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Film entertainment in general is a male-heavy field, but the horror and western genres have generally bared the brunt of feminist criticisms for their disregard and mistreatment of the fairer sex. While westerns tend to ignore women altogether, horror movies have never really suffered from a lack of inclusion, rather, they are condemned for exploiting women as victims. Many fantastic essays and books have been written on a woman’s place in horror entertainment – Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws and the Barry Keith Grant-edited The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film are both highly recommended – with major focus positioned around the slasher movie trope of the ‘Final Girl’ (the female lead that survives the ordeal and defeats the killer). But even viewers that enjoy the cheap thrills of mad killers and girls in peril understand that these films are, first and foremost, placating the male gaze. Very few horror movies are truly told from a woman’s point of view with her experiences in mind.


Feminist Horror Double Feature

Ginger Snaps


‘So, you got bit by a great big hormone?’

Two years before May, director John Fawcett and co-writer Karen Walton made a splash with a Canadian-helmed werewolf movie called Ginger Snaps. It set the stage as one of the key feminist horror movies of the previous decade (it was popular enough to spawn a sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, and a prequel, Ginger Snaps Back). Fawcett and Walton adapted traditional werewolf myths to fit themes of sexual maturity. In the film, two outsider sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), are torn apart when Ginger is bitten by a werewolf – an event that coincides almost directly with her first (and long-belated) period. As her sister slowly turns from a blossoming socialite into a bloodthirsty monster, Brigitte desperately searches for a cure.

The lycanthropy-equals-sexual-maturity analogy is layered thick, but that’s sort of the point – Fawcett and Walton aren’t really concerned with subtlety. Early scenes portraying Ginger’s first period are positively dripping in bloody imagery, including a revolting medical description of the menstruation process. In this regard, Ginger Snaps has earned comparisons to fellow Canadian David Cronenberg’s venereal body horror opuses (Ginger does pass the ‘curse’ on to one victim like an STD). Fawcett and Walton anchor so much of the film in the experience of the female characters that, aside from Sam (Kris Lemche), a local drug dealer that acts as Brigitte’s confidant (not love interest) and botany expert, men and boys are barely invited to participate in the narrative – a point driven home when Brigitte and Ginger’s mom tells their dad to ‘stay in his own world,’ because this one ‘just confuses him.’

Ginger Snaps has garnered some criticism in feminist circles, mostly because they see Ginger is something of a Madonna or whore binary system before and after her lycanthropic changes. Her use of sex against her (mostly) male victims in a way that is comparable to a number of rape/revenge movies that have garnered extra controversy within feminist circles. While I agree that the sexual nature of Ginger’s attacks is rooted in a similar type of ‘audience surrogate’ vengeance (the matter of sex being proudly wielded as a weapon has been a point of contention throughout the feminist community for some time), but this criticism misses some of the film’s core themes, mainly that Ginger is fitting the role for her own pleasure -– not exacting personal vendettas against the film's dopey male cast. It also kind of discounts Brigitte’s role as the film’s lead protagonist and her goal to ‘save’ her sister from her impulse to murder, rather than her impulse to have sex. Some might say that beneath that lies a metaphor about sex and murder being equal sins, to which I say that the deeper metaphor relates to Brigitte’s revolt against conventional teenage gender roles (the ‘rape’ scene seems to express how unimportant sex actually is). To Ginger, the monster inside represents freedom of will and, to Brigitte, it represents the oppression of normality.

Apart from any feminist reading, Ginger Snaps is easily the best werewolf film since American Werewolf in London and The Howling in 1981. It’s not exactly a monumental achievement, considering that Neil Jordan’s Dog Soldiers (2002, also coming from Scream Factory on Blu-ray) is the only other great werewolf movie of the last three decades, but notable nonetheless (it might be top ten material overall). A first-time feature director at the time, Fawcett achieves a lot of atmosphere on a limited budget and only makes minor mistakes in terms of overall refinement. The film could’ve used another editing pass (the climax is a bit flat), but the theatrical tone and roaming cameras are perfect for the heavy-handed material. The violence is brutal while leaving just enough of the gore to our imagination to score an R-rating with the MPAA. The monster, an albino critter that bares an actual resemblance to actress Katharine Isabelle, is created via charming and convincing physical effects. The most vital elements, aside from the unique script, are the strong performances. Isabelle and Emily Perkins standout in particular and have since grown into mainstays of genre film and television (most recently, Isabelle appeared on NBC’s Hannibal and more than held her own against some of the greatest actors on television).

Ginger Snaps has had a rough time on digital home media. It was initially released in its native Canada in a lavish collector’s edition from TVA International. That version included a number of extras, a 5.1 soundtrack, and an anamorphic transfer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to get stateside, where Artisan Entertainment barfed out a barebones disc that was cropped to 1.33:1. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray marks the first 1080p home video release of the film and, if we’re counting the DVD included with the collection, also the first anamorphic version available in the US (cropped at the appropriate theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1). This is, overall, a nice upgrade over even the Canadian DVD in terms of vibrancy, detail, and element separation. The darker scenes, which were pretty muddy on DVD, are clearer and feature much more vibrant versions of cinematographer Thom Best’s stylized colour schemes. However, there are a number of unexpected issues. The original material appears to be in bad shape for a relatively young movie. The scan is busy with machine noise and natural grain, both of which are understandable, along with some less expected water damage of some kind and some odd flecks of black and white print damage. More problematic are excessive sharpening effects and high contrast. Clearly, Ginger Snaps is meant to be a dark movie and there was a lot of room for crisper detail, but the haloes and crushed blacks are not the answer. I’m disappointed, but not enough to recommend against a purchase for fans.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a very good, uncompressed representation of a slightly awkward remix. There aren’t many differences between it and the included 2.0 track (also DTS-HD MA) – the dialogue isn’t exclusively centered (at least not constantly) and the rear channels aren’t nearly as lively as the stereo channels – but the discrete LFE is a punchy improvement. The creature attack scenes are the major highlights, including plenty of directional enhancement, bass-rumbling werewolf growls, and exaggerated splatter sounds. Mike Shields’ music is terminally hip in its late-‘90s blend of gothic pop and traditional symphonic melodies, but fits the material beautifully, especially his almost mawkishly mournful opening title theme. The score is the track’s liveliest element, though the clarity of this track gives away the synthesized qualities of some of the instrumentations.

The extras (most of which have been taken from the TVA DVD release) include:
  • Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth, and Fur (1:06:30, HD) – a fantastic new retrospective documentary that includes interviews with Fawcett, Walton, cast members Emily Perkins and Jesse Moss, producer Steve Hoban, make-up effects artist Paul Jones, composer Mike Shields, and editor Brett Sullivan. It covers concepts, themes, writing, pre-production, casting, special effects, altering footage (limiting curse words and cutting scenes they couldn’t afford to film), music, and release.
  • Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films (27:10, HD) – an interesting (if not a bit low-energy) panel discussion with journalists/filmmakers/fans Kristy Jett, Axelle Carolyn, Heidi Honeycutt, and Rebekah McKendry comparing various horror films that revolve around puberty (though not exclusively feminine).
  • Commentary with Fawcett
  • Commentary with Walton
  • Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Fawcett or Walton (not on the same track, 25:10, SD)
  • The Making of Ginger Snaps vintage featurette (4:50, SD)
  • Creation of the Beast vintage featurette (5:00, SD)
  • Being John Fawcett vintage featurette (2:00, SD)
  • Cast auditions and rehearsals (17:50, SD)
  • Theatrical trailers
  • TV spots
  • Production design and artwork photo gallery


 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature


Feminist Horror Double Feature

All Cheerleaders Die


Lucky McKee exploded onto the horror scene in 2002 with his intimate, funny, disturbing, and ultimately moving variation on Frankenstein, May. Though technically not his first feature-length effort (more on that in a moment), May was the first of the writer/director’s movies to be shot on film with a proper budget and a proper cast. He followed up May with one of the better episodes of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, Sick Girl, and a pseudo-ode to Argento’s Suspiria, The Woods (both 2006). Neither garnered a May-level reaction and McKee sort of disappeared, briefly surfacing to co-direct a little-seen Jack Ketchum adaptation, Red (2008). He then reappeared with a vengeance in 2011 when he made another Ketchum adaptation – the brutally violent and incredibly controversial The Woman. Seemingly reinvigorated by the attention, McKee returned to the relative mainstream with a remake of his own shot-on-video post-college project – All Cheerleaders Die.

Six of McKee’s seven feature-length movies are female-centric horror, positioning him as the leading authority on the subject – at least among male film directors. And, more to the point, McKee’s movies don’t simply feature women in lead roles – they embrace a woman’s point-of-view in their narrative structures. May, Sick Girl, and The Woods are almost exclusively locked into a feminine perspective. The male characters are usually present to serve the female-driven narrative. The Woman even goes beyond POV to darkly satire the more prevalent male vision of feminine horror (rape/revenge, in particular). I am less familiar with McKee’s co-director/co-writer, Chris Sivertson, to the point that I may be underestimating his contributions to All Cheerleaders Die, but recognize a lot of overlap between the filmmakers. Siverston co-directed a behind-the-scenes documentary about Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders, which starred McKee’s muse, Angela Bettis, and made another popular Ketchum adaptation, The Lost. He is, unfortunately, more well-known for directing I Know Who Killed Me, an ill-fated Lindsay Lohan vehicle that was inspired by Brian de Palma movies. He and McKee had co-directed/co-wrote the original All Cheerleaders Die together in 2001, so their re-pairing here makes sense.

All Cheerleaders Die is sort of a two-fold revenge story is problematic in that it renders much of the first act moot. McKee and Siverston spend a lot of time setting up Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) as their protagonist. She plans on wreaking emotional vengeance on the people that she blames for her friend’s death, but all of that goes out the window when the cheerleaders she’s infiltrating die as the result of a car chase with brutish football players. The girls are then brought back to life, kind of by accident, via a Pagan ritual, and take to taking down the boys that ‘killed’ them. It’s unbalanced and messy, but also pretty entertaining, because the change-up is the first in a series of unexpected twists and turns. Otherwise, a simple satirization of high school clique culture via horror clichés wouldn’t have been very fresh (the tropes were already being adjusted for gross-out comedies, like American Pie, Shakespearian adaptations, like Ten Things I Hate About You, and sports movies, like Bring it On. In a strange way, the messy plotting and overused tropes end up canceling each other out for a lot of the runtime, though the third act still feels really rushed. In the final joke, the All Cheerleaders Die title is annotated with a ‘part one’ subtitle, leading one to assume the writer/directors have further twists and turns planned for these characters.

This is about the most female-centric version of this type of high school revenge story imaginable, aside from one that ignores a male perspective entirely. McKee and Siverston include common high school battle-of-the-sexes motifs, like jealous lovers and sex as a weapon, but most of these relate to lesbian relationships. The protagonist doesn’t seduce a rival’s boyfriend to gain advantage – she seduces a male protagonist’s girlfriend to get a rise out of him. These are, of course, straight male versions of lesbian/bisexual relationships, but are reasonably respectful, in so far as the emotions feel about as genuine as any mainstream Hollywood relationship between straight characters. I can’t really go into the film’s more problematic male-on-female violence without spoiling too many plot points, but there are problems with the types of traditional victimization issues that usually induce arguments. I will verify that at no point do the girls require the boys’ assistance in solving their problems – there’s a great joke at the tip of the climax that hammers this point home.

All Cheerleaders Die is a much more bouncy and vivacious film than I’ve come to expect from McKee (it’s especially aggressive compared to The Woman). This energy fits the mould and helps maintain the momentum that covers the weird plotting and pacing issues. Even viewers unfamiliar with McKee and Sivertson’s work can recognize that the hipper-than-hell music video cutting and camera work is dripping with sarcasm. Much like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (a movie that must’ve inspired some of All Cheerleaders Die’s neon imagery), these vibrant sequences are sharply contrasted against the bleaker scenes that burn-out the fun with shades of serious horror and poignant melodrama. All Cheerleaders Die never matches the peak of horror, comedy, and drama blending that makes May one of the best movies of its era (I didn’t even like it as much as the vastly underrated The Woods), but it is very entertaining and much smarter than the fashionably dopey trailers may have led you to believe.

All Cheerleaders Die has been mostly shot using Arri Alexa cameras, along with some kind of smaller-format digital camera inserts for a movie-within-a-movie motif. McKee, Sivertson, and cinematographer Greg Ephraim aim for a particularly contrast-heavy image quality. The daylight images are blazing with white and yellow highlights, the nighttime/darker indoor scenes are thick with deep pools of black, and a handful of more stylized scenes (an early party scene, for example) feature searing neons that are so vivid that they create saturation haloes around higher contrast elements. The darkness grinds off some of the finer detail (it’s really to tell what is happening during the resurrection scene) and creates fuzzy digital noise in the subtler warm hues, but elemental separation remains tight throughout. The bright and shiny imagery is matched by a particularly aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The track springs most loudly to life during the montage moments. Mads Heldtberg’s dread-caked keyboard score is mixed with a whole slew of super-loud pop, hip-hop, techno, dubstep, and heavy metal songs, creating what amounts to basically a series of miniature music videos. The music is represented throughout the front three channels with an effective echo effect flowing back into the rear speakers. Directional effects work is nicely stylized during these bits and the supernatural-heavy battle scenes, but less expressive during dialogue-heavy scenes, where it is mostly centered. Vocal clarity is sharp and the overall track is consistent. The extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette (23:50, HD) and trailers for other Image Entertainment releases.

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

Feminist Horror Double Feature

 Feminist Horror Double Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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