Directed by John Fawcett
Distributed by The Scream Factory
It could be argued that despite the lycanthropic lore of shape-shifters existing in mainstream cinemas since 1935â€™s Werewolf of London, the subgenre has yet to fully reach its pinnacle. An American Werewolf in London (1982) is often cited as the best werewolf film ever made, and rightfully so, but even with Rick Bakerâ€™s astounding make-up FX work there are inherent limitations preventing the film from showing off the rampaging beast in all its glory.
The werewolf design is iconic, instantly recognizable, and the transformation Naughton undergoes is breathtaking every single time you see it. But the wolf trudges along like an â€˜80s animatronic, incapable of the organic kinetic movement required to sell that this is a massive creature of considerable power.
From there, every film in the subgenre is of wildly varying quality. Rob Bottin nailed the Eddie Quist transformation scene in Joe Danteâ€™s The Howling (1981), yet the majority of that film isnâ€™t exactly thrilling. Some films, like The Wolf Man (1941, 2010), forgo turning their leading actors into a total creature and make them into literal wolf men. This effect can look incredible (Jack Pierce was a master of his craft back in those days) but viewers still arenâ€™t seeing a â€œcompleteâ€ transformation. Others go for broke and attempt to use practical FX to construct hulking furry behemoths that, more often than not, wind up looking disappointing on screen. Or when they do look amazing, such as in the much maligned Bad Moon (1996, and a film I happen to really dig), the story suffers. The point of all this rambling is that for such a beloved sector of horror, werewolf fans have always had to accept a certain degree of deficiency in nearly every film.
Ginger Snaps (2000) sets itself apart from the pack by doing something different that still operates within the wheelhouse of werewolf lore. In fact, to show how much itâ€™s trying to be unique the word â€œwerewolfâ€ is never spoken once; theyâ€™re referred to as â€œlycanthropesâ€. This is as feminist a take on the werewolf tradition as anything ever done before, or since, using a young girlâ€™s coming of age (getting â€œthe curseâ€) as a metaphor to explain her drastic changes from sweet & innocent to savage & beastly.
Writer Karen Walton only wanted to tackle this subject matter if it could be done in an atypical way, outside the genre norm and focused on horrors of the body â€“ both natural and unnatural. This approach gives Ginger Snaps a very Cronenberg sensibility, which is no coincidence as both Walton and director John Fawcett cite the legendary Canadian auteurâ€™s early efforts as a direct influence. The relationship between Ginger and Brigitte is similar to that of Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) in Dead Ringers (1988). These qualities are what make Ginger Snaps an aberration, since outside of the well-crafted story of two sisters there isnâ€™t much else to laud.
Ginger (Isabelle) and Brigitte (Perkins) are two sisters with as close a relationship as any could have, and they are both obsessed with death. Their favorite pastime is to stage morbid, grisly death scenes, which they photograph for personal and, sometimes, school use. A string of dog attacks has had everyone in the neighborhood on high alert, but Ginger and Brigitte see the gruesome deaths as an opportunity to produce art. While out in the park one night, they come across a still-warm canine corpse, which comes apart messily as they try to move it. Brigitte notices Ginger gets some blood on her leg, but it turns out sheâ€™s just caught her first wave in the crimson tide. As soon as the revelation is made clear, Ginger is savagely attacked from out of nowhere by someâ€¦thing. Brigitte is able to wrestle her away from the beast, which is then struck by an oncoming van driven by Sam (Lemche), a local pot dealer who also knows a thing or two about lycanthropy. The two girls head home, since Ginger refuses medical treatment, and Brigitte is shocked to see her sisterâ€™s grievous wounds have already begun to heal.
Now that she is inflicted with a new curse, Gingerâ€™s behavior begins to radically change. Sheâ€™s aggressive. She begins to flirt with the boys. And she starts to alienate herself from Brigitte. Concerned for her sister, Brigitte works together with Sam to understand her problem, namely, her gradual metamorphosis into something inhuman. Sam thinks that monkshood, a perennial plant, may hold the key to controlling Gingerâ€™s urges, which are only intensifying. It wasnâ€™t enough that she knowingly infected another boy with her disease, but sheâ€™s now moved on to killing local dogs and anyone who is foolish enough to cross her. The events lead up to a massive party on Halloween night, when Brigitte and Sam search for Ginger, who is quickly beginning to assume a more lupine form. Their mother, Pam (Mimi Rogers) attempts to help her daughters, as does Sam, but ultimately it all ends with an expected showdown between the two siblings.
Ginger Snaps unquestionably succeeds in presenting strong, developed characters that anchor the picture. Ginger and Brigitte arenâ€™t the usually paper-thin female archetypes employed in most horror films. They have depth and meaning, giving events that occur later in the film weight because weâ€™re emotionally invested on more than a base level. The girls talk like real teenagers (which means an abundance of â€œfucksâ€ throughout the picture) and itâ€™s easy to empathize with their outcast status. Underneath the veneer of death photographs and morbid obsession, theyâ€™re just another two female adolescents trying to find their way in life while transitioning into womanhood. Now, clearly, there are a number of inferences to be drawn from the conceit of a young girl becoming a woman juxtaposed with literally turning into a snarling, fanged beast. Walton was trying to horrifically visualize the feeling of a womanâ€™s body â€œbetrayingâ€ her via the changes that come with a certain age. Again, this is all very Cronenberg-esque stuff â€“ the terror of seeing the vessel you inhabit, the flesh you trust, taking on a life of its own and becoming something unfamiliar. Isabelle turns in a solid performance that has her running the gamut of emotions, sometimes drastically within key scenes. Perkins, likewise, is equally adept at delivering the necessary pathos for viewers to connect to her character.
But, man, is that damn wig on her ever distracting.
On the lycanthropic side of things, well, most of that is left off screen. And thatâ€™s probably for the best. Fawcett wanted to do all of the filmâ€™s effects using practical make-up, a decision more directors should try sticking with, but this was also filmed around the turn of the century. At that time, CGI was still a bit rough if you didnâ€™t have a massive budget (which this film did not), and had Ginger Snaps gone the CGI route it would have almost undoubtedly looked atrocious. Still, the lycanthrope presented here isnâ€™t the strongest example ever seen in film. Maybe not the worst, either, but (unfortunately) itâ€™s pretty close. The design doesnâ€™t look like an organic creature; itâ€™s more like a static sculpt that stands in one location and has limited mobility. It would be more at home in Knottâ€™s Scary Farm than a feature film. Props for giving it boobs, though; you donâ€™t see that too often. The film also gets some kudos for shaking up the werewolf mythology by eschewing cinematic traits like full moon shape shifting, silver bullets, and how the disease is contracted. Pro tip: if youâ€™re going to have sex with a she-wolf, wear a condom.
While it might not be a total success as a true werewolf film, Ginger Snaps succeeds in a number of areas. Characters are well-writtenâ€¦ as long as theyâ€™re female. Reciprocation doesnâ€™t extend to the male actors, who are either totally absent in character (i.e. the girlsâ€™ father) or pander to expected male high school stereotypes (horny, pushy, jock-ish). The idea of bodily betrayal, and not conforming to the usual werewolf tropes, is also refreshing. The film is proof that strict adherence to unwritten genre guidelines isnâ€™t necessary, and often times going outside those boundaries yields something that can galvanize genre fans. The only major downside here, really, is a lack of strong werewolf FX that could have capped this off on a stronger note. As it stands, Ginger Snaps is inventive horror filmmaking that managed to rise above most of the muck being churned out during its time period.
It could be easy to find fault in the 1.78:1 1080p image Scream Factory has presented here on Blu-ray, but letâ€™s remember the home video history of Ginger Snaps. The original DVD release was unceremoniously dumped on fans in 2003, with a full-frame transfer and a total lack of extra features. Keen buyers might have snatched up the Canadian DVD, which was in the proper aspect ratio and loaded with bonus goodies. Both discs, however, lacked in the video & audio department by featuring some truly ugly, muddied visuals.
This latest release is unarguably the best the film has ever looked, as dubious a distinction as that may be. Thereâ€™s a fine grain structure present throughout that looks very filmic, never noisy or too heavy. The print is in reasonably good shape, though white flecks and some dirt is noticeable. Colors appear warmly saturated, with red being a pervasive hue that pops off the screen quite well. Black levels are consistent and dark, though there are a number of moments when they do look a bit hazy. Contrast is acceptable, but itâ€™s much stronger in exterior shots than interiors, where things get a little muddled. Definition is strongest in close-up shots, while medium and wide shots look slightly above average at best. Background elements are also lacking in minute detail, appearing soft and unfocused more often than not. On the plus side, no post-processing has been done here â€“ no DNR or edge enhancement to ruin the picture. This is a suitable image for a low-budget production.
The biggest boost the film receives is in the audio, where the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track exhibits excellent fidelity to deliver a solid presentation. First off, Mike Shieldsâ€™ score is absolutely exquisite, with the main leitmotif sounding very dramatic and operatic in execution. This is a film score that can stand independent of the feature and play wonderfully on its own. Dialogue is clean and always discernible, perfectly balanced alongside a bevy of sound effects and source music. Speaking of which, prepare to hear some horrifically dated tunes, especially during the Halloween party. Thereâ€™s little activity in the rear assembly, giving this track a range that isnâ€™t too expansive and lacks total immersion. The lycanthrope snarls and howls, however, sound beefy and thick; perfectly selling that what we are hearing is no ordinary wolf. An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is also included. Subtitles are available in English.
Fear not, owners of the Canadian SE DVD, because Scream Factory has ported over nearly all the good stuff as well as including some new features that are well worth your time. There are multiple audio commentaries, a documentary, featurettes galore, deleted scenes, cast auditions, trailers, and more.
Director John Fawcett delivers the first audio commentary, and heâ€™s never at a loss for words. He dives right in, talking about the location shooting and finding somewhere to house a suitably bleak atmosphere. He also discusses the sheer terror he felt when it was discovered Emily Perkins had cut off nearly all of her hair just before being cast, requiring her to wear a wig that he clearly is no fan of. Thereâ€™s a constant flow of solid information here. The second audio commentary is with writer Karen Walton. She delivers a track full of insight into the script, discussing her original ideas, thoughts on differing POVs in the film, and examining horror through a feminist lens. Fawcettâ€™s track is a bit more in depth regarding the shoot as a whole, but this is no slog to get through.
Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth and Fur is a documentary that runs for over an hour. As you might guess based on the length this kitchen-sink-and-all piece looks back at the filmâ€™s early beginnings, when it was almost sunk due to backlash over â€œteen violenceâ€ films post-Columbine, to the casting, location shooting, FX work, scripting and much, much more. Katharine Isabelle is notably absent here, which may or may not be due to the fact sheâ€™s stated in interviews that she isnâ€™t a horror fan and only used it as a springboard to get a bigger career. Whether thatâ€™s entirely true or not, her lack of appearance is conspicuous. Emily Perkins does participate, and, wow, has she ever grown up into quite the lovely young lady. Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films is an excellent, unexpected piece that looks at the horrors of coming of age with four notable female horror luminaries â€“ writer Kristy Jett, filmmaker Axelle Carolyn, writer Heidi Honeycutt, and Fangoriaâ€™s Rebekah McKendry. The foursome looks back at films that have dealt with puberty, with some obvious and obscure selections for fans to consider. A reel of deleted scenes runs for around 25 minutes, but, annoyingly, these cannot be selected individually. Viewers have the option of watching them with the original audio, or with audio commentary from either director John Fawcett or writer Karen Walton. Featurette is the EPK that was found on the Canadian DVD, covering the usual bases. Cast Auditions & Rehearsals features Isabelle and Perkins during the process leading up to filming. Perkins is nearly unrecognizable with her shorn locks. Creation of the Beast looks at the design and sculpting process of making the lycanthrope seen during the filmâ€™s climax. Being John Fawcett is a silly, short video diary the director shot while on set. Theatrical trailers & TV spots are also included, and the disc is rounded out with a look at some of the production design artwork.
The cover art is reversible, allowing for display of either the newly created artwork (which is striking), or the original key art (which is sort of bland). A slipcover featuring the new art is included on initial pressings.
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5