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How ‘Werewolf by Night’ Honors Universal Monsters and Brings Gnarly Kills to the MCU

Director Michael Giacchino tells IndieWire how his work as a composer prepared him to direct the supernatural Marvel special.

gael garcia bernal as jack russell in werewolf by night

“Werewolf by Night”

Marvel Studios

When Gael García Bernal finally turns into the titular “Werewolf by Night,” audiences may be surprised by how much of the actor’s face can be seen behind the practical makeup and prosthetics/ that is the core of what director Michael Giacchino wanted to do with the Marvel special. “I wanted to make sure you could see the face because that’s the human part of it, the eyes and his facial features. I didn’t want to lose that,” Giacchino told IndieWire.

“A CG werewolf has been done and done great, but I didn’t think we were going to improve on what has been done and I wanted something real that was in front of us. It’s already enough to ask for someone to believe werewolves are real, but I felt like we would have a better chance of pulling it off if it actually was a real person on set in the costume.”

A big inspiration for “Werewolf by Night” was Japanese monster movies and Hammer horror films, but it’s the Universal Classic Monsters movies from the ’30s as well that can be felt all throughout the special. This is not only in terms of visuals, but in the deep sympathy those movies have towards their monsters.

“Those movies were never just about monsters, they were about the person behind the monster, and the struggle of being a monster afflicted by a condition,” Giacchino said. “To me, that emotional approach is something that I love about those movies. I don’t want to take away from movies that are only about indiscriminate killing, but that’s not interesting to me, I needed this to be about empathy. I needed the special to be about understanding and I needed it to be about looking at someone who is different and accepting them for who they are.”

Of course, “Werewolf by Night” not only captures the emotional resonance of films like Todd Browning’s “Dracula” or James Whale’s “Bride of Frankenstein,” but their look as well. The special is presented in black and white and it looks stunning, replicating the lighting, the aesthetic of the visual effects and even little imperfections in the presentation like cigarette burns. Despite the black and white look being part of the appeal of the special, Giacchino had to prepare alternatives.

Harriet Sansom Harris as Verussa in Marvel Studios' WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

“Werewolf by Night”

Marvel Studios

“We had a black and white monitor so I could see how it was going to look that way but we also knew it would work in color if we had to do that,” the director said. “But everything we did, the lighting, the way the set was designed, all of that was in thinking about how it would look in black and white. We had two entirely different set of dailies, one for color and one in black and white.”

Giacchino’s monochrome vision won out, which helped make the many kills in the special easier to sell. “Werewolf by Night” continues the work initiated by “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” introducing some gnarly moments to the MCU that should have horror fans hooting and hollering: beheadings, maimings, meltings, and more. “No one ever said ‘No,’ so I just kept pushing as hard as I could,” Giacchino said. “It became a joke on set when everyone would be like, ‘Michael how does this look? You like the way this looks?’ And then they would anticipate my answer and get more blood. I think part of that was that we were going to be in black and white, which helps us get away with more than you normally would.”

In his work as a composer, Giacchino has scored films directed by the likes of the Wachowskis, Taika Waititi, and J.J. Abrams, experiences he described as “getting a masterclass in directing.” But being a composer also influenced Giacchino’s approach to “Werewolf by Night,” and it helped that he was pulling double duty and didn’t have to wait until post-production to have someone else provide a score.

“In the process of making the movie I did write the theme for it,” Giacchino said. “I was able to play certain things for the actors and give them an idea of the tone, and even in certain things I would explain the tempo of what the characters are doing, and give directions on how slow I want an actor to walk or how they’d feel moving into a set. That’s very helpful, especially, I think, for an actor to get that tone in his head because otherwise they’re just sort of in a vacuum. It was very helpful to be either playing the things I was writing or something I had written before that evoked the same feeling I wanted.”

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