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Ginger Snaps
Tonight's Feature Presentation

GINGER SNAPS (2000)

Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss

Written By: Karen Walton (also story), John Fawcett (story) Directed By: John Fawcett

The Short Version

Lots of blood and gore, but one thing will make the men in the audience cringe even more.

A very interesting twist on the werewolf story.

Very smartly written.

Great performances from the two leads.

Ginger Snaps is the best, most creative modern-era-set werewolf movie I’ve seen to date.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MASCARPONE.

It’s the cheese used in Tiramisu, which also contains lady fingers.  There are just a few spare lady fingers to be found lying around in this movie…


Pairs Well With...

MOLSON CANADIAN.

What else would you expect an Ontario werewolf to drink, eh?

“I’ve got The Curse.”


Dudes!

Yeah, I’m talking to you.  I mean all you manly men out there; the ones who can take anything without gagging or breaking a sweat.  I’m talking about the guys who say that there is no horror movie out there that can possibly show anything that will gross them out.  Well, dudes, I’ve got one for you.

It’s Ginger Snaps.

Ginger Snaps spills blood by the bucket load, in every consistency imaginable, from thin and runny to thick and gooey.  It’s got gore to spare, from random lopped off fingers and limbs to guts spilled across the dirt.  All this it has and more, including, my manly friends, something that you’re not ready to handle.  Oh, yes!  True horror awaits!  Lon Chaney couldn’t bring it.  None of those American Werewolves in Various Foreign Cities could bring it.  But this movie brings it, and it… will… make… you… gag!

It’s the creepiest, nastiest, most disturbing thing known to any modern male.

It’s a serious, detailed discussion of the female menstrual cycle, including how particularly nasty a woman’s first ever period can get, and it is explained with excruciating specificity.  What’s more, the subject will be revisited.  Often.

Oh, how you will cry!

And all of it, my friends, will make perfect sense. 

I remember being taken by complete surprise when I first saw Ginger Snaps in a theatre.  I hadn’t even known it was coming out that day (a shock in itself, especially since this was in Canada); it was just there when I looked at the theatre marquee.  My friend and I went for it, even if we didn’t expect too much going in.  After all, werewolf movies tend to be pretty hit and miss, right?

By the time the show let out, I was blown away.

Ginger Snaps was nothing that I had expected, and that, my friends, is a good thing.  I had expected mediocrity at best and crap in all likelihood; instead, what I got was the best, most creative modern-era-set werewolf movie I had ever seen.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

It’s a Fall day in the little corner of sleepy suburbia known as Bailey Downs, Ontario.  Kids are playing street hockey, leaves are being raked, and everything would seem quite idyllic and ready for a folk art calendar portrait if not for the nice lady screaming at the top of her lungs that “It got Baxter!”

“Baxter,” you see, is her dog, and she’s just found the poor animal torn to shreds in her backyard.  “It” is the unknown creature that’s come to be known in the media as “The Beast of Bailey Downs,” which seems to have a taste for the log dog population, and has many in the neighborhood scared not just for their pets, but for themselves.

Two young ladies who aren’t scared, though, are Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister, Brigitte (Emily Perkins).  Metaphorically joined at the hip, somewhat Goth and very unpopular, their idea of how to do a media project for school on the subject of “Life In Bailey Downs” is to do a photo essay in which they stage a large number of variations on their own suicides.  They also speak semi-seriously about a real mutual suicide pact: “Out by 16, or dead in this scene.  Together forever.”  This is made all the creepier by the fact that Ginger is 16.

Things take a turn, however, when the sisters are out for a walk after dark, on their way to set up a prank on a classmate who’s been bothering them.  First, Ginger finds that after being “late” by a few years, she’s finally fallen victim to “The Curse,” as she calls it.  (Also referred to colloquially by some as “My Friend” or “That Bitch Who Visits Once A Month.”)  Second, the Beast of Bailey Downs happens upon the two, and it attacks and bites Ginger.  Sure, the Beast ends up being killed when it’s run over by a van as the girls try to run, but Ginger’s got a pretty nasty wound…  Hey, that’s healing awfully fast…

Maybe she’s got a second Curse to worry about…

“No one ever thinks chicks do shit like this.”  When’s the last time you ever saw a werewolf movie where the werewolf was a woman?  Feel free to make some dinner while you try to remember; it may take that long.  Simply by the choice of making its monster female, Ginger Snaps has already broken the standard mold, and that alone makes it a refreshing change after an endless parade of shirtless guys.  (You get one two-thirds shirtless shot of a nearly transformed Ginger, by the way, and it is creepy.)

“They don’t call it The Curse for nothing.”  That was tagline on the posters for Ginger Snaps, and the play on words it describes also sets the central metaphor for this movie.  The idea of lycanthropy – or werewolf-ism, if you prefer – is that a human being metamorphoses into a form that is different from the original and which is driven by a baser set of desires.  Is there any closer real world analog to that than puberty, particularly, female puberty?  That’s the take-off point for Ginger Snaps.  Given the simplicity of the metaphor, it seems almost a wonder that it isn’t thought of more often, until you remember that it’s men who tend to make the movies and that few things gross most men out more than any detail of the female reproductive system that doesn’t involve an actual act of procreation (or at least practice at it).  Unless, of course, it’s the subject of a joke…

“You're fucking hilarious, cave boy.”  But that is not the case here.  Ginger Snaps definitely has its share of funny moments, but if you’re thinking back to Michael J Fox and Teen Wolf, forget it.  Not even close.  The humor of Ginger Snaps is dark, biting, and ironic, to the point where many people without a sufficiently sarcastic mindset might miss some of the jokes.  The comedy is also far from being the central element here; if anything, the dark jokes that are made only make Ginger Snaps more bleak and horrific as it goes.  Indeed, the one scene that plays as the most straight-up comedic is one wherein the school nurse completely dismisses Ginger’s lycanthropic symptoms as signs of starting menstruation.  If you’re not busy being grossed out by the nurse’s detailed explanation delivered in a sunshine voice, this scene is, in fact, rather depressing and sad.  Oh no, friends, this is definitely not a happy movie.  But perhaps you’re thinking that if the movie isn’t making jokes about the girls, it’s bashing them instead?

“Just so you know: the words "just" and "cramps"?  They don't go together.”  Not by a longshot.  Karen Walton’s screenplay is not only sympathetic (and not in any smarmy sort of way), but it’s also very realistic.  The characters from Ginger Snaps are as genuine as they come; make a few minor changes, and I went to high school with these girls.  The multidirectional anger, the raging emotions, the deep underlying concern; all of these things are there, and all are presented beautifully.  The dialogue – some of the snappiest I’ve heard in a horror flick in quite while – never plays as phony or contrived, either; you never feel as though something was said just because the scene demanded it.  The angsty world of the Canadian teenager hit with the twin curses of menstruation and lycanthropy at the same time?  This script nails it.  And as for that second Curse…

“I just got a few questions for her, like uh, I'm growing a goddamn tail outta my ass, and I thought she might have a few tips on how to deal with keeping that quiet!”  It’s the common practice in werewolf movies for the lycanthrope to fall into one of two categories: those who relish the idea of becoming killers (“the bad guys”), and those who are horrified at the thought and just want to be cured (“the good guys”).  In the first case, the werewolf tends to wring his (always his) hands with delight just waiting for the next transformation to take place, and in the second, the werewolf tends to whine a lot and do a “woe is me” routine.  Ginger Fitzgerald is neither of these, and that, as it plays out, seems far more interesting and realistic.  Her essential reaction is summed up as “what the Hell is happening to me?”  She’s angry, she’s scared, she’s completely wigging out; these are reactions that make perfect sense, all things considered.  (Continue to draw the puberty comparisons if you want, because they are definitely there, but the thing is, you don’t have to; you can also take it as a strictly a werewolf thing, and it works.)  Ginger is in a state of complete inner turmoil, but she doesn’t just whine and sulk.  She’s all over the map… just like, I imagine, most of us would be.

“Biology!  Now there's something you can sink your teeth into, so to speak.  You're real.  Your problem is real.  The solution is real.”  The approach taken by the film as to what lycanthropy actually is and what its final results are is a fascinating one.  Much of the horror of Ginger’s experience comes from the fact that this brand of werewolf doesn’t transform into something nasty by the light of the full moon and then go back to being a normal human again for the rest of the month.  Oh, no; this virus – and it is definitely treated as a virus – involves a complete, gradual transformation from human to wolf-like monster over the course of a month, and there’s no guarantee that one ever goes back.  Still-human Ginger starts growing a tail.  Her teeth sharpen.  Her features begin to distort.  It’s gradual and it looks agonizing; there’s no wonder that Ginger, well, snaps.  And the visual effects used to accomplish this are excellent, as well.  Everything is makeup and prosthetics; no CGI was used at all, at the director’s instance.  The results are very realistic, and all the more horrifying for it.  Meanwhile, just as a more scientific approach is taken to the biology of the film’s lycanthrope, so is the approach taken to a cure.  Silver bullets and religion don’t figure into it (though silver is tried after a fashion and fails), and indeed, it’s shown early on that despite having incredible strength, a werewolf can be killed by conventional means (like being run over or stabbed).  However, folklore still plays a part, as a practical application thereof is proposed to attempt a medically driven cure.  I’ll let you discover what it is, but I will say that it’s well-thought and well-presented.

“I get this ache.  I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to fucking pieces!”  As for those horror fans who carve the gore, Ginger Snaps delivers it in spades.  Blood flows freely and wounds are deep; there is simply no such thing as a quiet or understated attack in this movie, and the scenes are always a mess and a half to clean up.  You want blood?  You’ve got it, and the effects are, again, very well done.

“If I wasn't here would you eat her?”  Just don’t expect to cheerful by the end.  Oh, you’ll be happy with everything that makes Ginger Snaps into a horror movie; everything there is great.  You’ll also be happy with the cast; no complaints there at all, and in fact both Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins are marvelous.  If you like sarcastic humor, you’ll even have had your share of laughs, and back on the horror side of things, the story plays very well from start to highly charged finish (which won’t be the one you expected).  But there’s also a price to pay that comes from the writer doing an amazing job.  At the end of the day, these characters have gone through Hell, and you’ve been along for the ride.  They generate so much sympathy that when all is said and done… well, you’ll see.

“Why don't they just catch that thing? How hard could it be in a place full of dead ends?”  For all that Ginger Snaps does right, it’s not quite perfect.  When all is said and done, the main problem revolves around Ginger and Brigitte's mother, Pamela (Mimi Rogers).  Oh, there’s nothing wrong with Mimi Rogers; in fact, she ends up being surprisingly delightful.  You may start the movie thinking that Pamela will be a generic annoyance character or dumb comic relief, but as time goes on it turns out that she’s much more than that, and actually turns out to be what might be considered the best Mom in the world.  Not that you’ll ever find out, though.  Just as Pamela really rises to some prominence, she disappears from the movie, never to be seen again.  If your copy of the movie has no extras (as is the case with most printed American editions), you never know what happened.  If it does have extras, though, you’ll wanted to check the deleted scenes to find out what really happened to her.  (I admit, it toasted my theory.)  With that said, you shouldn’t have to do that; after spending so much time with the character, the audience deserves to find out what happened with her during the actual movie as shown.  Though considering that this is the movie’s biggest sin, Ginger Snaps could certainly have done far worse.

Bottom line, Ginger Snaps is the best, most creative modern-era-set werewolf movie I’ve seen to date.  With a dynamite cast, excellent effects, outstanding direction, and a unique, interesting story, Ginger Snaps is a must-see for any werewolf fan.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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