A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?”
For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep.
Ginger Snaps 2001, Canada/USA. Directed by John Fawcett. Written by Karen Walton. Starring Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Jesse Moss, Mimi Rogers.
“I get this ache . . . and I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to f***ing pieces.”
There’s a big ol’ foggy moon over the field behind your house. Your skin gets to twitching. You feel the unexpected urge to start running. Your stomach growls and you wonder what blood might taste like, or Puppy Chow. You feel itchy from all of the hair suddenly sprouting on your hands, arms, face. And nothing would feel better right now than to throw back your head and just let out a huge, gut-busting howl . . . you’re screwed, pal.
The werewolf has been stalking us for a very long time in myths and legends, going as far back as the vampire, if not even further. One of the oldest known werewolf stories dates back to Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” in which a king named Lycaon tried to trick Zeus into eating human flesh. The big guy was not amused, and turned this trickster into a wolf just to show who was boss. That’s where we get our lycanthropes. Prior to the modern era, werewolves were considered more than just mythology, even being recognized by the Catholic Church and most of Medieval Europe. Werewolf trials were as widespread there as American witch trials, and many such supposed creatures were tortured and put to death. Among the Native Americans they have existed as shape-shifters called skinwalkers, essentially witches who can transform into wolves whenever they want. Legends and stories exist in damn near every geographical location, from India to Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
So where is all the love for the werewolf?
Amidst all the cinematic bloodsuckers and zombies, these furry fellows haven’t really gotten their due. Sure, there have been some memorable silver screen appearances. THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON. THE WOLF MAN (though not so much his various sons and comedy hook-ups). Maybe Eddie Munster in the ’60s. The ’80s started to show some respect again, with the Holy Trinity of werewolf movies: WOLFEN, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and THE HOWLING. Neil Jordan made a respectable fairytale approach with THE COMPANY OF WOLVES a few years later. More recently, there was the PLATOON-with-fangs approach of DOG SOLDIERS. But, other than these notable exceptions, most werewolf movies are steaming piles of fur-covered poo. That is, when anyone even bothers to bring them to the screen.
But no one has shown us werewolves quite like GINGER SNAPS.
Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald see themselves as freaks. Inseparable outsiders, depressed and obsessed with death and dismemberment, they are shunned by their classmates as “those weird sisters.” Boys are immune to them. Popular girls attack them on the hockey field. The Fitzgerald sisters respond to the derision thrown their way by throwing it back. High school, Brigitte says, is just a little breeders’ machine. For a photo project, which plays over the opening credits, they depict themselves in various modes of violent death. Ginger eviscerated by a lawn mower. Brigitte with a pitchfork through her neck. Both girls sipping poison at a tea party. This is almost how Ginger and Brigitte would prefer it. In place of other friendships, they have always had each other. Long ago they made a pact, sealed in blood, to commit suicide before they turned 16. “Out by sixteen or dead in the scene, but together forever, united against life as we know it.” Yeah, they’re pretty Goth.
And then things get hairy.
While long past the point where they should have started, neither girl has gotten their first period yet. Just when Ginger is about to begin, virtually the only thing she’s ever done without her sister, she is attacked by a large, somewhat canine-looking beast. With Brigitte’s help, she manages to get away with very few wounds, or so she thinks. But what the hell was that thing that attacked her? It must be whatever has been gobbling up all the neighborhood pets. As the sisters flee, the creature is run over by a van belonging to Sam MacDonald, the local drug dealer. What he finds twisted under his car doesn’t look like a dog, but it doesn’t look quite like a man either. Ginger decides not to go the hospital since, hey, look at that, her wounds are healing right up at an alarming rate.
Her transformation starts slowly. Her first period is a bitch. Dogs won’t stop barking at her. Smoking pot with boys is suddenly more fun than she ever imagined. Everyone notices her now, strutting down the halls of her high school like a sexual beast. There are just a few serious problems. She has some seriously unsightly body hair sprouting up. She’s growing fangs and a tail. And the only way she can stop the family dog’s incessant barking is to eat him.
Brigitte sets out to find some kind of cure for her sister. She seeks help from Sam, the toked-up pot dealer, who would obviously know all about lycanthrope lore. But nothing seems to be working. She fears that she’s losing Ginger, her only true friend in the world, which is worse than her becoming a beast. “Something’s wrong with you,” she says, “More than you being just . . . female.” She has one final hope to save her sister, but Ginger is getting less and less concerned about being saved.
There is a definite feminist slant to GINGER SNAPS, which is not lost in the well-drawn plot and the entirely believable characters. While the Fitzgerald sisters (especially the freshly-bitten Ginger) are as hot as werewolf’s breath, they are the smartest and most interesting characters in the movie. “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door,” one of them says, obviously aware of the usual kind of girls who populate these kind of movies. They don’t really want anything to do with the inferior boys either, at least not until Ginger figures out that they are the easiest to turn into dinner. Taking a cue from THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, this film does a nice job tying puberty and menstruation into all the other bloody business of being a werewolf. There aren’t that many non-horror movies bold enough to tackle some of these aspects of becoming a woman. The girls’ mother, played with deranged suburban perkiness by Mimi Rogers, ultimately figures out that something’s up with her daughters. Her response? “First thing tomorrow, I’ll let the house fill up with gas and I’ll light a match. We’ll start fresh. Just us girls.”
In this movie, the girls are showing us how good a werewolf movie can be. There are some really good horrific moments, but there’s more than just horror going on here. It’s like when Ginger tries to talk her sister into joining her. “It feels so good, Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself . . . I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.”