Right on time for the Halloween season, Werewolf by Night is now streaming on Disney+. As a homage to classic horror films of the 30s and 40s this special MCU event hosts 5 experienced killers for a ritualistic hunt to claim the Bloodstone from its former keeper.
Starring Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly and Harriet Sansom Harris, this action horror event features many tropes and visual flares of classic horror, including black and white film reels, romanticized acting, elaborately spooky sets, and compassionate monsters that spark fans to take a look back to some horror classics it was inspired by.
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Wolf Man is the most obvious of connections to Werewolf by Night, being the first most famous film to depict a werewolf. The film stars Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, who in an altercation with a wolf is bitten and becomes burdened by his nightly transformations into a werewolf.
Werewolf by Night stars Bernal and Jack Russell, a mysterious man who joins his fellow hunters for the competition for rights to the powerful Bloodstone. Jack is reluctant to disclose his abilities as a ferocious werewolf with the fear of what he will become and the violence he inflicts when he’s lost control.
King Kong (1933)
Werewolf by Night is directed by prestigious film composer Michael Giacchino, most known for composing scores for the MCU, The Batman, Pixar films, and more. Giacchino cited 1933’s King Kong as a big inspiration for Werewolf by Night, possibly reflected by depicting sympathetic monsters like Man-Thing.
King Kong is the classic tale of the giant ape who’s captured from his long-lost island and transported to New York. Breaking out of its restraints Kong wreaks havoc on the city before being gunned down. His relationship with Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) brings the audience closer to the beast, which makes his death a somber conclusion to the epic film.
The Day of the Triffids (1963)
The Day of the Triffids is a science fiction horror film that sees a meteor shower crash on Earth, its bright lights causing nearly the entire human population to go blind. Even more horrifying is what was traveling with the meteors, flesh-eating plant monsters that are consuming humanity.
Plant monsters like the Triffids remind fans of Man-Thing adapted into the MCU in Werewolf by Night, a sentient plant monster with a gentle heart. Man-Thing, known here as Ted, is based on the comic counterpart that was introduced in 1971, who accidentally transformed into the plant monster in a mystical swamp.
Poltergeist is another film Giacchino cited as an inspiration for Werewolf by Night. Being able to build character and balance the use of horror, comedy, and storytelling to be more than just blood, guts and jump scares
Poltergeist follows a common suburban family who finds their new home is visited by many ghostly spirits. At first, the phenomena are subtle, but the horror grows as the family becomes increasingly terrorized and the youngest daughter is kidnaped by vengeful spirits.
Cat People (1942)
A common trope of Werewolf films is the fear of transformation and 1942’s Cat People fits that script as well. It stars Simone Simon as Irena, a Serbian immigrant who meets a kind man named Oliver (Kent Smith). Throughout their dates and new marriage Irena is troubled by fables from her home where people turn into cats if provoked.
Irena is hesitant to release her full intimacy towards her husband for fear of transformation which puts a strain on their lives as she gets closer to turning. Like Bernal’s character in Werewolf by Night he is afraid to transform into his monstrous side in fear of hurting the ones he loves which adds a romantic twist to the horror.
Like so many MCU films full of Easter eggs and homages, Werewolf by Night was bound to have a few of its own. On two occasions the horror action special feature reminded fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece, Psycho, with its score and visual transitions.
Being a prolific composer, Werewolf by Night’s director and composer Michael Giacchino was noticeably inspired by Bernard Herrman’s score for Psycho, using the sharp strings now so synonymous with horror scapes. In an early transition a face cross-dissolves with a skull, a call back to the final scene in Psycho that delivered its haunting reveal.
Vampyr tells the story of a supernatural enthusiast, Allan Gray (Julian West) who stumbled on an inn where a young girl shows traits of becoming a vampire. Investigating the cause and looking for a cure this haunting tale is full of tremendous production design.
Werewolf by Night is depicted in black and white film reels, all with old-time grain and cue marks for projection reel changeovers. The black-and-white aesthetic has always suited classic horror films well, but the striking imagery in Vampyr is just too good to overlook.
The Cat and the Canary (1939)
On the tenth anniversary of the patriarch’s death, an eccentric family arrives to hear the millionaires’ secret will, one that puts the family at each other’s throats. An adaptation of the 1927 silent film,1939’s The Cat and the Canary stars Bob Hope, most known for his musical comedies.
Like The Cat and the Canary, Werewolf by Night follows the many characters who congregate at a spooky mansion to hear the last words of the deceased, only for the night to turn to bloodshed and horror as the group fight over the grand prize, the bloodstone, and its accompanying powers.
Van Helsing (2004)
Van Helsing is an action packed take on the Universal Monster franchise. While films of the 30s and 40s were heavily dialogue driven and far more limited on special effects, Van Helsing in 2004 attempted to pull out all the stops for a rollicking action adventure that features Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and Werewolves.
Werewolf by Night acts as a homage to classic monster movies, but being in the MCU undoubtedly brings a fair amount of action set pieces. Both Werewolf by Night and Van Helsing, have the actors lean into a bit more cheese and camp, playing off the romanticism and theatricality of classic films for a fun horror adventure while both also delivering modern excitement.
Frankenstein is one of the staples of Universal Monsters, starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. Once again these monster tales depict sympathetic antagonists, where often the hero-villain relationship becomes skewed and while the cast of humans hunt down the monsters, the audience feels compassion for them instead.
Much like Man-Thing in Werewolf by Night, Frankenstein’s monster just wants to exist, but his monstrous qualities put a target on his back. While him and Man-Thing, and King Kong, can surely inflict some damage, when one tries to connect with them the audience too can pause for a moment of sympathy and understanding.