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Women & Werewolves: Ginger Snaps

As we celebrate Women in Horror Month, I wanted to take a look back at the sweltering cult classic, Ginger Snaps. This film is saturated in underlying feminine undertones. Not only did the film cast and star two polished, versatile actresses, it was also written by a woman as well, making it a perfect fit and my film pick for WIHM.

Premiering at the Munich Fantasy Filmfest in August of 2000, Ginger Snaps is a Canadian horror film directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton, staring Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle. Set in the Canadian suburb of Bailey Downs, this films tackles issues such as sisterhood, puberty, death and high school as two sisters try to discover themselves while navigating their way through the maze that is life.

This film has been a personal favorite of mine ever since I was lucky enough to get my hands on a screener copy while working at the local Blockbuster Video in my area. I remember the strong word of mouth surrounding this film and the anticipation of snagging a copy for viewing. Looking back, this film appears to be at least semi responsible for the outpour of horror films gracing the theaters in the early 2000s.

Ginger Snaps

Shot in just six weeks, Ginger Snaps tells the story of two teenage sisters, Brigitte and Ginger, who are having a tough time struggling with their own suicidal tendencies and a morbid lust for death. After a confrontation with a snide classmate leaves them with a bitter taste, Brigitte and Ginger decide it’s time to exact revenge and devise a prank to get back at the girl. However, when reports of a wild animal on the loose hit, following a recent string of pet mutilations in town, despite Ginger getting “the curse” aka her first menstrual cycle and the advisory by her mother to stay in, the girls head out to get some much needed payback.

The late night stroll quickly spins into a feverish nightmare, leaving Ginger in a state of disarray after being bit by what appears to be a lycanthrope. Brigitte rushes to her sister’s aid, but little does she know that their lives are about to be upended and thrust into a bloodthirsty spin cycle that they won’t soon forget.

This is one of the top werewolf films out there in my opinion, with a distinct feel and style.

This film faced a few difficulties during production. There was some outrage due to the Columbine and W.R. Myers school shootings that took place at the time, creating an uproar over the violence and gore used for the film. As a direct result, public controversy smothered the film, aimed at the horror themes and public funding the film received. It was a surprise that a small independent film could generate such an astonishing amount of untimely and unfavorable publicity.

One thing that always stuck out to me was the off kilter, exquisite writing for the film. Karen Walton, when first approached to write the screenplay for the film, turned it down. She said that she felt with the clichés, weak character depictions, poor storytelling, and the negative portrayal of women in horror films, writing a horror film was not something she had interest in. However, that was the exact convincing argument Director Fawcett used to lock up Walton for the film. Fawcett told her that with those clichés and negative portrayals, there was no better way to do it than to have a woman write the film. That way Walton could reinterpret the genre however she saw fit.

Karen Walton, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a Toronto based film and television writer/executive producer. Some of her works include television shows Orphan Black, Queer as Folk and episodes of Flashpoint, along with Ginger Snaps and the made for T.V. film The Many Trials of One Jane Doe. Walton graduated the Canadian Film Centre film and television writing programs in 2016 and received the Margaret Collier Special Canadian Academy Award for her writing.

Walton is currently the Executive Producer in Residence at the CFC Bell Media Prime Time television program. She also has an Honors degree in Drama from the University of Alberta. After earning her degree, she found that the theatre life was just not in her cards and while trying to figure out her next move, Walton ended up doing stunt work on Prom Night 2, causing her to fall instantly in love. From there she joined the co-op Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta where she could gain some much needed experience.

Walton’s summer gig soon turned into her day job, and she ultimately took a shot directing a few short films, surmising that directing was not her strength. However, she thoroughly enjoyed the writing aspect and helping out with other scripts, finally realizing where her hidden passions lay. Wanting to try something a little longer, she entered a half hour radio drama contest with the national public broadcaster CFC and to her surprise, she won. That opened the doors to film and television for Walton, as the broadcaster was looking to develop rising Canadian talent, especially that of women writers.

Among other issues, casting came as somewhat of a problem for the film, as casting directors were sparse and hard to find in Canada. Many were disgusted with the gore and language used in horror films, making it rather tough to find someone to bookmark into that slotted position. The film eventually lucked out though, landing two phenomenal, talented actresses in Perkins and Isabelle.

The casting of Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle was undeniably poetic, as the similarities between the two actresses is oddly ironic. Both Perkins and Isabelle were born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the same hospital, and also attended the same schools, from preschool to elementary to private school. Weirdly enough, the two also worked through the same talent agency and happened to coincidently audition for the film on the same day.

Perkins, born in 1977, is four years older than Isabelle. Although, when casted, Perkins was given the role of the younger sister Brigitte in the film. As a child actress, Perkins got her start appearing in three made for television films, Small Sacrifices (1989), Anything to Survive (1990), and Stephen King’s IT (1990). Perkins garnered her largest major role and the lead role in the sequel to Ginger Snaps, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed.

In 2004, Fangoria awarded Perkins with their Chainsaw Award for her phenomenal work in the film Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. Since her start, Perkins has appeared in numerous films such as She’s the Man (2006), Juno (2007), and Extraterrestrial (2014). She’s also been cast in many smaller roles in a number of television shows. On top of all that, Perkins has a degree in psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of British Columbia, and graduated with a certificate in Fine Arts from the Emily Carr Institute.

Katharine Isabelle, formerly Katharine Isobel Murray, was born in 1981. Isabelle is the daughter of Graeme Murray, an art director and production designer who won two Emmy’s for his special effects work on The X-Files television show. A personal Scream Queen favorite of mine, Isabelle has been cast in a multitude of horror films throughout the years. She began her acting career accumulating roles in films Cold Front (1989), The Last Winter (1989) and Cousins (1989). Along the way she’s also made several appearances in television programs.

When asked about the genre, Isabelle stated that she’s not really into horror films and rarely watches them. She said she’s just not a big horror genre fan, although she does love some of the older classics like Jaws, The Exorcist and Aliens. She said that she does like horror films, it’s just that she scares easily so she usually tries to avoid them.

Disturbing Behavior (1998) a personal favorite, Freddy vs. Jason (2003), Hard Ride to Hell (2010) and American Mary (2012) are just a few of the horror films spanning Isabelle’s career. Her role in American Mary won her several nominations for best actress due to her jarring, hair raising performance as Mary Mason. Isabelle has said that she enjoyed playing the role of Mary more than that of Ginger, as it suited her personality better. A fun side note, the role of Ginger was actually offered to Sarah Polley and Natasha Lyonne who both turned it down, which, in my opinion, worked out for the best as Isabelle couldn’t have been any more perfect for the role.

Ironically, Perkins and Isabelle were once again reunited as family in the film Another Cinderella Story (2008), where they played the wicked step sisters. They also appeared in the film Insomnia (2002) together, however playing separate roles. They’ve been on some of the same television shows over the years as well, such as Da Vinci’s Inquest (1998-2006), The X-Files (1993- ) and Supernatural (2005- ) another personal favorite.

Another strange tidbit, Perkins was on an episode of the modern Twilight Zone (2002-2003) re-vamp and Isabelle was on an episode of the modern Outer Limits (1995-2002) re-vamp. Perkins was also in episode of the horror comedy show Dead Like Me (2003-2004) and Isabelle landed herself a spot on the ingenious show Hannibal (2013-2015). Isabelle also managed to snag another reoccurring role in the American version of Being Human (2011-2014).

The special effects for this film are nothing short of amazing. One thing I always love is when a director refuses to use CGI and employs the use of more practical effects, which is exactly what Director Fawcett did. I feel it brings a certain realness to a film, and this film is filled to the brim with traditional effects. Using such effects, Isabelle spent nearly seven hours in the make-up chair for her daily transformations and around another two hours just to remove the prosthetics. Spending so much time in the chair, the full facial prosthetic caused Isabelle to have a permanent runny nose which they stopped with Q-tips.

The gore was concise and resplendent, and the sets were soothingly pleasing. The lighting came as somewhat of a problem however, as most of the day shoots were done at night. Being that they were showing up to on-set around eleven every night, and shooting day scenes starting around midnight, the Director of Photography came up with a solution. They used diffusion gel and four eighteen watt lights to flood the sets and make it appear as though it was daytime. The lights were so bright you could see them a mile high in the sky.

This film is like a maniacal choke hold, leaving you scared and breathless.

It touches fear in places you never knew existed. Vicious and entertaining, it will have your blood pumping and your heart pounding. I dare you to watch this film in the dark and not jump. Relentless terror. A monster fiend’s dream.

Overall this is just a fantastic film with one of the most brutal and violent creature attacks in the genre. After watching Ginger being mauled by the crazed beast at the park, I instantly fell in love with this film and it remains one of my top favorite werewolf films of all time. It’s an ecstatic, energy packed, gore filled rollercoaster from beginning to end. So if you’re looking for something fitting to watch for Women in Horror Month with amazing acting and writing, throw this in and hold on tight.

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