Michael Giacchino has cooked us up a rather delectable 1930s-esque horror score for his MCU directoral debut Werewolf By Night, featuring a fearsome yet almost gothically heroic “Mane Theme” for the titular character together with an exquisite choral/orchestral musical style, that overall makes for a decidedly entertaining and rather unique Marvel soundtrack entry.
Marvel Studios’ Werewolf By Night is a bit of an interesting production, as not only did composer Michael Giacchino craft the music for the “Special Presentation” episode, he also, intriguingly, directed it! The special itself revolves around a group of monster hunters (including the titular one, Jack Russell, who turns into a werewolf) competing for the powerful Bloodstone artefact, and was filmed in black and white, to harken stylistically back to classic 1930/40s horror films. And so with all of the above in mind, to say my interest in the special was piqued is putting it very mildly indeed; I was very curious to see how Giacchino would direct the special, and especially how he would integrate the music into it (as being both the composer and director, I’d imagine music and picture would really work hand-in-hand) and that combined with the ’30s monster movie aethestic was more than enough to drum up some serious excitement. So, with the stage now set, this then brings us to the very beginning of the special and indeed the album itself, where this review begins.
“A Marvel Special Presentation” kicks off the soundtrack, a ten second introductory cue that features adventurous percussion and bold, heroic brass abound, hinting lightly toward Giacchino’s logo fanfare for Marvel Studios at its end before the track then bows out as quickly as it arrived. “Mane Title” however then actually reprises this fanfare fully, opening with the same triumphant strings we’ve heard a hundred times before in Marvel media, before the music then transitions out of that heroic style entirely as the fanfare takes on a still loud but also rather ominous, classic horror movie sound as malevolent brass and loud, mysterious-sounding choral vocals take centre stage. After the fanfare crescendos out, Giacchino then introduces us to the “mane” theme (haha) of the score; an eight note, progressively mysterious motif that opens loudly and boldly on the fanfare-esque brass and percussion here, before then fading quietly away as slower, gentler strings then take charge. This gentleness continues for a minute or so before the mane theme then leaps back into the fray as the 30s horror film-esque vocals and boldened brass from earlier reprise their roles, closing the almost three minute cue out on a loudly dramatic high.
All-in, it’s a pretty spectacular tonal introduction by Giacchino, and the fun is only just beginning. Quiet, thoughtful string notes open short subsequent cue “Hall Of Shame”, debuting what sounds like a little motif for Elsa Bloodstone which then echoes pensively through the track. This gentle strings-based solemnity then continues into “Ulysses Rant”, until some rather ethereal vocals then build to an emphatically mysterious crescendo as the ominous Bloodstone artefact appears for the first time in the film. Post-crescendo the vocals then continue but now much more subtly, playing quietly and in an almost sinister manner for the track’s remaining two minutes, holding close to its established mysterious mood throughout. The rather intriguing “There Is No Peace Without Tuba” is then up next, interesting as it features a tuba that is quite literally on fire. The instrument plays diagetically in the film itself, as a symbol for the hunt to begin for the protagonistic monster hunters, and as a symbol of their impending peril for the audience of the film. The dramatically deafening tuba then plays menacingly throughout its four minute setpiece here, with the mane theme also echoing through on increasingly dramatic vocals until hitting a final deafening crescendo, making for a particularly unnerving piece of music overall.
A dramatic crash of horror-like percussion opens the sub-minute “Scot Free”, with bursts of frenetic brass and increasingly hurried strings then rapidly bringing the action to crescendo a few seconds later. “A Farewell To Arm” then continues where “Scot Free” leaves off, with some frantically high-pitched, almost Psycho-esque strings taking point for much of the cue’s opening minute alongside similarly frantic brassy bursts. From here though the action then halts for much of the cue, with quieter, more solemn strings taking point until brass then thunderously retakes the reins in the final few seconds of the track. The short “Cryptic Messages” then hints back toward Elsa’s motif on hopeful strings, with next cue “Tales From The Crypt” descending into strings-based motivic solemnity for much of its two minute runtime, until brass and additional strings build to an increasingly emboldened crescendo at cue’s end. A loud, drawn-out brass note then signals a call to action in “Elsa’s Ted Talk”, with frenetic strings kicking the pace up alongside frequent further bursts of tense, aggravated brass. Like with “A Farewell To Arm” however this burst of action doesn’t last for long, with the frenetic music fading quietly back into quiet, morose strings for the remainder of the cue.
Elsa’s solemn theme echoes gently through on quiet, moody strings for much of the three minute “Beach Blanket Betrayal”, with the music slowly becoming louder and more worrisome towards the track’s end. A crash of drums and some emphatically dramatic vocals then open the standout action track of the album “Where’s Wolf”, with the music becoming quiet and eerie for a few seconds before the promised loud, dramatic action then erupts with the mane theme crashing through on grandiose brass. A frantic pace is kept up throughout this explosive cue’s four minute runtime, with bursts of brass frequently reprising the mane theme alongside emphatic choral crescendos until a final crash of percussion then brings the action to a climactic close. The score then briefly returns to quietly sinister territory at the start of “I Don’t Know Jack”, until a horror-like, rather Aliens-esque burst of brass yanks the track right out of this moody tone, with the music then settling back down into quiet, pensive vocals for much of the cue’s remaining runtime.
With the end of the album fast approaching, standout cue “Mane On Ends” then reprises the mane theme in glorious orchestral form, with rapid strings, chanting vocals and creepy bursts of brass dramatically emphasising the 30s-esque horror movie style of the film before the track then comes to an almost triumphant thematic close at the two minute mark. “End Shredits” then calms the music down, with a final reprisal of Elsa’s gently strings-based motif bookended by similarly quiet, almost peaceful playthroughs of the mane theme on the same strings. As a little bonus cue, Giacchino has then also included a piano arrangement of the so-called “Mane Theme”, a rather “Sonata In Darkness”-esque, gothically piano-based playthrough of the score’s mane theme to both relax the audience and bring the album overall to a gentle close.
Overall then, Michael Giacchino’s Werewolf By Night is a shorter, much more close-knit soundtrack than we’re perhaps used to by the composer, but that doesn’t stop it from being very well crafted and damned entertaining throughout its just over forty minute runtime. By far the star of the show here is the aptly-titled “Mane Theme” for titular werewolf and protagonist Jack Russell, a mysterious yet also psuedo-heroic motif for the rather entertaining main character of the special, which is then elevated considerably by the loudly brass and choral vocal-heavy musical style, all to emphasize the special’s 1930s horror film aesthetic, which, it has got to be said, works brilliantly. All this then combined with a nicely enjoyable secondary motif for Elsa Bloodstone and several thunderously entertaining and typically Giacchino-y action setpieces (see “Where’s Wolf” for the very best of these), makes Werewolf By Night an excellent score indeed, and while maybe not Giacchino’s best this year, still one for the playlists.
Especially “Mane On Ends”. What a track!
Standout Cue: 14. Mane On Ends
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