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John’s Horror Corner: Ginger Snaps (2000), a coming of age tale of lycanthropy

April 8, 2013

MY CALL:  For its limited budget, this splendidly acted noir-ish coming-of-age metaphor could be perfect.  Just remember that this movie targets a teen audience.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Much as this is a metaphor for puberty, An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) serves as a coming of manhood from college man-childhood.  But it’s more of a positive journey.  If you’re in the market for another great werewolf movie that has a sense of humor, then see An American Werewolf in London (1981)–hands down the best werewolf movie ever made!  Second best might be The Howling (1981), which takes itself quite seriously.  Another fun one is Cursed (2005), which is loaded with clichés and honors many past horror flicks.  If you want another utterly ridiculous werewolf movie, then move on to Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) and Howling 3: The Marsupials (1987).  But skip Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), Howling V: The Rebirth (1989), Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) and The Howling: Reborn (2011).

High schoolers Ginger (Katharine Isabelle; Freddy vs Jason, Being Human, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days) and her painfully reclusive sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are asexual, suicidal, artistically fixated on death, and share a powerful bond: “out by sixteen or dead in this scene but together forever.”  Dark.

Ironically referring to menstruation as “the curse,” Ginger is attacked by a very strange looking wolf moments after realizing she is having her first period (and extremely late at 16).  For its humble budget, this movie makes every effort to be gory and graphic; and whereas the effects may verge on amateur, their impact does not.  During Ginger’s attack, the effects team and director clearly worked hard to “show us” as much as they could–bold, but impressive considering what they had to work with.

Ginger’s slow transformation strikes with the onset of puberty and the girls at first mistake her fast healing and physical discomfort for it.  This is a smart contortion of lycanthropic folklore and developmental human physiology, as both come with increased sex drive, physical discomfort (e.g., cramps) and aggression.  The transformation, be it puberty or lycanthropy, tears their relationship apart as Ginger becomes a more expressive sexual entity and Brigitte remains awkwardly asexual.  The beauty of this werewolf movie is that, like puberty, Ginger’s transformation is a long, gradual, painful change punctuated by uncomfortable surprises.

Despite their distancing, Brigitte retains her loyalty and helps to hide Ginger’s growing tail and keeps secrets about her violent exploits fueled by urges and a mix of carelessness and sociopathy.  But as Ginger does her best to embrace and adapt to her new traits, Brigitte becomes obsessed with “solving the problem.”  Brigitte was never a leader nor had to be in the presence of her strong-willed sister.  But now she must find strength in herself in an effort that faces threats of futility as Ginger, gaining strength but supplementing with denial, sinks deeper into her own bestiality–blind to consequence.

Like Ginger, Brigitte transitions into something stronger–providing her own coming-of-age in the form of self-realization, the inverse of Ginger’s physiological change.  As she protects her sister from herself, Brigitte succinctly delivers doses of subtle sarcasm that keep us unprepared for the tour-de-force ending as the well-done hokey teen horror of the first 30 minutes slowly degenerates, forgotten in the wake of the dire, tragic pitch to come.

Ginger’s final transformation scene and wolf form are unimpressive (but the effort is certainly there).  The Howling (1981) and An American Werewolf in London (1981) had longer, better, more painful looking changes that effected pain and discomfort in viewers.  While a brief and forgivable offense, the transformation was the worst part of the movie.

Out of place happy endings in horror are for those who have lost touch with reality.  Our leads do a FANTASTIC job capturing the sarcastic, depressed, colliding teen personalities of Ginger and Brigitte. In the beginning these girls swore to each other “out by sixteen or dead in this scene but together forever.”  They never even gave themselves a chance.

Give this film a chance.  It won’t disappoint you.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2017 1:56 pm

    Great to see so much love for this fine movie. Stellar my friend.

    Here’s the link to my review.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      December 2, 2017 4:44 pm

      While interesting angles were pursued, I found it a shame that the sequels didn’t measure up.

      • December 5, 2017 2:24 pm

        I really need to watch both sequels. Not expecting the same giddy heights but Isabelle and Perkins will no doubt keep me in the zone.


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