Ginger Snaps: “The curse” gets worse

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGinger Snaps directed by John Fawcett horror film reviewsGinger Snaps directed by John Fawcett

The viscerally effective horror thriller Ginger Snaps sports a doubly clever title. Gingersnaps, of course, are yummy cookie treats sweetened with molasses and, naturally, ginger, but that is hardly what is being suggested here. “Snaps” can also mean “to go crazy” or “to lose it,” which is certainly the case for the film’s lead character, Ginger Fitzgerald. And more to the point, “snaps” can also mean “to seize with a sudden closing of the jaws,” which is what poor Ginger does quite a lot of here, as she slowly morphs into a truly grotesque werewolf in John Fawcett’s surprisingly effective film. Released in September 2000, the Canadian picture was moderately successful at the box office but has since then become something of a bona fide cult item, and one that has spawned two further entries.

In the film, the viewer encounters the Fitzgerald sisters, the pubescent Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her 15-year-old junior, Brigitte (Emily Perkins); two death-obsessed oddballs who spend their time making movies of their faked suicides and rehashing their mutual death pact. But their morbid fixation soon palls in the light of a more serious concern. Their suburban community of Bailey Downs has lately been plagued by a series of attacks: some strange creature has been brutally killing the local dogs. And then one night, coinciding precisely with her first menstruation, Ginger is attacked and bitten by that self-same creature, which is then run over and squashed by the van being driven by the local high school drug dealer, Sam (Kris Lemche). Too late for Ginger, though, who soon starts to sprout hair, grow sexually rapacious, smoke pot, and “utter sharp biting words” (yet another meaning of the word “snap”) at everyone around her. But when she actually starts to sprout a tail at the base of her spine, that is when Brigitte realizes that these are not just simple physical and personality changes brought on by Ginger’s first period, and goes to Sam in the hope of finding a cure. And since Ginger’s increasingly promiscuous and violent personality has already resulted in one more infected lycanthrope and at least three dead bodies, that cure cannot come quickly enough…

Watching Ginger Snaps for the first time, this viewer was forcefully reminded of the films of another Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg, whose pet theme in films such as They Came From Within, Rabid and The Brood, has been “the body in revolt;” that quease-inducing horror that arises when a person’s body turns against one. Here, Ginger’s slow and agonizing transformation is no less shocking than Marilyn Chambers’ Rose’s was in Rabid or Samantha Eggar’s Nola’s was in The Brood, and her initial period is certainly rougher than Carrie White’s was in Carrie. Yes, the film does use lycanthropy as an apt metaphor for puberty (“They don’t call it the curse for nothing,” the film’s promotional poster proclaimed), and one that should make all teenagers feel a bit better about their own occasional cramp or change in voice!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMetaphors aside, the film succeeds as an excellent horror outing, and the creature that Ginger becomes by the picture’s end is a fairly nasty addition to the werewolf pantheon. The film is pretty darn serious, grim, bloody and downbeat, and what little humor it does possess is provided by the gals’ dim bulb of a mother, played by Mimi Rogers. (Rogers had previously starred in one of this viewer’s favorite films of the ’90s, The Rapture.) Ginger Snaps refuses to follow the typical outlines of more conventional horror films, and viewers hoping for a happy ending, with Ginger successfully restored and hopelessly antisocial Brigitte entering into a romantic relationship with hunky dude Sam, might be a little disappointed — no, appalled — at how things turn out. Perhaps the single best element of the entire affair is Perkins’ contribution, although Isabelle surely has the flashier, showier role. It is genuinely touching what Brigitte puts herself through — including self-infection — to help her older sister, despite Ginger becoming increasingly problematic as the film proceeds. Perkins is just terrific; just look at her glower sullenly from behind her lank hair, shooting out expressions of intensity of which no one would want to be on the receiving end! Truly, the kind of sister anyone would want when the chips are down, or a bloodthirsty monster is running around loose!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGinger Snaps is hardly a perfect film, good as it is. Many of the characters, Perkins’ and Isabelle’s included, give mumbled line readings, although that might be more a reflection of how teens actually talk today than an inherent problem with the actors themselves. Still, this viewer would greatly have appreciated some English subtitles for the hard of hearing on the DVD that I just watched. Another problem: The werewolf attacks — both those of the initial creature and Ginger’s at the finale — are very hard to follow, what with the frenzied cutting and rapidity of motion involved. Still, the disorientation engendered thereby only serves to ratchet up the fright factor, so no real complaints from me. As mentioned, the film spawned two sequels, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and a prequel (!), Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, the latter having been released straight to video. And after seeing the first installment in what has turned out to be a trilogy, I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to learn more about those morose, death-obsessed Fitzgerald sisters…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. Syfy shows this — a lot — and I’ve seen parts of it, but never the whole thing. Thanks for putting it together for me! Maybe someday soon I will watch it from start to finish. I’ve also tried to watch GINGER SNAPS BACK, but haven’t been able to do it.

    • sandy ferber /

      Syfy shows its movies WITH commercial breaks, right, Marion? I wouldn’t trust them, as regards showing the uncut film (language, violent bits, any ol’ bits to squeeze in more commercials). Do try to see it on DVD or the like one day. It’s not at all bad, for modern-day fare….

      • Usually commercial breaks and edits for time only improve a movie that’s on Syfy, but I’ll take your suggestion and look for this on Netflix someday.

  2. I unabashedly love Ginger Snaps, but the sequel and “prequel” are nowhere near as fun or as good. It’s a shame, really. Teenage girls deserve a good body-horror/puberty/werewolf movie — after all, teenage boys got Teen Wolf!

    • sandy ferber /

      And let’s not forget 1957’s “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” starring Michael Landon….

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