Cult Horror Corner: Ginger Snaps
It is often said that werewolf films are only about the effects; a long build up to the transformation, and not a lot in between. This is sadly often the case (how many genuinely great werewolf films are there? Are you struggling after An American Werewolf in London as well?), so it surprising to say that where Ginger Snaps, John Fawcett’s 2000 teenage horror film, falters is in the reveal. The audience spends over an hour with the two main characters, and honestly, we don’t really need to see the beast all that much, nor does the budget create a particularly scary werewolf.
Ginger Snaps is a post-Heathers high school film that follows two disturbing teen sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) Fitzgerald, miserable girls who stage graphic deaths as part of a project and regularly discuss a suicide pact for when they both reach sixteen. The two talented actresses really get under their characters’ skin, recalling the intense but majestic Heavenly Creatures in their sheer devotion to each other.
Soon, Ginger finds herself bitten by a werewolf, and here is where the film takes a different approach; rather than Ginger bursting out of her skin at the sign of a full moon, she slowly, through a series of grisly, Cronenbergian body horror sequences, turns into a werewolf. Starting by suddenly growing “hairs in new places”, she’s soon growing a disgusting tail and chasing any boys she can, literally. The puberty comparisons are overdone, and for a film as black and morbid in its sense of humour, I did expect more subtlety. It doesn’t spoil the film, but it does suggest the writers aren’t quite as clever as they expected.
A film this centred on two characters obviously has to deliver the goods in terms of acting, and Fawcett really does coax two fantastic performances out of his leading ladies. Katherine Isabelle has the showier role, getting to start off as a sardonic and borderline eccentric who begins the film discussing the best way to kill herself, before turning into an arrogant, man-eating popular who gets to simultaneously be a tease and self hating. It’s a fascinating role, and you can’t help but think the film gained its cult status because of the character of Ginger.
However, that is not to dismiss Perkins’ performance as Brigitte. Much like many of the great underrated roles, it’s her role to play low key compared to her co-star going over the top, and Perkins handles it well. There are no big moments of dramatic acting, no huge laughs to be gained, but she’s very solid, and brings great life to a fairly tough, cold character.
Most of the gore is pretty good, and Ginger Snaps is certainly one of the most violent films of its year. It isn’t necessarily scary, but makes up for that with lashings of blood and violence. Even the fake deaths, which we are shown being set up, have a certain repulsiveness to them, and when Ginger suddenly has a need for “tearing things to pieces”, there are plenty of brutal, bloody deaths. Sadly, it’s only really in the final stages of the film when Ginger Snaps loses its edge. As previously stated, the werewolf effects are quite naff, and unrealistic, which reduces a lot of scares in the final few minutes. Also, for such a character-lead film, I hoped for more character moments, as opposed to the generic horror chases we receive.
While certainly not to everyone’s tastes, Ginger Snaps is a funny, dark, nasty teen horror film that should be seen by anyone who loved the sarcastic cliques of Heathers, the intense characterisation of Heavenly Creatures, and even the postmodern laughs of Scream. A true cult film, Ginger Snaps still holds up as one of the most original 21st century horrors, and one of the greatest werewolf films put to celluloid.
By Harry Ford