Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Film Appreciation - Think You See Werewolves A Lot?

Film Appreciation wolfs out while Cody Hamman discusses the 2000 film Ginger Snaps.

As I said when writing about An American Werewolf in London, when most horror fans are asked what their favorite werewolf movie is, the answer will probably be either that one or The Howling. I also said those two don't quite make it into my personal choice for the top two werewolf movies. While I enjoy both of those, two I like even better are Dog Soldiers and director John Fawcett's 2000 film Ginger Snaps.

Dog Soldiers has the better looking werewolves and the bigger action beats, but what makes Ginger Snaps so great are the characters and the drama (and humor) of the story.


Written by Karen Walton, the film centers on the Fitzgerald sisters, who aren't twins but happen to both be 15 - Brigitte (Emily Perkins) just turned 15, while Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is almost 16. The sisters are miserable residents of a suburban area called Bailey Downs, where their outsider attitudes and style of dress really makes them stand out. They have a cynical outlook on life and morbid interests, and they are very close: they don't have any friends other than each other, and as children they made a blood pact to stick together forever.

The only interesting thing going on Bailey Downs is the rash of pet mutilations that authories believe have been perpetrated by a wild dog. The Beast of Bailey Downs. The Beast has claimed the lives of four dogs within the last week, so when the sisters run into some trouble with a girl named Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton) during gym class, they come up with a revenge plot to steal Trina's dog and stage a scene that makes it look like it was the latest victim of the Beast.

The sisters don't get to carry out their plan, because on the way to Trina's house the run into the Beast itself. And it's no wild dog. It's a werewolf. The Beast attacks Ginger, but the sisters manage to get away from it, and this scene establishes that this version of werewolves is slightly different than what you may be used to. For one thing, these nearly hairless creatures are quite strange looking - the design of the werewolves is a little lacking. For another thing, these werewolves are not hard to kill. When the Beast attempts to chase the sisters across a road, it becomes roadkill, hit by a van driven by Sam Miller (Kris Lemche), who the girls happen to know from school.

Sam doesn't attend the high school, he does landscaping work there, and while on the job he also deals marijuana to the students and picks up girls like Trina.

The girls know that something's wrong when they get home and see that Ginger's wounds are already healing... but since they're healing, Ginger doesn't want anyone to know what happened. The story would be too embarrassing to tell their mom Pamela (Mimi Rogers), who is actually desperate to bond with her daughters.

While Ginger begins to gradually transform into a werewolf from that point on, her body is also undergoing different changes at the same time. She's becoming a woman, and in fact began having her first period the moment before the Beast attacked her, an element that harkens back to some interpreations of the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Walton and Fawcett were very clever in the way they combine the story of a girl becoming a werewolf and going through puberty. The fact that she starts growing claws and a tail is unusual, but the part where she starts getting hair in strange places is a puberty thing as much as it is a werewolf thing. Ginger takes an interest in boys, becomes more confident about her body and starts dressing more provocatively, but we can't be sure which things indicate the emerging woman and which indicate the emerging wolf.

Knowing what's coming down the line for her sister, Brigitte tries to stop the transformation before it goes too far, and since Sam also saw the true form of the Beast he's the one that Brigitte enlists to help her in this endeavor. They come up with a couple things - first, they try to kill the infection with pure silver, and then they come up with the idea of making injecting monkshood / wolfsbane...

Whether they've found a cure or not, they don't find it soon enough to stop Ginger from becoming full wolf for the first time, with the transformation being completed on the most perfect day imaginable, Halloween.

I had heard about Ginger Snaps when it was coming out on DVD, but my interest in it was enhanced when members of the message board at Fridaythe13thFilms.com started watching the movie and raving about it. They built it up so well that I had to seek it out and watching it immediately - and when I saw it, I loved it.

This is a truly great film, smart and entertaining, with a well-written script that was brought to life by a fantastic cast. Isabelle has done a lot of genre work over the years since, and really all goes back to the excellent performance she delivers as Ginger. Brigitte isn't the title character, but the movie really is carried on her shoulders, and Perkins (who was in the 1990 It mini-series) does an incredible job in the role. She and Isabelle had perfect chemistry with each other. Lemche also makes a very positive impression as Sam - the character makes money in questionable ways and some paint him to be a creep, but he seems like a good guy beneath it all. Lemche definitely makes him likeable.

The only area in which Ginger Snaps could maybe be improved, is that the werewolf design could have been a bit better. The design doesn't take away from the film for me, though. It works well enough that I can go with it, and the scenes the Ginger wolf are in are so good and emotional that it's not a letdown after the build-up.

Ginger Snaps has brains and heart, and it probably didn't hurt that was about the same age as the characters the first time I watched it, so I could connect with them on that level. But even if you're not a teenager when you watch it, Ginger Snaps still holds up as a well told story and one of the best werewolf movies ever made.

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