Marvel has been dipping its toes into more horror-tinged content during its Phase 4 project. The latest MCU phase kicked off with Wandavision, a TV series that occasionally dipped into bizarre existential horror as a result of Wanda’s sitcom-inspired Hex reality. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the title character battles against terrifying threats that would disintegrate the multiverse if left unchecked.
Now, Marvel is seemingly dipping even further into the horror genre with its latest TV special, the hour-long Werewolf by Night. This Disney+ special offers a fun change of pace to the Marvel formula, functioning as something shorter than a movie but a bit meatier than the One-Shots that once came included with Marvel movies’ DVD releases.
Werewolf by Night is an adaptation of the 1970s Marvel comic of the same name, starring hapless werewolf teenager Jack Russell (yes, that’s seriously his name) as he tries to avoid having his wolf-like second nature overtake him and cause chaos.
In the Disney+ special, Jack is no longer a Transylvania immigrant – he’s now played by Gael Garcia Bernal, a Mexican actor who is perhaps best known for his role in Pixar’s Coco. Jack sports traditional Mexican Day of the Dead facepaint through Werewolf by Night and tells one of his fellow monster hunters that he proudly wears the markings to honor his ancestors.
The special has a lot of fun playing with old horror movie tropes, including presenting everything in black and white and with a vintage film reel filter. You can even spot cue marks in the corner of the screen, signaling an imaginary projectionist to switch to the next film reel – in this case, marking act changes throughout the roughly hour-long special.
Special praise also goes out to Laura Donnelly, who plays the monster-hunting Elsa Bloodstone. Donnelly plays Elsa straight throughout the special, making a perfect foil for Garcia’s lovable rendition of Jack. As the two work together to free Man-Thing – or Ted, as his friends call him – it’s easy to root for them against the villainous hunters.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about WBN is that it’s a standalone project that doesn’t require any prior watching and spends none of its runtime setting up sequels or spin-offs. While it would be great to see Jack, Elsa, and Ted get into more monster-tinged horror hijinks, the short film doesn’t play like an extended trailer for such an upcoming crossover. And that’s an old-school twist everyone can get behind.