When Marvel Studios announced that it'd be dipping its toe into horror courtesy of a one-off adaptation of its relatively niche Werewolf By Night comic, fans were somewhat divided at the news. On one hand, here was a legitimate opportunity for the MCU to firmly break out of a type of movie making that has reaped unprecedented success, but that has also left it open to accusations of undermining creativity at the expense of an endless content conveyor belt, splooging out cookie-cutter productions in the name of keeping the 'bigger picture' moving.
On the other, were we really going to get something that felt different enough to justify its existence in a cinematic universe already becoming bloated with the arrival of aliens, mutants, Gods, ghosts and djinns? The honest answer is yes and no: while Werewolf By Night does more than enough to feel like a nice breakaway from the MCU as we know it so far, it still has its roots too firmly entrenched in the fundamentals of Kevin Feige's world to truly embrace the horror bubbling under its surface.
There's plenty to love here for horror casuals and diehards alike, though. Michael Giacchino - a composer by trade whose music has underpinned some of the MCU's finest moments so far - does a lovely job in paying homage to the classics, his decision to cast the film in black and white a nice touch that, for the most part, works well in creating a unique and suitably spooky atmosphere (only ruined by the jarring presence of CGI monsters and over-the-top brawls that just don't fit these kinds of visuals).
The lead cast is great, too, with Gael García Bernal's polite, knowing charm making him a great choice for Jack Russell/our Werewolf, and Laura Donnelly bringing a world-weary but sparky presence to fan-favourite Marvel character Elsa Bloodstone. Harriet Harris, meanwhile, might just steal the show as Elsa's increasingly demented stepmother Verussa, perfectly treading the line between hammy and horrific in the vein of all the Hammer classics.
There is also, to be fair, a surprisingly high gore quota - nothing that'll be troubling Saw any time soon, but for a production that shares a world with She-Hulk and Ms Marvel, seeing limbs bloodily hacked off and baddies skewered straight through the face is a welcome change of pace (the film's black and white stylings cunningly neutralise the bloodier moments from being too gnarly).
Still, when you've got the fully CGI'd MCU debut of Man-Thing (sorry, Ted) bantering cutely with Jack Russell and that aforementioned BIG MARVEL FIGHT SCENE in the mix, it's impossible not to feel, as with the likes of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness or Eternals, that there's just a little too much compromise for this to be the full-blown horror experience many may have hoped for.
That said, it's still a nice way to spend an hour over Halloween, so if you're looking for a fun new shade of the MCU to get stuck into or simply after a very watchable tribute to the horror greats of the past, Werewolf By Night ticks the box nicely. It's not totally reinventing the Marvel wheel, but it is at least giving it a fresh splash of bloody paint.
Werewolf By Night is out now via Disney+