This year’s Spooky Season (which, like Christmas, seems to start earlier and earlier all the time) has brought with it two werewolf-related streaming premieres. The more prominent of the two is the long-awaited introduction of ’70s-vintage lycanthrope Jack Russell, a.k.a. Werewolf by Night, to the Marvel Studiosverse, but the first out of the gate was Rob Zombie’s revamp of corny ’60s sitcom The Munsters, which debuted on Netflix the last week of September.
Unlike Bryans Fuller and Singer’s unsuccessful Mockingbird Lane pilot, which aired once in 2012 when it wasn’t picked to go to series, Zombie’s update of The Munsters goes back to the time before Herman and Lily Munster were married. Heck, it goes back to the time before Herman was even created, as it opens with mad scientist Dr. Henry Wolfgang (Zombie regular Richard Brake, doing a wicked Vincent Price impression) and his hunchbacked assistant Floop (Lost alumnus Jorge Garcia) robbing graves for the parts Dr. Wolfgang needs to make “a perfect physical specimen.” While that’s being assembled, Zombie introduces The Count (Daniel Roebuck) and his daughter Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), who’s first seen on a date with Count Orlock (Brake again, this time playing the title character from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu), along with Lily’s “idiot brother” Lester (Tomas Boykin), a werewolf indebted to vindictive gypsy fortune teller Zoya (Catherine Schell).
A minor character from the series who only appeared in one episode (season one’s “Herman’s Rival,” in which he creates a crisis by borrowing money from Herman, leading Lily to believe they’re broke), Lester plays a minor role in Zombie’s film as well, but it’s a pivotal one since it is through him that Zoya gets the deed to the Count’s castle and evicts them, forcing newlyweds Herman and Lily to move from Transylvania to sunny Hollywood, California, where they end up at a familiar address. It remains to be seen whether Zombie will be called upon to do a sequel, but if he does one can only hope enough time will have passed for them to have produced their own adolescent troublemaker werewolf, Eddie.
As for Werewolf by Night, since it’s a Marvel Studios “Special Presentation,” it only runs 53 minutes (48 without credits), but writer-director Michael Giacchino stakes out his own territory within the MCU by evoking the look of black-and-white Universal horror films (complete with fake reel changes) while simultaneously throwing in splashes of blood and severed limbs. (That’s the “Intense Violence” that earned it a TV-14, along with the “Strong Coarse Language” — i.e. somebody says the word “shit” once.) Gael García Bernal stars as everyone’s favorite non-terrier Jack Russell, who infiltrates a secret society of monster hunters that has gathered to see who will take possession of the legendary Bloodstone, which its former owner’s widow, Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris), would rather not see pass on to his estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly).
A deliberate departure from “the known universe, with its heroes and marvels,” Werewolf by Night shares with fellow Disney Plus stablemate Moon Knight the fact that it takes its time getting to the part where the title character actually puts in an appearance. (“It’s time for you to show yourself,” the vindictive Verussa says, and not a moment to soon.) And while Jack Russell’s transformation into his nocturnal alter ego is accomplished in silhouette (so as not to stretch the budget too much), it’s not long after that Giacchino gives the viewer a good look at him in all his fuzzy glory, short-lived as it is. If this is laying the groundwork for further adventures for Jack and his fellow darkness-dwelling denizens, then it’s about as solid as we could have hoped.