Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie like no other. Not only is our main character a woman, which very rarely happens in the werewolf subgenre, but a high volume of the blood we see throughout its 108-minute runtime is menstrual rather than that of the werewolf’s victims.
John Fawcett’s werewolf/coming of age story follows sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) who are obsessed with death and potentially killing themselves before they hit 16 to escape the dull suburbs of Bailey Downs and give life the “ultimate fuck you”. They even have a suicide pact which they formed when they were eight – “Out by 16, or dead on the scene, but together forever.” However, the sisters’ strong bond is tested in more ways than one way when Ginger not only gets her period but is also bitten by a werewolf on the same night. Tough break.
Ginger Snaps was the perfect movie for me as a teenage horror fan, as not only did it place women at the forefront of the story, it also dealt with periods and puberty, with the werewolf storyline merely acting as a starting point for showing how difficult it can be ‘becoming a woman’, dealing with teenage boys, and surviving (literally, in this case) high school.
The sleepy suburbs of Bailey Downs may seem boring to the Fitzgerald sisters, but something is lurking in the backyards and dead ends of their neighbourhood – the Beast of Bailey Downs. This thing is murdering dogs left, right, and centre, but no one seems overly concerned about what it could really be. It’s an underlying threat, always present, that the Fitzgerald sisters don’t give a second thought to, much like their impending puberty. Both Ginger and Brigitte are 15 years old and are yet to have a period, so it does feel like they are running out of time before biology catches up with them.
There are already hints that Ginger is hitting puberty a little faster than Brigitte. Boys at their high school are starting to notice Ginger and her “rack”, while their mother, Pam (Mimi Rogers), thinks Ginger could be going through the first stages of cramps when she complains of back pain at the dinner table. At this point, it’s clear both girls are trying to pretend nothing is changing in their little world, and both choose to ignore the signs that significant changes could be afoot.
Despite the threat of a killer beast in the town, the sisters head out into the night to play a prank on local bully Trina (Danielle Hampton) by kidnapping her dog and making it look as though the beast has eaten it. En route to Trina’s house Ginger is struck by “the curse” when Brigitte notices a trickle of blood running down Ginger’s leg. The ‘curse’ reference is something that is prevalent in werewolf lore, as well as the period world,. “Kill yourself to be different, and your own body betrays you”, Ginger laments moments before the real Beast of Bailey Downs makes an appearance and drags Ginger off into the woods. All of this is a lot for Brigitte to process in the space of five minutes. Not only is her sister growing up without her, but something has attacked her, and both of these points are threatening to pull Ginger away from Brigitte, potentially forever.
Brigitte manages to rescue Ginger from the attack, and the Beast is killed in the pursuit when local pot dealer Sam (Kris Lemche) hits it with his van. Unlike traditional werewolves, it seems pretty easy to take this thing down in the Ginger Snaps universe – no silver bullets required! Back at their house, Brigitte guesses the Beast perhaps smelt the blood from Ginger’s period, and that’s why it targeted her for its attack.
Brigitte tries to stay involved in Ginger’s life, despite not having any knowledge of what she’s going through, by taking her out shopping for sanitary products. “Are you sure it’s just cramps?”, Brigitte asks. “Just so you know, the words ‘just’ and cramps’ – they don’t go together”, Ginger retorts as she snatches the box of tampons from Brigitte and heads to the cash register. There she meets Jason (Jesse Moss), who offers her some weed to help deal with the cramps, and for the first time Ginger ditches Brigitte to hang out with the ‘cool kids’, literally shutting Brigitte out as she climbs into Sam’s van and closes the door in her face.
Ginger’s wounds from the Beast attack are healing rapidly, but they are also sprouting hair at an alarming rate. While Ginger is ready to write it off as a weird puberty symptom, Brigitte is a little more concerned that this, teamed with the fact Ginger was attacked on a full moon, could point to a slightly more supernatural cause for the massive change in her sister’s personality. After more blood starts pooling at Ginger’s feet, they decide to visit the school nurse (Lindsay Leese) for further clarification, who assures them it all sounds fine, as pain, hair, and blood are all part of the normal puberty journey for girls.
At this point it is pretty unclear which symptoms are part of Ginger’s transition into a werewolf, and which are just part of normal puberty, and it’s this confusion for all the characters in the film that allows Ginger’s werewolf transition to go pretty much unnoticed by everyone apart from Brigitte until she’s fully transformed. Of course, it could also be people wilfully ignoring what is happening to Ginger because they don’t want to get involved in chats about blood and uterine linings, as periods are typically swept under the rug and pretty much ignored in teen movies unless you’re cracking a PMS joke.
In Ginger Snaps it seems once you have turned into a werewolf, you’re stuck as one forever. Instead of transforming due to the effects of the full moon and then waking up naked in the woods, Ginger is destined to be stuck in her new form forever once she has completed her transformation. Much like puberty, once you’ve started down the road, there is no heading back.
Ginger starts to pull further away from Brigitte, and begins to see her attempts to help as meddling in her new life. When your friends are growing up and leaving you behind, it can feel easier to lie about what’s going on with your own body rather than admitting you’re being left behind. Stuffing your bra or lying about having your period are pretty common place, but with Ginger and Brigitte being so close, it would prove very difficult for Brigitte to pretend she had suddenly got her period as well. It’s clear that Ginger thinks Brigitte is concocting this whole story about the werewolf to stay involved in the process, and she accuses Brigitte of being jealous of the fact she’s growing up, and Brigitte isn’t.
Ginger’s appetite for flesh, in a sexual fashion and perhaps in the snack fashion, is growing the further into her transformation she gets, and she decides to try and tackle it by having sex with Jason in the back of his car. Like most teenage fumbles the experience is a massive disappointment, and she finds herself having to snack on their neighbour’s dog Norman in order to really satisfy her craving. This unprotected encounter leads to Jason also contracting the werewolf curse, though his symptoms present themselves in slightly different ways, such as a wicked outbreak of what looks like powered-up acne on his face, teamed with a heightened level of sexual aggression. Again, this doesn’t look too out of place in a high school full of teenagers making their way through puberty.
Ginger and Brigitte’s mother wants to be involved in what is happening to her daughters but she is woefully unaware of what is really going on.She tries to talk to Ginger while shaving her legs in the bath, and mistakes Ginger’s choice to hide behind the shower curtain as an expression of disgust for her teenage body in comparison to the perfect models presented to her in fashion magazines. When really Ginger is hiding the sheer amount of hair she has just shaved off herself, teamed with the claw she just found growing out of her ankle. Pam does have insight into the pressures that her teenage daughters have found themselves under, but is unable to break through the wall the girls have built around themselves to offer any real kind of help.
Ginger’s father (John Bourgeois), however, is actively trying to avoid looking too hard at what’s happening to his daughter because he thinks periods are gross and something that their mother should deal with, and he is visibly uncomfortable in any scene where periods are discussed. If anyone took a few seconds to take a closer look at Ginger instead of just attributing all her strange behaviour to normal teenage hormones, then they would see something has gone terribly wrong along the way.
After a murderous spree in which she takes out two members of school staff, Ginger is not only starting to embrace the changes that are happening to her body, but she’s actively enjoying them. Having gone through the awkward starting process of her wolf puberty, she is now coming out the other end sexy and confident, and she loves it. She tries to convince Brigitte to join her by offering to infect her with the werewolf virus, but when Brigitte refuses Ginger storms out.
It wouldn’t be a teen movie without some sort of high school-wide party going on, and luckily for Ginger, it’s the Halloween greenhouse bash, so her now almost fully transformed wolf form doesn’t look too out of place. The high school party is typically a rite of passage in teen movies, with previously uncool or outsider characters making their debut to the high school collective, and Ginger does just that as she drops her coat and makes her grand entrance. Brigitte manages to convince Ginger to come back to their house with her by cutting both their hands and swapping some blood in a very Practical Magic moment of sisterly bonding as she infects herself with the werewolf virus too.
Sam and Brigitte bundle Ginger into the back of his van, and head back to the house to brew up another batch of the cure to hopefully cure both the Fitzgerald sisters. Unfortunately, the drive back signals time up for Ginger, and she makes her full transformation in the back of the van, on her own.
So much of what young girls go through during puberty is experienced alone as we hide ourselves away in bathrooms and toilet cubicles trying to get our heads around what is happening to our own bodies.
Ginger’s character design up until this point has been a bit wolfy, but still sexy overall, but when she makes her final leap into her werewolf form they do not hold back on turning her into a complete monster. It’s gruesome, there is a lot of blood involved, and she literally bursts out of her current body before being reborn as this new person, which is, unfortunately, a werewolf. While the transition through puberty perhaps doesn’t result in such a gruesome outcome, the pain and blood are pretty accurate. And the worst thing of all is that Ginger is utterly alone for the final, and most traumatic part of her transformation. Despite Brigitte’s best attempts to be there for her sister the whole time, it’s really something she’s cannot be part of unless she is going through it herself.
At the Fitzgerald family home, Brigitte ends up facing off with werewolf Ginger in their basement bedroom where Ginger ultimately turns her back on her sister and their old life when she starts stalking her through the basement.
In the end, Brigitte is unable to save her sister and Ginger remains in her wolf form rather than turning back into a human, which is typically what happens when a werewolf is mortally wounded or dies. Ginger’s transformation is permanent. She’s been through her change and comes out the other side as a different person. There is no going back to the person she was before.
In these moments Brigitte has to say goodbye to her sister and her entire old life, as Ginger has grown into something more and left her behind. She’s clearly devastated to say goodbye to her sister, and the simplicity of what their life was like before when all they had was each other. She’s also left with the knowledge of what is coming for her, as she has now infected herself with the curse, and has signed up to potentially go through everything she just witnessed Ginger go through.
The purpose of body horror is to make us feel horrified and uncomfortable at the thought of our own bodies being put through these experiences, and werewolf movies typically bring this point home very well. Werewolf movies always feature extended scenes of transformation, showing that it’s not just the final result that’s terrifying, but also the process in between. Scenes from films like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling show us bones popping, skin bubbling, and excruciating looking transformation scenes as our main characters make their leap over to the dark side. Ginger Snaps reminds us that our body can endure some pretty terrible things in completely normal situations, such as merely growing up, especially if periods are involved.
by Kim Morrison
Kim Morrison is a copywriter by trade, but a horror writer by passion, from Edinburgh, Scotland. She enjoys crocheting, has a mild obsession with bees, and a The Simpsons quote for every occasion. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Categories: Feminist Criticism