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Cat’s Cradle: The History of Horror and Heroes

Werewolf by Night” is the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that attempts to flesh out its supernatural-horror aspects in “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” Though the latter pays homage to the genre, “Werewolf by Night” is a send-up to a classic Universal Monsters film.

Director Michael Giacchino plays with visual cues from classic Universal Monsters films, such as bands of light across characters' eyes, a classic title card and well-placed cue marks at 16-minute intervals. “Werewolf by Night” feels more like a classic Universal Monsters film than a spandex-clad hero. 

Horror and heroes have a history dating back to Greece. Greek mythology is not without heroes; characters like Theseus and Heracles and gods like Zeus, Hermes and Athena embody attributes placed onto modern heroes

Stories of monsters find similar origins throughout Greek mythology in characters like Lycaon, whose efforts to test Zeus’ omnipotence resulted in his transformation into a wolf. Given these monstrous origins, Lycaon is accredited with the founding of the ancient city Lycosura, becoming an exalted figure like the gods. 

Comics of the early ‘50s allowed a new mixture of heroes and horror narratives as horror anthologies became a mainstay of the medium. These violent narratives of terror paralleled the rise of popular heroes like Batman and Superman.

By 1954, Comics Code was passed to remove immoral material from comics incited by violent horror comics of the period. This resulted in a stifling of both horror comics and hero comics, as they were limited to telling sanitized stories of adventure, moving into the campy tone of the Silver Age of Comics.

The period wasn’t without its horror characters; early supernatural heroes got their start in this Silver Age. For example, the early origins of the Hulk were pulled from classic horror films. 

By the ‘70s, artists in both mediums, horror and heroes, worked to re-establish and reject their respective genres. This is seen in films like “The Exorcist” in which William Friedkin created a horror film that put the genre at the forefront of culture like Universal Monsters. In comics, Neal Adams’ “Batman” reimagined the cape crusader with darker narratives that put him back in the cultural eye. 

In 1978, the decade culminated with “Superman,” effectively kicking off the superhero craze, and “Halloween,” reinvigorating horror. Though not interconnected, these films spurred on future horror and hero films that eventually took inspiration from each other. This came in the form of “Blade” (1998), “Hellboy” (2004) and “Constantine,” (2005), in which the paranormal overlaps with the heroic. 

This continues in the comics with series like “The Immortal Hulk,” which takes Hulk back to his horror origins with a modern ting of cosmic and body horror. In “The Batman” (2022), the scene when the Riddler captures Mr. Colson mirrors a similar scene in “Halloween” (1978) of the killer appearing from the back seat.  

“Werewolf by Night” is the most recent addition to this canon of horror-hero stories. The blend of Silver Age characters, classic horror tropes and modern techniques has created something that is a Marvel-branded horror love letter. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him

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