Full Moon Features: Ginger Snaps

Fifteen years ago this month, the Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps had its first public screening at the München Fantasy Film Fest on the way to its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The first high-profile werewolf flick of the new millennium, it’s about two teenage sisters who have enough problems even before one of them survives a werewolf attack during a full moon. Deliberately alienating themselves from their peers and their clueless parents, they amuse themselves by compiling a photographic record of creative suicides and dissing their more popular classmates. Then older sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who’s not quite 16, gets her first period (three years late) and a werewolf bite on the same day, leading 15-year-old Brigitte (Emily Perkins) to spend the next month boning up on both lycanthrope lore and menstrual cycles.

Ginger, meanwhile, starts showing an interest in boys, which alarms Brigitte, but not as much as the other changes she starts to go through (growing hair in strange places, developing sharp nails and canines, and growing a prehensile tail, among other things). For help, Brigitte turns to friendly neighborhood drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche), who not only takes her seriously, but also agrees to help her find a cure. Of less help is the girls’ mother (Mimi Rogers), who is so thrilled they’re finally becoming women that she doesn’t notice one of them is turning into something else entirely. Ginger Snaps may not be the first film to equate the emergence of a young woman’s untapped sexuality with turning into a monster (that would be Brian De Palma’s Carrie), but it’s probably the one that does it best.

This film, incidentally, was directed by John Fawcett from a screenplay by Karen Walton (based on a story by Walton and Fawcett) and they manage to deliver the genre goods while putting a decidedly feminist twist on the werewolf mythos. (For more on this subject, see the “women in horror” panel discussion included on Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray/DVD.) The film also has a unique take on the werewolf itself — it’s much less hairy than its cinematic forebears (or should I say forewolves?). Thankfully, this design quirk would be jettisoned in the two follow-ups, 2004’s Ginger Snaps: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, which I plan to cover in the coming months.