There have been many, many, many more werewolf movies since then and some have come close but so far, in my opinion, Hollywood has yet to surpass the greatness that is The Howling (1981) and An American Werewolf In London (1981).
One movie that doesn’t try to compete with either of those two classics, but is every bit as compelling is John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps. It’s that title that really stuck out when I first learned of it in the pages of Fangoria. Growing up we had these cookies called ginger snaps, and that’s the first thing I thought about. But what the hell does Ginger Snaps have to do with werewolves? Obviously, it can’t be a straight movie about lycanthrope, not with a title like that and the movie indeed is laced with very black humor, but once I learned the main character, who gets bitten, is this chick named, Ginger, I got the joke.
Ah, I see, she’s a werewolf named, Ginger, and be careful, ’cause she snaps.
Interestingly enough cable was not the first place I saw this movie. I think it was a year later when I learned there was this special edition in Canada, and I think this was before the US got it on DVD, or around the time it was first coming out, I can remember. Sadly, when we did get it they didn’t even widescreen it for us. It was a full frame bare bones release down here, which meant having that widescreen chock full of extras special edition was an imperative and until now a major collector’s item in my DVD library.
It was love at first site when I saw Snaps.
Let’s not kid ourselves here, Snaps is tragic, but then again any werewolf movie worth it’s salt tends to lean in that direction. Look at Dante and Landis’ two werewolf movies, no happy endings there and this one falls right in line with that. Even the instrumental score, which I really like, has a somber quality.
Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) is sixteen, and her sister, Brigitte (Emily Perkins), is fifteen and these two chicks like death. Their hobby is staging themselves in various death scenes and photographing it. The opening credits are a montage of this, but as soon as it’s over you also realize it’s a class project that’s being shown to their class.
The kids loved it.
The teacher didn’t.
Ginger is the more pessimistic, the more jaded, of the sisters. Brigitte is the follower. They talk about their suicides a lot, what’s the best way to go out? Will the others laugh at their corpses? Ginger wants to slit her throat; she thinks “B” should hang.
Did I mention neither of them has gotten their periods yet?
Well, look at that, I just did.
The movie takes place in the Canadian town of Bailey Downs and Bailey Downs has a little problem. You see as the movie opens the town has been infiltrated by some wild animal that gets it’s kicks from killing the local pets, dogs mostly. Tearing them to pieces and eating what it can.
Trouble during gym class with a personal bully of the girls, Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton), gets the Fitzgeralds’ hatching a plan of revenge that involves kidnapping Sinclair’s dog and using their makeshift FX to make it look like that wild animal made it its next victim.
While crossing through a playground, they stumble upon a freshly killed canine, and Ginger finds blood trailing down her leg. Looks like she finally got her period. Bad timing. That’s pretty much what the “wild animal” zeroed in on—fresh blood! It attacks and literally carries her off. Brigitte follows and is able to free her sister, but not before she’s been bitten and clawed.
Ginger thinks her “changes,” like those weird blond hairs that grow from her healing claw wound on her shoulder, are due to her finally getting her period, but Brigitte knows what she saw and so does our other crucial character in the movie, Sam (Kris Lemche), the local pot dealer kid who does grounds-keeping work at the school. He manages to accidentally run the beast down and splatter it from here to Timbuktu on the same night Ging was attacked.
Logical conclusion….werewolves are a loose in Bailey Downs. Well, one anywhere, or soon to be one, again, I should say.
As you can tell the rules for this ‘thrope aren’t like the ones Hollywood generally educates us with. Here the werewolf can be killed by any means that would kill you and I, and once infected with it’s disease you slowly go through a metamorphosis that devolves you into a full on four-legged monster. No stopping to transform during the full moon and then back again in the morning. This is a one-way trip into monsterdom and there you stay until you get offed by someone, die of old age, or most likely die from the virus.
Based on what I saw in the movie the metamorphosis takes about a month.
Urges befall Ginger, which she thinks is for sex, and in this “universe” you can pass the lycanthrope on like a sexually transmitted disease. Her new boyfriend, Jason (Jesse Moss), gets infected.
But all may not be lost. For a while the movie gives you hope that things might turn out all right after all, once Brigitte seeks help from Sam. Monkshood (aka wolfsbane) ground down and shoved into a syringe, and then shoved into the bloodstream, might be the key. And it does in fact cure Ginger’s boyfriend, but Ginger is getting too far gone.
She’s killed and eaten her next door neighbor’s dog, accidentally killed Trini, has offed their guidance counselor, all without any remorse, and it’s when she goes after the janitor that we see Brigitte is going to have no other choice but to put her out of misery at some point.
But to the bitter end “B” goes believing she can inject her sister and get her back, we the audience know, however, this is never going to happen. There were times that had me thinking, “Jesus, Brigitte, get your head out of your ass! You can’t save her with that shit!” And just before the final showdown between the sisters, Brigitte has a knife in one and and continues to hold the syringe in the other.
Lucky for Ginger this is all happening around Halloween, so she can play off her growing tail, nails, fangs and other facial changes as make-up. Yeah, she grows a tail, and at one point attempts to cut it off.
The werewolf effects are done practically. No CGI whatsoever and as Fawcett explains in the doc they didn’t have the money to do any either. The wolf design is unique. I initially thought the movie was about a werecat when I saw it in Fangoria. It’s pale, hairless and rather sickly looking, but a cool design nevertheless.
The gore is plentiful in the final act. but not a shocking turn-off. No dogs were killed on camera. They’re all shown after the fact. Three of them precisely, one at the very beginning, one Brigitte takes a nose dove into during gym class, and that one I mentioned on the playground.
This past July 22nd Shout! Factory’s genre label, Scream Factory, has remastered this movie and released it in a DVD/Blu-ray combo, and the end results are stunning. The 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen high definition transfer is colorful, vivid and all around gorgeous. It’s a major step up from all previous DVD editions.
There are two audio options you get to choose from: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, neither of which I had any problems with.
Subtitles are in English only.
The really good news here is that all the copious extras on the Canadian special edition have been ported over:
- Audio Commentary with Director John Fawcett
- Audio Commentary with Writer Karen Walton
- Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by John Fawcett and Karen Walton
- The Making of GINGER SNAPS – Vintage Featurette
- Creation of the Beast
- Being John Fawcett
- Cast Auditions and Rehearsals
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Production Design Artwork Photo Gallery
And Shout! has added two really good new extras. The first is a documentary titled, Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth and Fur (1:06:34) and the second is called, Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films (27:09). In this featurette, Kristy Jett, Axelle Carolyn, Rebekah McKendry and Heidi Honeycutt discuss the topic of adolescence, menstruation, orgasms/blood, personal experiences and how it all relates to women and young girls in horror movies, or the lack of. The doc Blood, Teeth and Fur, even though it’s lacking actors Mimi Rogers, Kris Lemche and Katharine Isabelle’s personal point of views, is still damn good and comprehensive, covering the movie from inception to box office reception, or lack thereof, and how it finally grew into cult status.
Touching briefly on the sequels, two unnecessary ones were eventually made: Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) which is a direct follow-up, and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004), which is a period piece prequel. I have seen the second and only parts of the third. I was thoroughly disappointed in Unleashed, but really loved the cinematography of what I saw in The Beginning. I may one day in the far flung future revisit them to see if my opinion has softened any, but for right now my mindset is that neither were necessary.
Ginger Snaps comes full circle; everything comes full circle, even the characters. It’s a perfect self-contained flick that has a beginning, middle and end. To me that’s why those two other movies fall short. You’re adding unneeded chapters to an already perfect book.
Dante and Landis may have set the bar high for werewolf movies, but Fawcett actually set a second, parallel bar, which I also have yet to see surpassed.