There are sadly a dearth of good werewolf movies, especially in the late-90s. An American Werewolf in London is far and away the best one, there’s good stuff in The Howling, and really after that there’s a lot of crap. This is why nobody expected a low-budget teen lycanthropy movie from Canada would make much of a splash, but by the power of Wolf’s Bane it did. Director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton made a dark, twisty, funny, and ultimately very “realistic” portrayal of werewolfism as a metaphor for the changing bodies of high school girls. That movie is Ginger Snaps and it’s 14 years old already, which is insane. Scream Factory have released a snazzy new Blu-ray edition, which has given me an excuse to revisit what is still one of the freshest and most interesting teen horror flicks of the post-Scream generation.
While only slightly post-modern, in that werewolf movies are referenced only once, Ginger Snaps remains one of the most savvy and defiant horror films of the last 20 years. It’s got a perverse sense of humor and equates the curse of being a werewolf with lots of things high schoolers can relate to and worry about, like STDs and becoming objects of desire and the like. It’s a very of the moment movie which is still relevant, a very difficult feat. And it’s super bloody and full of swearing, so I mean what’s not to like. While never a big theatrical hit, the movie made its name on HBO, which is where I saw it.
For those who haven’t yet seen it, I’ll elucidate. Ginger Snaps follows the Fitzgerald sisters, 15-year-old Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and her 16-year-old sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), two suburbanites who are the epitome of weird and dark. Dressing exceedingly goth and keeping mostly to themselves, the girls have had a pact since they were very small that they’d either run away or kill themselves by the time they both turned 16. They spend their days making elaborate and realistic-looking death scenes of each other and photographing them. So, they’re pretty normal. Also making them super normal is that even though they’re approaching driving age, neither of them have had their period yet. Awkward.
Around the neighborhood, some animal has been killing family dogs; not just killing them but completely eviscerating them much to the horror of the owners, but the general shrug of most of the townsfolk. The Fitzgerald sisters continue to be ridiculed by the bitchy girls in school and fixated upon by the guys just looking to score (boy are they in for a surprise). They also don’t really get along with their Susie Homemaker-y mother (Mimi Rogers) who just doesn’t understand why they’re always so dark and weird, but tries to keep a positive attitude. Still, she and Ginger, the much more assertive of the sisters, get into a row one evening and Ginger storms off, followed closely by Brigitte.
While walking in the park, the pair are attacked by some large animal and Ginger is pulled violently away. She is torn up and bitten and tossed around but eventually Brigitte is able to get her away and make a run for it. They cross the street in just enough time for the beast to be hit, and destroyed, by a van driven by the local badboy pot dealer Sam (Kris Lemche). Ginger doesn’t want to go to the doctor and, miraculously, her wounds start to heal very quickly. Eventually she’s fine, or uninjured anyway; she’s certainly not acting like herself anymore, dressing much more provocatively, smoking weed with the school d-bags, and beating up the bitchy girl when she picks on Brigitte. She also starts to grow a tail, which is pretty abnormal. Sam seems to know what’s going on and he and Brigitte have to work quickly to try to cure Ginger, who wants nothing to do with any cure and thinks she’s fine, despite her newfound love of murdering people.
Ginger Snaps is just such a fun movie, with lots of great teen angst and a lot of excellent gore. Perkins and Isabelle give fantastic central performances and they’re totally believable as the outcasts who only have each other. Perkins especially portrays the awkward and nervous teenager better than in probably any other movie. There’s a level of underplayed comedy throughout everybody’s performances that makes the movie the perfect mix of darkly comedic. It was being pitched just after the Columbine killings, which didn’t do them any favors with potential funders, nor with distribution, but this many years later, it’s sadly not as shocking as it probably once was.
The real genius involved is the tying of puberty and lycanthropy. It’s a little hard to believe neither of the girls have begun menstruation by 15, but it’s important for the linking up of “changing.” There’s a lunar cycle going on in both senses and there’s also the theme of Ginger becoming both a woman and a werewolf and leaving her little sister who idolizes her behind in both respects. Not having been a teenage girl ever in my life, I can’t really speak to how realistic the fear involved with that part of life can be, but we can all relate to being an outcast and feeling unsure of your own skin and eventually left behind by friends when they grow up. That’s pretty universal for suburban youth. We also have the addition of the curse being passed through unprotected sex, which is quite daring and cutting edge for werewolf movies.
The new Blu-ray from Scream Factory includes a new hour-long making-of and retrospective documentary which is very illuminating, a half hour roundtable discussion between four female horror writers and filmmakers about the correlation between girls becoming women and horror, deleted scenes, and commentary by both the director and the writer. Overall, it’s a great package for a solid horror flick.