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Lust and Lycanthropy

Ginger Snaps Back—A Reminder of Canada’s Toothsome Cult Phenom

“Possibly the best Canadian movie, ever.”

In retrospect, I may have exaggerated a little in my reckoning of the 2000 teen werewolf movie Ginger Snaps. But it was my first year covering the Toronto International Film Festival, I was overwhelmed and overtired, and there certainly are reasons to fall victim to Ginger Snaps’ teeth. I stand by all of them.

Despite my efforts to slap the two comely loups-garous on the cover of Montreal’s Hour weekly, Ginger Snaps didn’t do very well in wide release. But the Snaps trend is alive and well in the underground. With the exception of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, it may be Canada’s wildest cinema cult phenomenon ever.

How could anyone not love this movie? Written by Karen Walton, the underappreciated Toronto scriptwriter responsible for the brilliant but defunct CBC series Straight Up, it features lycanthropy as a metaphor for the pubescent changes of socially inept teenage girls (tagline: They Don’t Call It the Curse for Nothing). The transformative beast is the lovely Ginger (Katharine Isabelle, whom you may remember from Insomnia and Freddy vs. Jason, as well as the two Ginger Snaps sequels). Ginger becomes ravenously sexual and rips the throat out of a high-school sports hero as she goes through wolfish changes. Her sister Brigitte (Da Vinci’s Inquest star Emily Perkins), younger and unbitten, watches horrified as her sister turns into a bloody, hairy, horny monster.

Pretty strong stuff. Director John Fawcett, a lifelong horror buff, told me in an interview that though he was happy to see the film resonate with the deconstructionist set, he hoped Ginger would also have mainstream horror-flick appeal.

Perhaps because of the film’s underwhelming box-office performance, the distributors decided to go full force with the sequel, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed. By this time, the first film had become an Internet succès fou, with online sales of the DVD skyrocketing and many rather intense fan sites devoted to the high-school wolf-world of Ginger and her sister.

Mysteriously, it’s not clear whether the third instalment, Ginger Snaps Back, will be released in theatres or only on DVD. Either way, though, the cult gets creepier with each new instalment. The newest film premiered at Montreal’s FanTasia, and the festival flew in Emily Perkins and producer Paula Devonshire for the occasion. There was, apparently, some debate among FanTasia programmers about which Ginger star to invite: though the bien foutue Isabelle may have more appeal to certain drooling Web geeks, Perkins (who is very, very smart and in fact older than Isabelle in real life) was clearly the thinking man’s choice.

Perkins has evidently become accustomed to her franchise’s following since I first interviewed her in 2000. But nothing had prepared her for the mawkishness of the FanTasia underground. She hadn’t even heard of the genre festival until organizers invited her to Montreal to open Ginger Snaps 3.

“The audience reception [at FanTasia] was unbelievable,” says Perkins. “The fans were really—I mean, really—enthused. I was amazed at how far people travelled. One guy said he came all the way from Sweden for the festival, and the main draw for him was Ginger Snaps. When me and [Devonshire] got up on stage to introduce the film, people wouldn’t stop applauding to let us talk.”

FanTasia is notorious for audience enthusiasm that verges on riotous. A case in point was the post-screening Q&A for Ginger Snaps 3, where it became clear that many fans made only tenuous distinctions between reality and fantasy.

“It was weird—a lot of people wanted the movie explained, as if there was more to the back story than what we were giving them in the movie,” says Perkins. “But Ginger Snaps is like that; a lot of the story are things that you have to decide for yourself. Like, in [Ginger Snaps 3], why are we in the nineteenth century? Then, there’s the whole alien subplot . . . There isn’t really enough to satisfy the [avid] fan, besides lots of hints and suggestions that could lead you to different conclusions. But people really seemed to think maybe [we were holding out].”

Perhaps that’s the greatest compliment a cineaste can hope for: that the world of their fiction is so alive that people assume it lives on outside the frame. Or maybe there’s something about an alternate universe of hot she-wolves that colonizes the imagination of a certain, um, shade of cinephile?

“Yeah, maybe,” says Perkins, shrugging. “People are just really into it, that’s all.”

Next time: Maria Full of Grace. Or, why counter-programming worked this summer.

Montreal-based journalist Melora Koepke is in her element when the theatre lights dim. Camera Obscura lights up cinema culture every second Thursday.