One of the highlights of this fucked up timeline (the WORST timeline to be in) is that the Museum of Pop Culture reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in choosing a horror film that should be added to their “100 Horror Films to See Before You Die” list and also co-host an online watchalong of that film for the It’s Coming From Inside the House movie series.
Listen, I could suggest MULTIPLE titles that I think need to be on that list — and I did — but ultimately, I worked with MoPOP’s Manager of Public Engagement Robert Rutherford to settle on Ginger Snaps (2000). We got into the reasons why it deserves a spot on the list during the post-film discussion, but I thought I would take some time to expand on those reasons here.
I get this ache… And I, I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.– Ginger Fitzgerald, Ginger Snaps
When Snaps was released, it ran through the film festival circuit and then had a small theatrical run in Canada, ending up on DVD in 2001. It wasn’t widely available in the U.S. — like you couldn’t waltz into Blockbuster and find it. And the internet was a wee babe back in those days, so searching online for movie info wasn’t a common thing you could do. I remember hearing about it through other horror fans who would seek out the unusual (remember BBS’s y’all?). Eventually I tracked down a DVD, watched, and was completely blown away by the story and the acting.
Outcast sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Bridgette (Emily Perkins) Fitzgerald are doing their best to get through high school by sticking together, creating some killer Goth art (pay attention to those great death photos in the credits), and holding their own against the popular mean girls, led by rugby star Trina (Danielle Hampton). To complicate things further, the ‘burbs where they live are being terrorized by “The Beast of Bailey Downs;” some kind of animal that’s been tearing the neighborhood pets apart.
On a quest to prank Trina by making her think her dog has been killed, Ginger gets “the curse” and is viciously attacked by The Beast. She almost immediately begins to change, mentally and physically, and as those changes get more intense they force her and her sister into conflict as Ginger embraces her newfound powers and gives into her animal urges. All the while, Momma Pamela (Mimi Rogers, doing concerned Canadian mom with unmatched perfection) hovers in the background trying to make a connection to her girls and help them get through what she already knows is the worst time in a woman’s life.
There are also (of course) some male characters: Sam (Kris Lemche), the pot-dealer who bonds with Bridgette and helps her work out how to treat the lycanthropy; Jason (Jesse Moss), the popular jock who’s only interesting in “bagging” Ginger; and of course, Dad Fitzgerald, who only has one real line of concern for his daughters, which is dismissed by Pamela with a witty retort. It’s SO GODDAMN refreshing — seeing the men in a horror film regulated to sidekicks with weaknesses usually assigned to women in the genre. *chef’s kiss*
I don’t know why it’s not done more often, or why it took so long for this story to happen, but lycanthropy as a vehicle for puberty, and specifically a woman coming-of-age, is a fucking brilliant story-telling device. Being a teenage girl with a constant and rapidly changing body is a goddamn hellscape; a horror film all on its own that involves lots of blood, crazy emotional urges, and hair in places you hadn’t anticipated — so framing it around a werewolf transformation makes perfect sense. Ginger’s rage is every teen girl’s — hell, every WOMAN’S — rage.
Just so you know… the words “just” and “cramps,” they don’t go together.Ginger Fitzgerald, Ginger Snaps
Screenwriter Karen Walton has said that when Director John Fawcett approached her with the idea of a film about a teenage girl turned werewolf, she resisted because she viewed horror as a genre full of women-as-victims and didn’t want to write that type of character. Luckily, Fawcett convinced her that was the EXACT reason she should write the movie – to make it a horror film with complex women characters – and she absolutely, 100% did. Together, Walton and Fawcett created a film full of realism and humor, and two absolute feminist ICONS fighting against the status quo.
The reasons why this film is such a beautiful revelation are because of the way it puts women front and center, and also because all the teen girl coming-of-age stuff you see on screen feels very, very, VERY fucking real. The authenticity of how painful, scary, and annoying it is when you first get your period; the way it feels to be noticed by boys for the first time (THAT HALLWAY STRUT); the excitement and disappointment of losing your virginity — even the sincerity of a teen “suicide pact” — all of those things are just dead on.
There are also several times when Snaps flips the script. Moments when you expect one thing, but something else completely unexpected happens. One standout moment is when Ginger and Jason are about to have sex, Ginger gets aggressive and Jason says, “Who’s the man, here?” — resulting in Ginger assaulting him and getting what she wants (well, I mean, almost, because what she really wants is to rip his throat out).
Another one of my favorite scenes is when mean girl Trina gets a surprising moment of humanity, framing the character of Sam in a way that we hadn’t previously seen. While confronting Bridgette about her missing dog, a crying Trina says, “He doesn’t like you, you know. He only likes virgins. Don’t give him the satisfaction! For once someone shouldn’t give that fucker the satisfaction!” — and suddenly, all of her jealousy over Bridgette & Sam’s relationship makes total sense.
A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door. He’s a hero and I’m just a lay. A freak, mutant lay.Ginger Fitzgerald, Ginger Snaps
It’s a credit to the bomb writing and acting that as the bodies start to stack up and the film catapults its way through the third act, you’re rooting for ALL of the Fitzgerald women to succeed. Ginger, the rage-filled monster; Bridgette, the devoted sis trying to save her; and even Mom, who, after finding that her girls have murdered someone, offers to burn down the house and go on the run with them. Shout-out to that Tupperware scene! What other mom would just pop severed fingers into the fridge like it’s no big deal?
The eventual popularity of Ginger Snaps also launched cast and crew into some great careers: Director John Fawcett has since gone on to co-create Orphan Black with Graeme Manson; screenwriter Karen Walton joined him there as a writer and producer; Katharine Isabelle has appeared in a lot more horror – American Mary, Freddy Vs. Jason, and Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series to name just a few, and Emily Perkins, who you may remember as young Beverly Marsh in the 1991 adaptation of Stephen King’s It, was most recently seen on Supernatural. Another really cool development that came out of this film is that Fawcett and Walton gave members of the original crew opportunities to work on the sequels — turning over directing and screenwriting to new voices, rather than continue in those roles themselves.
Which brings me to Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, Directed by GS Editor Brett Sullivan and written by Megan Martin. Unleashed swaps puberty for addiction, and has that same witty, sarcastic tone, but it’s even more over the top. Bonus: you get to see tiny Tatiana Maslany stretch her already amazing acting chops in this one. Sadly, I don’t find the third entry in the series to be as great. Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, sets the story in 1815 and just doesn’t have the same magic as the first two films. That said, it does feature some pretty amazing splatter.
There have been coming-of-age body horror films since, of course, and I have enjoyed many of them: Raw (2016), Directed by Julia Ducournau; Blue My Mind (2017), Directed by Lisa Brühlmann, and of course Jennifer’s Body (2009) — which in all honesty, I struggle with liking whole-heartedly, but still appreciate (The Invitation is much more my jam) — Directed by Karyn Kusama. But none of them have had quite the same impact on me as this film has. Every time I watch it, I see something new and enjoy it even more. And I love telling people who haven’t seen it about it, and watching them discover how great it is.
Not only should Ginger Snaps be on MoPOP’s list; it should be yours too. If you haven’t seen it, fire up that stream, or get it via Scarecrow Video’s rent-by-mail program! It. Is. The. Best.
Here are some interviews about Ginger Snaps if you want to take a deeper dive:
Interview: Karen Walton – That Shelf
John Fawcett: Meeting the man behind Ginger Snaps – The Independent
Ginger Snaps Q&A with Director John Fawcett and actor Emily Perkins – Calgary Underground Film Festival
Emily Perkins Discusses Playing Brigitte In Ginger Snaps – Scream Factory
Ginger Snaps Interview with Katharine Isabelle – Red Carpet TV