GINGER SNAPS (2000)

(Fubo/peacock/Shudder/tubi/Vudu) GINGER SNAPS is an extremely Canadian production from John Fawcett (co-creator of ORPHAN BLACK) and Karen Walton. Fawcett had the concept and directed it, Walton scripted it, but ultimately it was a collaborative effort. It’s about two goth sisters living together in the basement of their idyllic, overly understanding Fitzgerald parents (Mimi Rodgers and John Bourgeois), struggling to make it through high school ridicule. The older sister is Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle, who has had one hell of a TV career, and she glows in AMERICAN MARY), an extremely confident, very protective-yet-belligerent redhead to her younger sister, Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) who is the quieter, less confrontational but more bookish, sibling.

I don’t know why I’m wasting words when the opening title sequence showcases their dynamics and interests perfectly. Even if the rest of the film was garbage, it’d be worth watching for this perfectly executed bit (which is also really NSFW). (Mike Shields’ amazing opening theme also does a lot of heavy lifting there! )

To summarize: dogs in the Fitzgerald’s suburban neighborhood are repeatedly found torn to shreds, but no one really pays much mind. The two Fitzgerald sisters head out to play a prank against a fellow classmate which goes horribly awry. Ginger has her first period at the same time, informs her sister, and is then is grabbed and scratched by something large and wolflike in a wildly Raimi-esque sequence. The two escape to a road, almost get run over, but youthful drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche, who had a small role in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and does a fair amount of TV work now) accidentally runs over the beast with his ambulance.

Brigette drags Ginger home, tends to her wounds and, almost immediately, Ginger is a different person, a different species, growing hairier, more bloodthirsty from there, but handwaving it away as cramps until she’s full werewolf and embodying a vengeful Carrie.

Brigette tries to keep Ginger on the down-low, but … she’s uncontrollable. Matters escalate.

GINGER SNAPS wasn’t the first horror film I’d seen that was a woman transformation parable — that’d be Neil Jordan’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES but it was almost certainly the first I was overtly aware of, and it was quite the revelation.

A lot has happened since then, so here are a few links:

Karen Walton reflects on GINGER SNAPS, 20 years later.

Apparently, it’s slated to be rebooted as a TV series soon, which I hope will be brilliant.

Halloween 2021 Programming: CULT

As previously noted, my wife and I have a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: Contemporary, Classic, and Cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year. Today features cult horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her. And yes, I know, defining what is horror and what is considered ‘cult’ horror is like splitting hairs, but rule of three, folks!

Again, apologies for leaning on prior works. Again, Halloween weekend! I have other terrors to read, watch, and write!

HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987, AMC+/hoopla/peacock/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) or PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990, YouTube)

Previously suggested. “The first PROM NIGHT is fine, but mostly remembered because of how bare Jamie Lee Curtis gets, and for riffing on CARRIE. PROM NIGHT II twists the first film’s premise and goes for broke — also, a rare woman supernatural slasher, and they were clearly hoping some of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET would rub off on the film — and PROM NIGHT III turns the franchise into an amazing, albeit often puerile, horror-comedy. They’re both very entertaining and smart in their own ways.”

PROM NIGHT II trailer:

PROM NIGHT III trailer:

Shh, don’t tell anyone but, as it’s practically impossible to stream a legal version, here you are:

MATINEE (1993, Starz/VOD)

A Joe Dante (GREMLINS, INNERSPACE) work, which means warm-hearted love for misfit youths and being scared by B-movies, while still having a subversive political voice and viewpoint. It was one of the first post-lockdown films I saw at the Music Box, but it’s endlessly re-watchable.

READY OR NOT (2019, VOD)

(Editor’s note: I cheated a bit here, as I normally would consider this contemporary and not cult, although I fully believe it’s destined to become a cult film. I also lifted most of it for my write-up.)

This one really surprised me: it’s a darkly comic fusion of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with an amazing cast that includes Andie MacDowell, Samara Weaving (Thea, from BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC), Adam Brody (probably don’t need to write this but: from THE OC, JENNIFER’S BODY, GILMORE GIRLS), Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna in WYNONNA EARP), and Kristian Bruun (Donnie from ORPHAN BLACK). It’s a surprisingly well-executed film. I recently happened upon a promotional READY OR NOT shirt I received for the film when I left a 24-hour film fest early last year, and opted to keep it as a nostalgia shirt, sitting alongside my BLAIR WITCH PROJECT shirt.

Even though I don’t believe in spoilers, I would stop the trailer after the first minute. There are a ton of fun surprises in the film that work great with the trailer, but even better if you experience them in the film itself.

Tomorrow: CLASSICS!

HOMEWRECKER (2019)

(AMC+/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) An intriguingly economical Canadian thriller from Zach Gayne. For once, I’m going to use the official description (with a few tweaks) because too many details might spoil some of the fun: “Middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) befriends youthful Michelle (Alex Essoe), but one becomes obsessed with the other.”

The script was penned by Gayne, as well as the two leads (Chong and Essoe). It has a charismatic verve to it that I can’t help but appreciate, and while you may suss out the ending before the film expects you, it’s still a wild ride.

A NIGHTMARE WAKES (2020)

(AMC+/DirecTV/Shudder/VOD) This is the second in a three-part series of recommendations regarding films about Mary Shelley. Unlike MARY SHELLEY, A NIGHTMARE WAKES is far more about Mary writing FRANKENSTEIN, often through surreal vignettes, although first-time feature writer/director Nora Unkel also focuses on Mary’s tragic pregnancies and miscarriages. Unsurprisingly, the act of writing FRANKENSTEIN is rather bluntly portrayed in a way that may feel obvious, but works within the context of the film.

I was lukewarm about this take on Mary Shelley when I first watched it. It seemed rather reductive, and the plotting and visuals — especially the color timing — felt heavy-handed. However, after watching MARY SHELLEY, I saw them as two sides of the same coin. Each film neglects certain facets of her life, while highlighting what each filmmaker wanted to extoll and/or examine. Mary Shelley is a fascinating figure in that you can piece together her life in a myriad of ways; one can practically stitch together any narrative you want from her life. Consequently, it is far more telling about the writer/director than about Mary Shelley herself, and often about using the back-story of a person as a springboard for further social and cultural scrutiny.

I feel the ‘biopic’ label is one that viewers ascribe to films when they know it’s based on someone’s life, regardless of whether the film or work is intended as such; viewers often expect it to hew as close to reality and historic facts as possible. That’s not necessarily the case. I can understand some folks feeling ‘betrayed’ when the persona presented doesn’t align, and there are definitely moral quandaries that come with misrepresenting one’s life to tell your own tale.* However: these auteurs are adapting pre-existing works, except that the pre-existing work is someone’s life story.

I’d love to write more about similar extrapolations regarding recreating people’s lives and events (for another recent example, see: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… — no one knows exactly what went down when Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown met that night), whether this sort of personal pseudo-non-fiction is fan-fiction, the history of this sort of narrative handling, and how folks react differently to fictional portrayals of real people depending on the medium, but instead I’ll post a link to the A NIGHTMARE WAKES trailer:

“I feel like it’s a story. My story.”

  • I am not a Mary Shelley scholar — I only know the basics of her life — so I can’t speak as to whether MARY SHELLEY or A NIGHTMARE WAKES betrayed her. I’ll note that I did previously recommend SHIRLEY, which I initially believed to willfully misrepresent Shirley Jackson’s life to tell another’s tale. However, I believe I was guilty of assuming the film would play by traditional biopic rules, and not be its own work, and later on ‘rediscovered’ the film regarding its intent.

LUCKY (2020)

(AMC+/Shudder/VOD) Back when I recommended 12 HOUR SHIFT last month, I mentioned that writer/director Brea Grant was one of the hardest working people in genre film, and here she is starring in a screenplay she wrote, one of the rawest psychological thrillers I’ve seen in some time. Here she and director Natasha Kermani seem to be channeling Charlie Kaufmann or Repulsion-era Roman Polanski in the best way possible, as this is one very surreal exploration of assault and victimhood. It’s a shockingly original film that makes the most of exploiting slasher tropes, and I can’t wait to see what Grant does next.

If I have one quibble, one complaint about the film, it’s that no author signs the slipcover of a book and, every time I witness it via the trailer or in the film, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. (I fully realize they had her sign the slipcover because this allowed them to only have to print up slipcovers, rather than fake the innards of a book, but it still irks me!)

ANYTHING FOR JACKSON (2020)

(AMC+/SHUDDER/VOD) ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is the rare character-forward horror film that also holds more than a few delightfully gory frights, almost to the point where it feels like it commentary on the horror community.

The premise is stock horror: grandparents Audrey (Sheila McCarthy, I’VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING) and Henry Walsh (the extremely distinctive Julian Richings, who has appeared in any genre show you’ve watched over the past decade) are grandparents who kidnap a pregnant woman to bring their grandchild back to life via black magic. However, the Walshes are more empathetic and human than most horror films would treat them, and the film takes its time peeling away the layers to detail the steps as to how the grandparents ended up making a deal with the devil.

ANYTHING FOR JACKSON was directed by Justin G. Dyck, and written by Dyck and Keith Cooper, both of whom have worked together on a number of conventional made-for-TV Christmas movies (A CHRISTMAS VILLAGE, CHRISTMAS WEDDING PLANNER), which I suspect helped them to shape this subversive horror piece, as it feels like they’re used to flexing within genre constraints in ways that will surprise you.

(I’d suggest skipping the trailer, as it spoils a few startling moments, plus it’s not exactly a finely honed teaser.)

DOGTOOTH (2009)

(hoopla/kanopy/Shudder/tubi/VOD) One of the other ‘uncool’ Chicago film fests is the European Union Film Fest, which takes place at the Siskel Film Center. Even I often forget about this one, but back in 2010 I caught wind of this weird Greek film from unknown-to-us director Yorgos Lanthimos (who would go on to direct THE LOBSTER and THE FAVOURITE) that sounded like a batshitcrazy modern New Wave-ish film, and my wife — being Greek — was also intrigued, so we immediately pre-ordered two tickets..

We arrived at the Siskel and were happy to already have tickets, because it was completely sold out — the line wound completely around the upper second floor — and the audience consisted of 80% older Greek couples, clearly there to support Greek film. I whispered to my wife: “Do they know what they’re getting into?”

I say that because most Greek films I’ve attended with my wife have been in-offensive crowd-pleasers, whereas DOGTOOTH actively, -aggressively- is not. It’s a film about shelter, about not letting go, about manufactured culture, about language, about emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, and even heavier subjects. I was surprised to see that Shudder (a streaming service solely geared towards horror) picked it up and I realized, why yes: it is a Haneke-esque horror film, and not just an incredibly dense, fucked up family drama.

I exited the theater feeling dazzled and bruised, and fully expected the crowd we entered with to have turned against it, especially since they were very quiet during the screening — even the funny parts (of which there are many) — but no! They were ebullient about it! To this day I don’t know whether they liked it (much less enjoyed it — this isn’t a film you ‘enjoy’) but it was a singularly memorable screening for a brilliant film.

THE HAUNTING (1962)

(AMC+/SHUDDER/VOD) If you’re reading this, there’s probably a 50/50 chance you’ve watched THE HAUNTING and, if so, it’s well-worth a re-watch! If you haven’t? Well, that’s what these electronic missives are for!

THE HAUNTING (1962, not to be confused with the 1999 version, which isn’t as bad as you may remember) is probably the closest to a definitive Shirley Jackson adaptation we’ll ever get, and not just because she was actively involved with the adaptation. While it excises and condenses the book, it never loses track of the complexities of Eleanor, the figurehead of the story, wanting to be wanted, but unaware as to how she can be needed.

It helps that THE HAUNTING is shot with a pitch-perfect eye. Director Robert Wise (a goddamn Hollywood legend as the award-winning editor of CITIZEN KANE and director/producer of WEST SIDE STORY, THE SOUND OF MUSIC) and cinematographer Davis Boulton used an experimental Panavision 30mm lens that lends an unmistakably unique look to the film; the occasional lens distortion helps to amplify certain scenes near the end of the film.

The lens, in tandem with the claustrophobic and detailed sets and the intense lighting gives the house a verve (while often framing all of the primary characters as entrapped or jailed) that required almost absolutely no ‘traditional’ haunting visual effects, relying instead on perfect sound design, and all of it dovetails with the intense internal monologuing from Eleanor.

THE HAUNTING is a perfect Halloween film, one that’ll make you think about your surroundings as you lumber off to bed, all while questioning your own place.

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982)

(AMC+/hoopla/SHUDDER/tubi/VOD/Vudu)? I recently watched a short documentary about the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise and one of the dudes in the doc — because of course they only talked to dudes — panned MASSACRE because the killer lacked character, and wow, way to miss the fucking point of the film.

MASSACRE was penned by Rita Mae Brown, a well-known feminist activist and writer, and Corman picked it up and gave it to Amy Holden Jones to direct, but only if she’d play it straight. It features wall-to-wall women, all more capable and unique than you’d normally see in a slasher film, and the film leans so heavily on the male gaze that it’s intentionally absurd, a sly way of gaining Corman’s approval while hoping others would recognize it as visually subversive.

As I’m sure anyone reading this is aware, sadly, the horror genre has leaned even harder into exploitation and male gaze — not to mention outright misogyny — since ’82, so what at that time was meant to be winking reads as standard fare.

As a slasher film, it holds up — the killer may not have the silhouette of Jason or Michael, but the drill is undeniably iconic, and the film utilizes the full frame in more Hitchcockian ways than you’d expect from an 80s Corman exploitation film.

It excels at satire, though. None of the boys are heroes, the girls spend their time reading PLAYGIRL and trying to figure out the score of a recent baseball game, often while eating pizza over a dead body.

Again, you might want to skip the trailer, as it gives everything away.

Please note: the following trailer is VERY NSFW.

BLISS (2019)

(AMC+/Shudder/VOD) There’s not a lot to BLISS — it’s a horror-fueled drug trip that comes at you like a car crash — but the best moments flash before your eyes right before you’re hit, and I’m not about to spoil ‘em.

Visually compelling (although rarely astounding), Dora Madison (who never quite got to shine on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) fuels the film, playing with crazed-but-grounded intensity, and George Wendt inserts himself into the film because he apparently loves horror and throws himself into his role.