CANADIAN CLASSICKS: “GINGER SNAPS”…AGAIN AND AGAIN

Canadian Classicks #8: The Ginger Snaps Sequels

“Ginger Snaps Unleashed” [2004]
Director: Brett Sullivan
Writer: Megan Martin
Starring: Emily Perkins, Katherine Isabelle, Brendan Fletcher, Janette Kidder, Tatiana Maslany, Eric Johnson

“Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning” [2004]
Director: Grant Harvey
Writer: Christina Ray & Stephen Massicotte
Starring: Emily Perkins, Katherine Isabelle, Brendan Fletcher, Hugh Dillon, Nathaniel Arcand, David La Haye, Tom McCamus

Despite an unwarranted public backlash and a lack of recognizable stars, the original “Ginger Snaps” turned out to be the little Canadian horror movie that could, amassing a cult following and genuine respect from genre fans, not to mention a sizable amount of cash when it was released on DVD. And so, like most moderately successful horror films, “Ginger Snaps” was deemed to be just profitable enough to warrant further installments.

However, unlike other Canadian horror franchises, like 1980′s “Prom Night,” producers Steve Hoban and Paula Devonshire opted to shoot two new “Ginger Snaps” films back-to-back in the winter and spring of 2003. Employing two new directors and three new writers, the first film produced was a direct sequel set after the events of the first film called “Ginger Snaps Unleashed,” while the third installment was actually a prequel of sorts, set in a 19th century trapping fort, called “Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning.”

Original director John Fawcett and original writer Karen Walton had only peripheral involvement with the sequels, serving as executive producers, but the producers were (thankfully) able to coax both of the original stars, Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle, to reprise their roles as the cursed Fitzgerald sisters. Writing duties for “Unleashed” fell to Megan Martin, while “Snaps Back” employed two writers, Christina Ray and Stephen Massicotte, the latter having also written “The Dark,” a UK/German horror co-production directed by original “Ginger Snaps” director John Fawcett. “Unleashed” was directed by Brett Sullivan, another Canadian Film Center grad, whose work as an editor on the original “Ginger Snaps” had earned him a Genie nomination (kind of like the Canadian Oscars). And continuing the nepotism, “Snaps Back” was helmed by Grant Harvey who had been the 2nd unit director of the original.

“Unleashed” was filmed on location in an abandoned mental hospital just outside of Edmonton, Alberta and boasts the highest budget of any other film in the series, a respectable $4.8 M CAD. It was released on 100 screens in Canada and posted an opening weekend gross of $80,372 CAD. Not bad for a domestic horror flick, but still nowhere near the $425,753 CAD amassed by the original.

The film picks up very shortly after the events of the first film with Brigitte (Emily Perkins) eking out a meager existence on the run, addicted to injecting monkshood, which sadly is not the cure it had appeared to be at the end of the first film. Her decision to infect herself in her final confrontation with Ginger in the first film means that she is slowly becoming a werewolf, and her scent has been picked up by an unnamed male werewolf who is tracking her from small town to small town with the intention of mating with her. The monkshood injections have slowed down the transformation process, but Brigitte is being forced to take higher and higher doses just to stay “normal.” She also has conversations with her deceased sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle), who appears to her in waking nightmares.

After nearly overdosing, Brigitte awakens to find herself in a rehab facility run by former addict, Alice (Janette Kidder, Margot’s niece), a tough-talking social worker with what appears to be a Def Leopard tattoo. In a convenient twist that could also be read as a sly comment on the state of the Canadian medical system, the clinic is actually a duel care facility, serving as both a rehab center for young girls and a chronic care facility. Along with the usual assortment of cranky coke-heads and bed-ridden invalids, the clinic is also home to a macabre young girl named Ghost (Tatiana Maslany) whose badly burned grandmother is a resident of the clinic.

Being a weirdo who reads too many comic books, Ghost is the first to pick-up on the true nature of Brigitte’s “condition” and she eventually aids Brigitte in her escape from the clinic. Also aiding and abetting Brigitte is Tyler (Eric Johnson), a sleazeball orderly who trades drugs for sexual favors from the other residents, and it can be assumed that his motives are far from altruistic.

While lacking the darkly comic punch of the original, “Unleashed” does manage to deliver some top-notch atmospherem, and Perkins continues to shine as an even more embittered Brigitte. It is also the most stylish of the three films, with lots of quick edits and music-video-style visual flourishes. Unfortunately, while the idea of a younger pseudo sibling works in theory, something about the character of Ghost is never properly realized, forcing the viewer to suspend disbelief even more than they would normally have to in a werewolf movie. And despite a strong first half, the film steadily looses steam as it progresses, right up until the laughable “Tales From the Crypt”-style wah-wah ending.

“Snaps Back” fares a bit better, if only because of the novelty of its setting. It too was filmed on location, this time at the historical Fort Edmonton, with a budget of around $3.5 million CAD. Why more Canadian horror films aren’t set in 19th century forts is completely beyond me, as we’ve got plenty of sites to film on and the horror is practically built into the location. But Canadians have always had a rather ambivalent attitude towards their own history and celebrating it in a horror film would probably seem too much like boasting to many filmmakers.

The film opens with Ginger and Brigitte, distant ancestors of the contemporary Fitzgerald sisters of the first film, wandering through the frozen Canadian woods on horseback. Coming across an abandoned native camping ground, the sisters are greeted by an elderly native woman who warns them to “kill the boy, or one sister will kill the other” before giving them the bird’s skull necklaces seen in all three films. After Brigitte steps on an animal trap and injures her leg, the sisters are brought to a Northern Legion Trading Co. fort by Hunter (Nathaniel Arcand), a super-hot native tracker and beast slayer.

The fort itself has seen better days, the population decimated by “creature” attacks and the fact that the 36-man party that was supposed to retrieve winter provisions two months prior never returned. Needless to say, the remaining men are a little jumpy and not very happy about the nubile outsiders who just wandered into their paranoid sausage party. Although most people would probably assume that a bunch of men stranded in woods together would be happy about the presence of a couple of pretty young girls, the presence of misogynist Reverend Gilbert (former rocker Hugh Dillon) has likely colored the men’s thoughts on lady-folk.

The fact that the presence of the girls stirs things up for reasons other than sexual frustration is an interesting twist and eliminates the tired horror dynamic of girls in sexual peril. It also helps to keep the focus on the creatures, designed and constructed this time by effects experts KNB. But given the rich well of historical gender relations they have to play with, and the fact that what made the first film so innovative was the way it mixed creature horror with female coming of age, the asexuality of this entry does seem odd.

However, the story already has a number of lofty themes to contend with, including native spirituality, the idea of fate and racial prejudice. And while “Snaps Back” also suffers from a dearth of humor compared to the first entry, the novelty of the setting and a compelling backstory help to keep the viewer involved. The setting is really used to good advantage, allowing the inclusion of inventive touches like the use of leeches to identify those infected. The film also has some excellent supporting performances from the likes of award winning Quebecois actor David La Haye, playing a French Canadian with a plausible accent, and Brendan Fletcher (“Rollercoaster,” “Freddy Vs. Jason”), who also had a small part as the librarian in “Unleashed.”

While neither “Unleashed” or “Snaps Back” are able to capture the same mix of humor, pathos and horror of the original “Ginger Snaps,” they still manage to be incredibly watchable for low-budget horror movies. Also, for what are essentially “cash-in” sequels, the films do at least aspire to be clever, not something that all straight-to-DVD sequels can claim.

Next week: Hosers & Hooters – it’s summer camp time with “Porky’s!”

In the 70′s and 80′s, the Canadian government introduced new tax laws in an effort to boost domestic film production, which at that point was virtually non existent. The results were, sadly, not exactly what the politicos had intended, but instead a steady stream of cheap and often tawdry exploitation pics came rushing forth from “Hollywood North”. Canadian Classicks is a look at some of the gems and turds from the so called “tax shelter period”, as well as a place to celebrate (or shame) contemporary contributors to the Canadian exploitation legacy.




Posted on June 8, 2009 in Features by
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