spitting queen of this castle (and she’ll make sure you won’t forget it) as the most wicked widow with a most deadly sting.
And the big surprise Oscar-winning talent behind the camera is none other than master film score composer Michael Giacchino (he took the gold guy for UP). He has directed a couple of shorts ( I highly recommend the animated jewel from “Star Trek: Short Treks”, “Ephraim and Dot”), but here he has a real flair for telling a longer story, so let’s hope a full-fledged feature (over an hour) is in the works. Of course, he also offers a superb score with a thriller riff on the Marvel Studios theme, which dissolves into a nifty woodcut illo of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Actually, the whole film looks fabulous in beautiful black and white, eliciting comparisons to those classic Universal monsters of the Golden Age, although the tone may be closer to Britain’s Hammer color horror romps, with even a nod to one of their rivals Amicus Studios. They did a “who’s the lycanthrope” chiller in 1974 called THE BEAST MUST DIE, which in turn was a riff on all those “reading of the will in a spooky house” late show staples. Now although the “black cat’s been out of the bag”, I will only mention that I was delighted by the appearance of another comics icon of that era. So, how about a follow-up “monster buddies” theatrical? Or another entry from the scary side streets of the MCU (I’ll “scream” for “The Tomb of Dracula” or “The Monster of Frankenstein”. We’ll be very lucky if they’re as creepy and as much fun as a visit from the WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. It’s a real howl!
3.5 Out of 4
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT screams…er…streams exclusively on Disney+ beginning on October 7, 2022