Among the more exciting bits of news at the 2022 D23 Expo was a trailer for Werewolf by Night. A one-off Halloween special coming to Disney+ on October 7, Werewolf by Night not only brings a cult Marvel character to live-action, but it also serves as the directorial debut of Michael Giacchino, the Academy Award-winning composer who wrote the scores for Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Batman, and more.
Cursed with lycanthropy, Jack Russell made his debut in 1972’s Marvel Spotlight #2, written by Roy Thomas, Jean Thomas, and Gerry Conway, and penciled by Mike Ploog. To capitalize on the renewed interest in horror comics, Russell soon jumped to his own series Werewolf by Night, which took him around the Marvel Universe to battle against all manner of paranormal baddies. Although he’s since received to the background, Russell remains a fan favorite in the comics. And if the trailer for Werewolf by Night is any indication, the live-action version, played by Mexican acting great Gael García Bernal, will soon become a favorite among MCU fans.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here…
Now let’s break it all down…
A Special Engagement
The trailer for Werewolf By Night declares its throwback intentions right away, with a sound and look that may come as a surprise to younger viewers. In place of the usual Marvel Studios logo or the theme Giacchino wrote, we get bongo drums and multicolored lines, declaring this “A Marvel Studios Special Presentation.” The sounds and visuals recall the CBS Special Presentation theme that ran before specials such as Garfield’s Halloween Adventure in the 1980s and ’90s.
More than just a sly reference, the special presentation fanfare prepares the viewer for the trailer’s approach. As indiciated by its black and white pallette and use of dramatic voice over, the Werewolf by Night special will follow in the footsteps of the horror movies of old. The title card mirrors those of old Universal horrors, while the movie’s gothic setting is more in line with the Hammer films produced in England.
Other filmic aspects come from later in movie history, namely the cigarette burns (black circles that flicker in an upper corner of the frame), freeze frames, and skipping footage. These are all reminiscent of drive-in movies made in the 1960s and 70s.
More than a nifty set of stylistic idiosyncrasies, these choices may indicate that Werewolf by Night takes place sometime in the MCU’s past.
Occultists Among Us
The first moments of the trailer feature cloaked figures gathering in a baroque drawing room. The hoods suggest a secret society of some type, which is quickly confirmed by a menacing voice that refers to the guests as “hunters.” Marvel Comics have no shortage of monster hunters and secret societies, including one led by Ulysses Bloodstone — a nigh-immortal caveman who battled arcane powers with the help of the ruby embedded in his chest — and another by Dracula‘s old nemesis Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Other prominent monster hunters in the Marvel Universe include super Puritan Solomon Kane, Avenger and Dr. Strange ally Dr. Druid, and the Daywalker himself, Blade.
At first glance, none of the people shown among the Werewolf by Night hunters appear to be these characters (unless they’ve been significantly redesigned for live-action, which is absolutely a possibility). This group probably has more in common with the organization found in Werewolf by Night Comics, who sought the Darkhold (last seen in the MCU in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).
Marvel Zombie (Literally)
Correction! Thanks to Richard Watson in the comments (and the subtitles) it turns out that this is in fact Ulysses Bloodstone himself, not Simon Garth as we originally thought. But c’mon, take a look at Simon Garth and tell us we were totally off base for making the assumption!
ANYWAY…here’s our original entry. Which is now mostly wrong. So sue us!
We can identify one of the figures gathered as Simon Garth aka Zombie. Originally introduced in 1953’s Menace #5, published by Marvel’s predecessor Atlas Comics, Simon Garth was a haughty rich man who became the target of a voodoo ritual after cruelly firing one of his employees. But when the priestess conducting the ritual revealed that she loved Garth and tried to help him escape, Garth was transformed into a living Zombie.
Garth appears briefly in the trailer as either an animatronic or a reanimated corpse (or an animatronic playing a reanimated corpse?). “Good luck,” he intones from an open casket. “I’ll be rotting for you.” No, it’s not quite a Crypt Keeper-level quip, but dads in the audience will be amused.
Who is Verussa?
The meeting appears to be organized by a woman played by Harriet Sansom Harris, recently seen in Licorice Pizza and in an episode of Supergirl. According to rumours, Harris plays a new character called Verrusa. Without a comic book counterpart to draw from, we can only guess at her role in the story, but it seems pretty clear. She gathers the hunters to look for the monster and says lots of creepy things. I’m sure everything will work for her
While Verrusa is clearly our villain, the trailer seems to be positioning a trenchcoat wearing woman played by Laura Donnely (Outlander) as our protagonist. As of yet, her character’s name has not been officially announced, but it’s been all but confirmed that she is Elsa Bloodstone. Perhaps the greatest monster hunter of the modern Marvel era, Elsa is the daughter of Ulysses Bloodstone and the inheritor of the jewel that gave the family its surname. Elsa came to prominance in the madcap comic Nextwave: Agents of HATE, alongside WandaVision breakout Maria Rambeau. But she has also teamed up with the X-Men and SHIELD’s zombie hunters.
In the trailer, Donnely’s character shows none of the snarky fight found in the Elsa Bloodstone of the comics. She either stares at the macabre meeting gathered together or cowers in a cage at some oncoming monster, no sneer or shotgun in sight. However, anyone familiar with Donnely’s work on The Nevers or Merlin knows she can go on the offensive if the script calls for it. Hopefully, Werewolf by Night will give her the chance.
While the trailer doesn’t show much of Elsa Bloodstone, it shows us even less of the show’s title character. His face sallow and his eyes sunken, Jack Russell doesn’t seem to be doing well. But it’s sure to go worse wants evening strikes and he becomes the titular werewolf.
The trailer gives us only brief glimpses of the werewolf, prefering to go the route of famed MGM horror producer Jacques Tourneur and rely upon shadows. But the few looks we do get show something far removed from the slick lycanthropes common to modern werewolf stories. Russell appears to transform into something more akin to the Universal Wolf Man played by Lon Chaney Jr. or even Oliver Reed’s in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf. Does this mean Giacchino will eschew Marvel’s increasingly unconvincing VFX for practical makeup? That seems like too much to ask, but one can hope.
So if Gael García Bernal is playing Jack Russell the werewolf and the werewolf will be let loose on the monster hunters, then why does the trailer show a giant hand grabbing Bernal?
If you pause the trailer at the right time, you’ll get the answer: that hand belongs to Man-Thing.
Debuting in May 1971’s Savage Tales #1 (just one month before the more famous Swamp Thing first appeared at DC), Man-Thing came to be when scientist Ted Sallis ran afoul of Advanced Idea Mechanics. AIM thugs dumped Sallis into the swamp along with his experimental version of the Super Soldier Serum (the chemical that changed Steve Rogers into Captain America), transforming him into Man-Thing. A lumbering, mindless beast, Man-Thing is attracted by anyone experiencing great emotion. But if that emotion is fear, then they will burn at the touch of the Man-Thing!
The trailer shows Russell among the monster hunters as if he was an invited guest. If that’s the case, then the hunters may have gathered to find the Man-Thing. That tracks with Russell’s comic book M.O., as he often searched out magical creatures while looking for a cure for his curse.
The Time Variance Authority
Man-Thing isn’t the only unexpected guest in the Werewolf by Night trailer. Towards the end, we see quick shots of the werewolf attacking people. Those people are hunters, but not the monster hunters foregrounded throughout the trailer. Those are the hunters from the Time Variance Authority, as seen in Loki.
How could TVA hunters be in this show when Loki and Sylvie destroyed the organization? Leaving aside the fact that time travel isn’t really an issue for them, their presence only increases the chances that Werewolf by Night takes place in the past. The bigger question is why the TVA needs to visit a gathering of monster hunters. That might have something to do with the Darkhold, which first appeared in a Werewolf by Night story. If one can use the Darkhold to take over alternate versions of one’s self, it’s easy to see how a variant could be created, which would catch the attention of the TVA.
Outside of the Darkhold, the other famous Marvel figure to spin out of Werewolf by Night is Marc Spector, aka Moon Knight. While Marvel has not hinted at any future plans for Oscar Isaac to return as the Fist of Khonshu, the scene of the TVA attack does take place in a room covered with hieroglyphics. Could Khonshu be involved?
All of these questions and more will be answered when Werewolf by Night hits Disney+ on October 7.