What Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) started – the mapping of the horror genre's favourite characters, situations and images onto the frivolity of high school teen movies – became a significant trend during the '80s. In films such as The Lost Boys (1987), Teen Wolf (1985), Parents (1989), Society (1989) and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987), alienated teenagers quickly metamorphosed into vampires, werewolves, zombies and other horrendous creatures.
Many of these movies were comedies, parodic throwbacks to an earlier cycle of B films including I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). But, alongside the camp laughs, there was also a sense that cheap and nasty horror films could address broader social nightmares in a way that clean, mainstream movies never dare. These teenagers might be all shook up, but it is usually their parents, and other figures of institutional authority, who embody the greater evil.
John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps comes from that great land of inspired B movies and sensationalist tele-films: Canada. I have often dreamt that the popular and cult cinema of Canada is the model which Australia should most seek to emulate. This is a modest production which mixes a fine central idea with energetic young actors and a workable grasp of cinematic style.
Carrie is again a central reference for Fawcett and writer Karen Walton. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are sisters locked in a proudly anti-social bond; with their defiance of glamour and embrace of a grunge ethos, they are relentlessly mocked and shunned by their schoolyard colleagues. They are also both still awaiting their first menstrual periods, a subject of great concern to their solicitous mother, Pamela (Mimi Rogers).
But the blood certainly flows from Ginger once she has been attacked by the local neighbourhood werewolf. And her sudden emergence into womanhood – marked by insatiable appetites of several kinds – leaves Brigitte hurt and abandoned. Yet only she can decipher, and attempt to save, the monstrous situation that begins to affect the entire community.
With its clever jokes about death chic, confident juggling of sharply contrasting moods, a subtle soundscape of distant cries and disturbed breathing, and its sinister emphases on familiar items of pop culture, Ginger Snaps is an arresting, entertaining film.
Like many horror movies of artistic ambition, it becomes a little schematic, and wavers between Hollywood-style resolution and a more disturbing open-endedness. (The open-endedness won: two well-regarded sequels, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed [Brett Sullivan, 2004] and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning [Grant Harvey, 2004], starring the same actors, have since appeared.) But it is the kind of movie, usually left to be discovered by video shop connoisseurs, that plays best on a big screen.
© Adrian Martin November 2000