How the MCU Embraces Old School Horror with ‘Werewolf By Night’

Eric Goldman
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us superheroes, aliens, immortals, and sorcerers and is just beginning to dive into mutants, but the arrival of Werewolf By Night is about to take us to a very different and darker side of the MCU with the arrival of monsters the likes of which would be right at home in classic horror films.

The first Marvel Studios-branded Special for Disney+ – it runs 52 minutes, including credits – the terrifically fun Werewolf By Night stands except what we’ve come to expect from the MCU in numerous ways, from its subject matter to its look, with a throwback, black and white movie approach, which it should be noted plays quite differently from the retro TV style WandaVision began with (which had an in-story explanation, after all).

Gael García Bernal stars as Jack Russell, one of a group of accomplished monster hunters brought together by Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) to determine which of them will win a powerful object. Among this group is also Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), as the competitive hunt that follows will disclose what monsters may be lurking about…

Werewolf By Night is directed by Michael Giacchino, the acclaimed composer whose scores for the MCU include the Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Love and Thunder – and yes, he also composes a delightfully old school horror style score for Werewolf By Night.

Giacchino spoke to Fandom about fully embracing old school aesthetics for Werewolf By Night, getting a bit gorier than the MCU norm, and more, including the story’s introduction of yet another notable Marvel character into this universe…

THAT BLACK AND WHITE LOOK

Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell in 'Werewolf By Night'

When it came to releasing Werewolf By Night in black and white, Giacchino noted, “That was something I wanted to do from the beginning, but it was never a foregone conclusion that we were going to be able to do that. So as we were shooting, I was preparing for it to be that, knowing someone might say ‘I don’t know…’ But to their credit, they allowed me to just keep going in that direction.”

Still, Giacchino wasn’t absolutely sure it would be in black and white until he had a full assembled cut, recalling, “After we watched the first version of it in black and white, Kevin Feige turned to me and said, ‘I guess this needs to be in black and white, right?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, yes, it does!’ And we just went full force; we even filmed out the 35 millimeter. We did everything we could to create it as legit as possible and I think it shows. When you look at it, you’re like, wait, what, where is this from?”

Giacchino elaborated that the hope was someone watching it would feel “This could have been something that existed in some other bygone era. That was always the goal.”

A BLOODY GOOD TIME

Harriet Sansom Harris as Verussa in 'Werewolf By Night'

While we’re not talking, say, Re-Animator or Evil Dead levels, Werewolf By Night also gets more visceral and graphic than your average Marvel Studios project. Said Giacchino, “It’s funny, because every review we have, as we’re doing editorial reviews, and even when we’re talking on set when we’re talking about things, I’m like, ‘Can we add more blood? Can we just obtain [more] in there? It got to the point where it was a joke. ‘Let me guess, you want more blood?’ But they did it. They trusted me, they allowed me to do it.”

Giacchino said he felt he was allowed to push matters in this regard because everyone understood the tone they were going for, adding, “They knew I was not going to turn this into something that was a sadistic sort of bloodbath movie. That’s not what this is. And we never missing sight of what the true story was. I think as long as you do that, if you keep the story as the focus, at the center of this – which was a story of really a lot of heart and humanity – that as long as that was our focus, I felt like we could obtain away with a lot more on the fringes with the horror stuff.”

A NEW CORNER OF THE MCU

While we’ve begun to obtain hints at more horror elements in the MCU, most notably perhaps in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and What If…? with the inclusion of zombies, Werewolf By Night puts this aspect as its central focus in a way no other MCU plan has so far. More is on the way, including the future Blade movie that will presumably put a spotlight on vampires, but it’s Werewolf By Night that is firmly announcing to audiences that all sorts of matters that go bump in the night exist right alongside the superheroes of the MCU.

When it came to getting to introduce this corner of the MCU, Giacchino remarked, “It was amazing. It was also terrifying… I’ve been on this for two years and knowing that we were going to be the first out of the gate, that felt like a big responsibility for me. But in the end, I just kept leaning into everything I loved growing up.”

Elaborating on his inspirations, Giacchino said he had in mind, “Universal Monster movies, the Hammer films… I love The Twilight Zone. Every time we would talk about this, I kept saying ‘Think about this as an episode of The Twilight Zone. We are telling this story. That’s the story we’re telling. We’re not afraid about what happens over here, beforehand. We’re not afraid about what happens afterwards. We are here right now.’ As long as we did that, I felt like we had a possibility of pulling something off that could be really fun and unique. So that’s the direction we just kept going.”

GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING DO YOUR THING

The Man-Thing arrives in 'Werewolf By Night'

The trailer for Werewolf By Night had the surprising inclusion of Marvel’s character Man-Thing, making his MCU debut, and Giacchino said that came about as they developed the project, noting, “You have so numerous of those conversations as you’re in development and you’re working on the story. There were multiple ideas for different matters and different characters and [figuring out] the thing that made the most sense.”

When it came to Man-Thing specifically, Giacchino recalled, “It was Kevin Feige who asked me what I thought about him, and I was like, ‘What, are you kidding me? It’s one of my favorite comic runs in the world!’” Though Giacchino admitted, “It added a lot more pressure to me going, ‘Oh, not only is this [introducing] Jack Russell and then Elsa… These are two of my favorite characters and I’m gonna bring them in, but now you’re gonna give me this too?’ And I’ve got to bring all of this to the table. But it was all done out of love for these things. And hopefully that comes through and hopefully you feel that. Because I do love these characters.”

Giacchino noted he wanted viewers to humanize and sympathize with these monsters, explaining he felt “Too often, even in Marvel movies, a lot of times monsters are just used as something to kill, something to defeat. And I’m like, no, monsters are nothing but a person with a problem, who can’t solve it and needs help solving it. Everything that I loved as a kid about these [monster] films is that they were allegories for individuals with afflictions that need help. And I felt like that’s the point of view we need to take with this. It cannot just be about ‘Oh, there’s something different, let’s destroy it!’ There’s too much of that going on in our world these days. I wanted to do something that was about, no, let’s peel back the layers of the onion and understand what’s behind this thing being a monster. Why is it happening? None of these monsters want to be monsters. They don’t want to go around indiscriminately killing individuals and destroying things. It’s just, that’s their lot in life. Everyone has a lot in life, we all have some struggles, some sort of thing that we’re struggling to solve or deal with within our own selves. And that’s where I want it to go with this story.”

PRACTICAL MAGIC

Ulysses Bloodstone has seen better days in 'Werewolf By Night'

In this day and age, where so much is added in post-production via visual effects, or filmed using digital sets, numerous might be surprised to learn that a rather vast sum of Werewolf By Night was filmed practically on set.

Though Giacchino has praise for all who worked on the visual effects, including those contributing to the digital effects added later, he noted, “We did absolutely everything on set as we as much as we could, because from the beginning, I did not want this to be a festival of green or blue screen. I wanted real sets.”

When it came to the story’s setting at the home of Ulysses Bloodstone, and the grounds surrounding it, “All of those sets are real, everything you see is real. All of those locations, all of that was real. It’s already hard enough to buy into the fact of monsters and all of this, but if we create the surrounding feel real, not just for the viewer, but for the actors themselves, I thought we had a possibility of making this feel like something that could have happened. So any practical effect [we could], we did.”

A big example of this is when the title character is fully revealed, as Giacchino explained, “The shot of the [werewolf] transformation, that’s all in camera. We really went to good lengths to just do as much that way as we could. So it was just a fun exercise in old school filmmaking.”

He stressed, “That’s not to say it doesn’t have its veneer of modern visual effects, because it does and hopefully those are invisible. Joe Farrell, our visual effects supervisor, was amazing in embracing as much of the practical as we could. And there’s so numerous good stories about stuff that we did on set that would be fun to talk about at some point.”

Werewolf by Night debuts Friday, October 7 on Disney+.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.