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From the quaint suburbs of Bailey Downs emerged a pair of horror’s most memorable sisters that would offer a rarity; a trilogy of modern werewolf films. The trio of Canadian horror films started 18 years ago with the now modern classic Ginger Snaps, catching the film festival circuit by storm by word-of-mouth, garnering a Canadian theatrical release on May 11, 2001. Directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton, with both sharing story credits, the macabre Fitzgerald sisters and the deadly puberty is hell metaphor of Ginger Snaps would capture horror hearts and inspire two back-to-back filmed sequels refused to give in to expectations.
Katharine Isabelle slayed as the eponymous Ginger, and Emily Perkins as the meeker younger sister Brigitte, but finding them proved difficult in the casting process. The gore and language kept Canadian casting directors at bay, and when one finally did agree to pick up the film, the W.R. Myers High School shooting in Alberta, Canada that took place mere days after the Columbine High School shooting suddenly thrust violence in teens into the spotlight. Which meant teen-based horror like Ginger Snaps was met with outrage and scrutiny. After a six month process of casting, both leads were found on the same day.
The story follows the death-obsessed, outcast sisters as they navigate high school, bullies, and boredom in their quiet suburb town. Though Ginger is the leader, more outgoing and rebellious compared to her shy sister, Brigitte, the bond between them is impenetrable. That is until Ginger gets her first period, and it happens to attract a werewolf that’s been hunting in the area. Ginger survives her attack, and her slow werewolf transformation exhibits similar signs to going through puberty; new bodily hair, mood swings, and a new sexual hunger. Ginger’s transformation into womanhood mirrors her transformation to werewolf, driving a wedge between sisters as Brigitte is suddenly forced to learn how to stand on her own. It brings a clever new twist to the werewolf sub-genre, but more than a gory puberty metaphor, it ingeniously examines moral ambiguity. Ginger’s new lust for blood means a pile of bodies left in her wake, and they don’t always deserve it. Brigitte’s core conflict is between her love for her sister and doing what is right, making for a fitting if not bleak ending.
With the titular character no longer in the picture, how do you handle a sequel? Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, written by Megan Martin and directed by Brett Sullivan, picks up after the events of the first film with Brigitte now struggling with her own impending werewolf transformation. This time, lycanthropy is used as a metaphor for addiction, as Brigitte spends much of the film in a rehab clinic as she desperately clings to monkshood extract to ward off her transformation. The ghost of Ginger taunting her sister every step of the way, as Brigitte leans further and further into extremes. The biting humor of the first film is traded in for pessimism, and Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed offers a brutal ending that has often become a sticking point for fans, even if appropriate given its dark theme on succumbing to addiction.
It was a bold direction to take the sequel of a beloved cult hit, keeping with Ginger’s rebellious nature by giving fans nothing of what they expected and offering up something completely different. It also failed to generate the same word of mouth that its predecessor did, likely due to far less festival and promotional support. This meant its theatrical run proved more disappointing. Reviewed mostly favorably, but underseen, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed carried on the Fitzgerald sisters’ story in a way that deftly avoided cliché.
Shot back-to-back with the sequel, both released in 2004, the direct to DVD third entry in the series brought Ginger back into a much more prominent role by setting the story in 1815. Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning takes the ancestors of the Fitzgerald sisters to the settling days of Canada, where they’re forced to take refuge in Fort Bailey, a place consistently under siege by werewolves. While the prequel setting of 1815 makes for a unique Gothic facelift, the core story relies heavily on the same beats of the first film. Once again Ginger is bitten, and once again it’s Brigitte that must struggle with saving or killing her sister. The prequel weaves in new werewolf mythology that sets in motion the fate of the future of werewolves. Ginger Snaps Back ups the kill count and number of werewolves, but leaves out the humor of the first film that helped solidify its cult status. Even still, it brings a more uplifting sense of closure to the series, and it’s an extremely ambitious film for a third entry in a series.
The werewolf sub-genre is far scarcer than it should be. Even rarer are sequels to well-received werewolf movies (can we ever get a Dog Soldiers part two?). That Ginger Snaps generated not one but two follow-ups is a testament to the importance of great characters and stories in horror, and really cool werewolves helps. Ginger and Brigitte’s bond saw them through puberty, addiction, high school bullies, and even the dangers of a wild wilderness during the early 19th century. The perfect casting of Isabelle and Perkins only further cemented the on-screen bond between sisters, unbreakable and relatable. “Sisters united in blood, together forever.”