Is it anything to howl about?
Well, that depends on what you were expecting from the new Marvel Studios Halloween special, Werewolf by Night, that just debuted with much fanfare on Disney+.
If you’re of a certain age to fondly remember the original Marvel comic starring Jack Russell in the titular role–from an idea by Roy Thomas, script by Gerry Conway and distinctive artwork by Mike Ploog–then you might be confused by the hour-long show. If you’re a horror fan expecting a cool werewolf story, you might be disappointed. If you’re a Disney+ subscriber just scanning the menu for an interesting diversion, you might keep looking.
Now, the special–from director Michael Giacchino and writers Peter Cameron and Heather Quinn–isn’t a bad show, it just didn’t draw enough upon the Marvel Comics material to make it a stellar production. Shot in black-and-white–presumably to evoke the moody feel of the classic Hammer monster classics–the pic never seemed to reach the level of terror and fright most fans look for.
The cast–led by Gael Garcia Bernal, Laura Donnelly and Harriet Sansom Harris–tried to get into their characters, but it was hard to feel any empathy for what they were going through. Bernal, especially, as the werewolf-cursed Jack Russell, failed to capture the angst of the tortured man.
The storyline–that a group of monster hunters gathered at a competition to hunt down a dangerous monster and claim the coveted Bloodstone–was strong enough to sustain a feature film, but the screenplay never developed any of the characters enough to create any worthwhile tension.
And the fact that the monster being hunted turned out to be Marvel’s Man-Thing–the shambling, empathic swamp creature so effectively portrayed on the four-color comics page–made little sense. Ted Sallis’ frightening alter-ego deserved better.
The only effective use of the creature was when it destroyed two of its attackers by burning them to death. As the comics would say: “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.” The only problem is that if you never read those comics–and the filmmakers should assume that to be true–you had no clue what was going on in those scenes.
All in all, Werewolf by Night wasted what could have been a decent springboard into the horror aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, all the film did was reinforce that Marvel should stick with what it does best: super-hero epics.