Canada has a solid reputation in the horror arena. From Black Christmas (1974) to The Brood (1979), from Pontypool (2008) to American Mary (2012) Canadians have continued to push the envelope while still creating highly entertaining genre films. While the Canadian film industry is nowhere near as powerful as its American counterpart, it has sought, for better or worse, to establish itself within its own boarders while finding genre audiences all over the world.
2000 saw the release of Ginger Snaps, directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton, with both taking a story by credit as well. Ginger Snaps was almost a readymade cult film; the story of two sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle), who claim out by sixteen or dead on this scene but together forever, united against life as we know it. Social outcasts with a macabre bent, Ginger and Brigitte are each others best friend. This begins to change one night when Ginger gets her period, which causes a werewolf to attack. Gingers transformation coincides with her menstruation and the sisters begin to drift apart. Gingers transformation is marked by typical tropes, such as acquiring hair in new places and increased blood lust in tandem with her sexual awakening. Part horror-comedy, part feminist critique, Ginger Snaps is a smart, funny film which deals with the horrors of becoming a woman in a progressive way, with the monster questioning why she should hide or control her new abilities.
Originally titled Wolfer Grrrls, the project was a glimmer in the mind of director Fawcett, who brought it Walton. Walton had previously worked with Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) on the horror short, Elevated. Weary of cliché-ridden horror films, Walton developed the story of the two Fitzgerald sisters not only as a more subtle deconstruction of the genre but also a critique of the bland suburban landscape that Walton grew up in and shares with the characters (who reside in the fictional suburb of Bailey Downs).
The films $4.5 million budget was credited to fifteen companies comprised of both private and commercial funds. While the fifteen credited companies may seem like a complicated structure, its rather common within the Canadian film scene. Telefilm Canada contributed 1.25 million, while Lionsgate Films funded a significant portion of the budget and held distribution rights. Almost immediately, Ginger Snaps came under fire for utilizing tax payer money to make a violent teen horror film (iconic Canadian director David Cronenberg also faced similar ire with the piece “You should know how bad this film is. After all, you paid for it” by Robert Fulford in response to his film Shivers). Many cultural critics saw Ginger Snaps as exploiting the tragedy of the Columbine shootings. Several prominent casting directors refused to work on the film, citing this reason. Eventually, in the fall of 1999, Ginger Snaps went into production.
As is the case with most genre films that arent produced by a major Hollywood studio, Ginger Snaps found its proverbial paws on the all-important festival circuit. The film had its world premiere at the Fantasy Film Festival of Munich. While this premiere may seem innocuous, it introduced the film to European audiences and programmers who would be instrumental in continuing Ginger Snaps festival journey. The next stop for the film was at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Midnight Madness genre program. The film was a smash, delighting audiences and garnering rave reviews for its fresh take on transition from female adolescence to adulthood. From there, Ginger Snaps continued to play film festivals all over the world with a steady stream of enthusiastic reviews and awards following. While the quality of the film was never in question, the release of it was. Released on different formats at different times all over the world, its fan base and audience continued to grow in the digital age as fans sought each other out.
While the release of Ginger Snaps occurred without a firm strategy, the reception was enough for Lionsgate to greenlight a sequel and prequel to the film that would be shot back to back. Released through a very small theatrical run, Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed takes inspiration from Halloween II (1981) with the lone survivor navigating her new life in a hospital setting. While Laurie Strode dodged Michael Myers in a medical hospital, Brigitte (Emily Perking returning) is admitted to a rehab clinic. Haunted by her sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and befriended by an eerie young girl named Ghost (Orphan Blacks Tatiana Maslany) the focus of the film shifts from womanhood to addiction with Brigitte going to further and further extremes to attain and inject monkshood to slow her transformation. Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed received little promotional support and made a barebones tour of film festivals. The film holds an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but didnt connect in the same way with audiences. While the original Ginger Snaps played on the transformation that occurs in adolescence, Ginger Snaps II portrays the dark underbelly of addiction and the bleak conclusion of succumbing to such a disease. It is a completely nihilistic view of the world.
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning saw some more film festival play, but was released direct to DVD. Set in 1815, the prequel ambitiously tackles the settling of Canada where Ginger and Brigitte exist as their own ancestorsstill sisters and still devoted to each other. As werewolves attack settlers and the military fort where the sisters have taken refuge, the film plays heavily into its historical setting and the notion of a womans place in a mans world. The film spends the majority of its time reveling in its period and playing on the Gothic-esque setting that proved to be an iconic part of films like Bram Stokers Dracula (1992) and Mary Shelleys Frankenstein (1994), but leaves out a great deal of the humor and heart that made up the first film. Its one of the more ambitious genre films ever made, particularly as a prequel in the Canadian film industry eschewing the traditional progression of a budding horror franchise.
While neither the sequel nor prequel managed to achieve the cult status of the original Ginger Snaps, the films serve to extend the story, life and lineage of the Fitzgerald sisters two young woman who captured the imaginations of genre fans because they were outcasts. Ginger Snaps still exists in a revered space in genre films, not only for its ideas but because of its staggered and unplanned distribution, where it felt like a personal discovery for fans. Ginger Snaps may have been financed by the Canadian government among others, but its resting place belongs with the fans that have sought out the film, adopted it and shared it, making Brigitte and Ginger two of the most popular girls in the genre.
Alexandra West is a freelance horror journalist who lives, works, and survives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Rue Morgue, Post City Magazine and Offscreen Film Journal. In December 2012, West co-founded the Faculty of Horror podcast with fellow writer Andrea Subissati, which explores the analytical side of horror films and the darkest recesses of academia.