Ginger Snaps (2000) d. John Fawcett (Canada)
This sharp, blackly comic tale turns the old shapeshifting legend on its head, creating a metaphor for a young woman’s “change” at puberty, with the moon’s cinematic lycanthrope effects mirroring that of the menstrual cycle. Screenwriter Karen Walton’s crackling, acid-tongued, often hilarious dialogue perfectly captures the cynical tone of two outcast teenage sisters with a morbid fascination with death. When the eldest, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), is attacked by a werewolf (a harrowing, superbly shot sequence), the film proceeds to reflect her changing from girl to woman with her transformation from human to animal.
In a departure from most werewolf movies, Ginger’s month-long metamorphosis is unrelenting, with no reversion to normalcy come the morning sun. She continues to evolve daily while her sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) relentlessly searches for a cure. As much a horror story about adolescence as lycanthropy (the girls refer to their periods as “the curse”), Walton plays upon the sisters’ revulsion of bodies changing, excessive hair growth, budding sexuality, and all...that...blood.
As Brigitte and Ginger’s chipper, hungry-for-bonding soccer mom, Mimi Rogers is pure deadpan gold (a perfect counterpoint to her devastating go-for-broke turn in Michael Tokin’s The Rapture), and frequent genre dabbler Kris Lemche (My Little Eye, Final Destination 3, Alter Egos) lends welcome support as the local high school drug dealer who may prove to be Brigitte’s only ally.
Director Fawcett skillfully integrates sound and offscreen menace with splashy gore moments while his sly, sleek camerawork prowls like an animal on the hunt. But considering how powerful these suggested scenes of offscreen violence are, it’s unfortunate that the final reel places its monster front and center. With all due respect to esteemed effects man Paul Jones (Nightbreed, Silent Hill), Ginger’s ultimate iteration never feels like anything other than a special effect, and a surprisingly artificial, if fully realized one.
Jones’ challenges were exacerbated by Fawcett’s dictate that the beast be a nigh-hairless one – a bold creative decision, but the gleaming, dare I say bald-faced results occasionally distract from the emotionally charged climax. Far more effective are the mangled dog corpses, gaping gore wounds, and the subtle changes to Isabelle’s features as she evolves into a sexy beast (although her final stages remain a little latex-y to the modern eye).
Still, Ginger Snaps is a worthy addition to the select list of great werewolf films (its sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, and period-piece prequel, Ginger Snaps Back, both released in 2004, are also worth a look), and Shout! Factory has delivered a digital upgrade befitting its stature. Those of us who have had to make do with 2003’s bare bones Key DVD release for the past decade had best prepare themselves for several sleepless nights, so bountiful are the supplemental materials found on S!F's DVD/BR combo.
In addition to separate audio commentary tracks from Fawcett and Walton – recorded for the original Canadian video release and overflowing with nostalgia, regret, intelligence, and insight – both appear on the outstanding hour-plus documentary, Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth and Fur, a true high-water mark for Aine Leicht and her excellent production team.
Joining the writer and director on the 15-year flashback are actors Perkins and Jesse Moss (whose character Jason partakes in a hairy scary backseat romp with the sexually ravenous Ginger), as well as composer Mike Shields and editor Brett Sullivan. It’s the kind of love letter that every cult favorite deserves, and fans are well rewarded by Leicht’s patience and passion.
Jones is also given generous face-time during the doc, expressing understandable frustrations, but also proud to have pulled off the assignment when taking into account the considerable limitations presented. (“I kept saying, “John, we have to have some hair to cover the seams!”). But even though I hold that the beast looks fake, I was surprised and impressed to learn that the Ginger Monster is actually a guy in a suit as opposed to a large animatronic puppet.
A dozen deleted scenes are also given their day in the sun, with optional commentary by Walton and Fawcett again on separate tracks. (On the one hand, it’s a shame they couldn’t have the two in the recording studio at the same time, but like their full feature tracks, both have so much to offer that there’s nary a feeling of redundant double dipping.) Considering the finished movie clocks in at 108 minutes, there’s no great sense of loss over any of the excised material, but it’s noteworthy that none feel completely extraneous either.
We are also granted a backstage pass courtesy of audition and rehearsal footage with Perkins and Isabelle, with a stroll through Jones’ shop of creative carnage and carnivores the icing on the bloody cake. There’s also a throwaway clip with the director horsing around with his two leads entitled “Being John Fawcett,” a hilarious production design scrapbook showcasing fake beer and cigarette labels, a “Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films” segment, plus theatrical and TV trailers to round out the already crammed package.
Ginger Snaps hits streets Tuesday, July 22 from Shout! Factory and is available for pre-order HERE.
(SPECIAL OFFER: The first 300 customers who order directly from ShoutFactory.com will receive an exclusive 18"x24" poster featuring newly commissioned artwork. Available while supplies last.)
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine