In honor of its anniversary, we celebrate the legacy of “Ginger Snaps”, tackling coming-of-age and female sexuality in an innovative way.
Ginger Snaps is a valuable contribution to the horror genre for many reasons. The year was 2000, and the lycanthropes of the Underworld series wouldn’t be introduced until 2003. During the early 1980s, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981) both made their mark in the werewolf subgenre. However, Ginger Snaps brought a fresh and completely new interpretation of lycanthropy — from the perspective of two teenage girls.
Stephen King’s Carrie explored female adolescence and puberty through telekinesis. But in Ginger Snaps, the turbulence of adolescence — specifically adolescent girls — is explored using body horror and the perfect metaphor of shapeshifting into a wild animal.
Written by Karen Walton and John Fawcett and directed by Fawcett, Ginger Snaps explores the everyday life of the outcast suburban teen in a thought-provoking way.
When I first saw this film, released May 11, 2001, I was drawn to the two main characters, two girls who were kind of like me. These two outcasts were regarded as “freaks” among their contemporaries because they embraced a different perspective, and because of their fascination with the macabre. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins) are strangers in a strange land. They look at their small town and their shallow cookie-cutter peers with contempt.
The two have a suicide pact, get out by 16 or take their own lives. They want to defy adulthood because they seem to believe that adulthood means giving up individuality. The film opens with the sisters pursuing their “death projects” where they take turns staging elaborate death scenes and photographing them. They present the photos as a slide show at school, causing their teacher to send them to the counselor’s office.
Meanwhile, there has been a series of animal attacks in their suburban town by a creature dubbed “The Beast of Bailey Downs.”
The catalyst that sets the story in motion is when 16-year-old Ginger starts menstruating — that dreaded first step on the way to adulthood.
Shortly after, she’s attacked by a werewolf while she and her sister are out for revenge against Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton), one of the popular kids who regard the Fitzgerald sisters with disdain. Trina becomes jealous when Ginger and Brigitte begin to get attention from boys at school. On the night of Ginger’s attack, the local neighborhood drug dealer, Sam (Kris Lemche) hits the werewolf with his van.
As Ginger begins her lycanthropic changes, which coincide with her first period, she begins to welcome the attention of the boys at school.
Brigitte is disgusted by Ginger’s attraction to Jason (Jesse Moss), who also happens to be part of Trina’s crowd. Ginger begins to grow excessive body hair and a tail, and she confides to her sister that she has the urge to tear things up. She becomes sexually aggressive, which needless to say has always been taboo for women. When she’s with Jason, she attacks him. Jason asks Ginger, “Who’s the guy here?” She becomes angry and assaults him.
Jason is also infected with lycanthropy after his sexual encounter with Ginger. Ginger admits to Brigitte that she and Jason didn’t use any protection. Brigitte tells her that she infected Jason, treating lycanthropy as a sexually transmitted disease.
Everything escalates when Sam, who happens to be Trina’s crush, gets involved with Brigitte. But his interest in her isn’t sexual. She dropped a picture that she took of the werewolf near his van. When he approaches Brigitte about the picture, she talks to him to find out what he knows about lycanthropes in an attempt to save Ginger. His knowledge of pharmaceuticals, especially herbs like Monks Hood and Wolf Bane, proves to be quite helpful.
Brigitte always followed Ginger’s lead but begins to develops as her own person during the course of the film.
Ginger becomes a hypersexual werewolf while Brigitte decides to help her by finding a cure for Ginger’s urges.
Turns out, however, Ginger really enjoys her newfound power. She’s discovered the power of feminine sexuality and doesn’t want to give it up. “Good girl” Brigitte, who hasn’t yet menstruated wants to put a stop to it. She sees Ginger as out of control, a ‘force of nature’ as Ginger euphorically refers to herself. At the same time, Gingers seems to be destroying everything in her path. This causes Brigitte to act, to take control in her own way. She defies Ginger and refuses to become like her.
Ginger’s self-destructive streak is apparent from the beginning of the film.
As the sisters create elaborate death scenes and fantasize about suicide, Ginger is clearly the leader. Brigitte seems reluctant to follow. She knows she’s different but she is also a bit hesitant to agree to Ginger’s suicide pact. When Ginger tries to force Brigitte to turn, Brigitte screams, “I want to live!”
Brigitte is finding her own way — not changing to fit in with her peers and not transforming to fit her sister’s mold either.
Ginger Snaps uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for many life issues: the confusion of adolescence, conflict between peer groups, and exploration of female sexuality (as well as society’s feelings about it).
In one scene, Ginger says, “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door.”
The boys at school talk about the Fitzgerald sisters “getting around” and treat Ginger like entertainment when she becomes openly sexual. Nonsexual Brigitte is dismissed as a “little dweeb” and the girl next door Trina, who tries too hard to get Sam’s attention, is not sought after or dismissed — only tolerated. Trina represents the status quo as she bullies both Fitzgerald sisters with verbal abuse, even resorting to physical violence as punishment for being “freaks” and “sluts” or crossing the line by being unconventional.
Brigitte is horrified in a different way. Unconventional but nonsexual Brigitte sees her sister’s sexualization as demeaning and wants to stop it.
Then there are the parents, Pamela and Henry Fitzgerald (Mimi Rogers, John Bourgeois). The girls have an obviously strained relationship with their father, who is the more passive parent. Their mother, Pam, appears to be a cardboard cut out of the proper suburban housewife who bakes, gardens, and is always perfectly coiffed without a hair out of place. She just wants her daughters to be normal young ladies. Her daughters feel so alienated from her that they refer to her as Pamela instead of mom.
Eventually, Pamela’s dark side comes out when she expresses wanting to kill her husband by filling the house with gas and lighting a match so that she and her girls can start over.
Like any film with a lasting legacy, the interpretation of major themes is in large part found in the mind of the viewer, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. GINGER SNAPS takes the viewer’s mind to places most other films resist going. There’s a depth to the film that makes it still relevant and compelling two decades later.
The fact that Ginger Snaps is so thought-provoking makes it both hugely entertaining and important. Its strong feminist and adolescent themes have made it a unique stand-out in both the werewolf subgenre and in horror as a whole.
Ten Fright Fun Facts About Ginger Snaps:
1. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins have much in common off-screen. Both were born in the same hospital, attended all of the same schools from pre-school, elementary and private school. Professionally, they both worked through the same talent agency. Two years before Ginger Snaps, both appeared in season five of The X-Files, but in different episodes. They also both auditioned for their roles as the Fitzgerald sisters on the same day.
2. Although Isabelle plays the older of the two sisters, she’s four years younger than Perkins in real life.
3. Perkins and Isabelle both starred in TV adaptations of Stephen King novels; Perkins in the original version of It (1990) and Isabelle in the remake of Carrie (2002), another key story using supernatural powers as a metaphor for female adolescence or sexuality.
4. Although CGI was an option, Director John Fawcett chose to use prosthetics and makeup for the creature effects.
5. Isabelle and Perkins were cast after writer Karen Walton saw their audition tapes. The producers had been trying to cast the Fitzgerald sisters for six months. But when Walton saw their audition tapes, she said that their performances matched exactly what she had in mind when writing the characters.
6. Ginger Snaps was a difficult project to get off the ground. Casting and funding were difficult due to the film’s violent content. School shootings, including the Columbine Massacre and a school shooting in Alberta, brought a lot of media attention to teen violence. Some cinemas in the U.K. banned the film because it was considered to be promoting teen violence. Later that year, after it was released on VHS, Ginger Snaps became one of the fastest-selling horror films of the time.
7. Actresses Sarah Polley and Natasha Lyonne both turned down the role of Ginger.
8. There’s a connection to the 1990s TV show Xena: Warrior Princess. Actress Lucy Lawless (Xena) is uncredited but is the voice in the school’s PA system. The students paged are Samuel and Theodore Raimi. Ted Raimi was Lawless’ co-star on Xena and Sam was the show’s executive producer.
9. Karen Walton wasn’t eager to climb aboard to write Ginger Snaps because of the horror genre’s misogynistic reputation. She changed her mind after John Fawcett assured her that Ginger Snaps would be different.
10. According to Wikipedia, plans for a TV series were announced in October 2020.