So far, most of these movies have followed the Wolf Man tradition and dealt with male werewolves. Today I'm going to look at a pair of radically different films that place women in the the fore. The werewolf mythos has made much of the theme of male aggression in the past, but these both recontextualize the tales in uniquely feminine perspectives.
In The Company of Wolves - 1984
Written by Neil Jordan & Angela Carter
Directed by Neil Jordan
I have to apologize right off the bat for the inadequacy of my ability to discuss In The Company of Wolves in as thoughtful a manner as it deserves. I'm going to need to see it at least once more before I really get a grasp on just what the hell is going on here. The film plays on more than one level and is dense with symbolism. I can't imagine that that's all meant to be clear before one can approach it with the perspective of having seen the complete story arc, given the revelations involved.
This is also the second of at least nine times that Jordan has used Stephen Rea, who has done at least three werewolf movies in his career. I don't really have a point here. I just find it interesting in a trivial way.
Within the dream, Rosaleen's sister has been devoured by wolves; an inherent risk for "straying off the path." Following this event, her grandmother shares with her various tales of the dangers of wolves (often while knitting for her the red shawl that she will come to wear proudly in a world of muted tones). Over the arc of the narrative, Rosaleen goes from meek child to budding young woman, and the appeal of straying off the path grows, and the lure of wolves becomes more seductive. Obvious parallels to sexuality are only the beginning. There's almost certainly something about independence and identity in there too.
As for the werewolves, Jordan approaches them from both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, we have a lot of just plain wolves running around in places, although the wolves are being played by Belgian Shepherds here. On the other hand, we have some pretty disturbing and explicit werewolf transformations, particularly the one involving Stephen's Rea's character. The effects aren't quite as high-end as American Werewolf's or even The Howling's, although I found it to be better thought out and even more unnerving than the latter.
It's never really a distinctly scary movie, but Jordan creates such a compellingly surreal atmosphere that conveys an appropriate sensation of dreaming. There are different kind of dreams, and some of them convey a growing sense of undefined danger and dread as they go through their paces, visiting both seductive and unnerving imagery as they lure us in. That's the kind of dream that Jordan and Carter craft for us here. While the overarching narrative isn't necessarily the most compelling story when taken at face value, In the Company of Wolves is a completely unique werewolf movie with more than its share of moments and ideas all wrapped in gorgeousness, which more than earns the repeated viewings it's going to take to really digest it.
Ginger Snaps - 2000
Written by Karen Walton & John Fawcett
Directed by John Fawcett
The makers of Ginger Snaps have some female oriented observations about the werewolf mythos as well, although they approach them much differently. Key to its development is the observation that both adolescent girl and werewolves are subject to a bloody "monthly curse."
Ginger and Brigette Fitzgerald are morbid pair of Canadian sisters. At 16 and 15 (respectively) neither one of them have yet gotten their monthly friend, a fact which is of considerable concern to their busybody mother who listens more to parenting manuals than she does to her daughters. Between their over-engaged mother and their disengaged father, they have made a pact with each other than they will either get the hell out of Nowheresville, Ontario ASAP, or come to a drastic end trying. In a school filled with hollow mundanity, their escape and identity is rooted in their outsider status. Ginger is the smart-mouthed and aggressive one who balks at attention from boys. Brigette is the silently plotting brains of the team who not-so-secretly covet Ginger's strength. Their roles and relationships to their family, school, classmates and each other are summed up neatly with a class photo project in which they depict themselves in a variety of possible suicide scenarios.
Suddenly Ginger becomes dramatically hormonal, sprouting hair where she never had it before (never mind that it's coarse and grey, growing from the bite marks on her shoulder) and the attention of boys is more than welcome. Brigette, meanwhile, is desperate to both save her sister from the condition about which she has growing suspicions, and to keep Ginger from leaving her behind.
Getting right to the point; Ginger Snaps is my favorite werewolf movie, period (no pun intended). Ginger and Brigette are strongly developed characters that would be enjoyable to watch no matter what the story vehicle. I would watch them in any variation on the high school movie, whether or not there was a monster involved. This is due not merely to the writing, but to the powerful performances from the film's two lead actresses; Katharine Isabelle (Ginger) and Emily Perkins (Brigette).
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Mimi Rogers as the girls' mother. Several of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious moments come from her highly satirized portrayal of suburban parenting. When the girls end up with too much blood on their hands (literally), Mom steps up with a plan to rescue them. She's just a mom that cares, you guys!
My only other complaint is a selfish one. The funny parts are so funny and the sisters so personally appealing that I wanted more. The blessing there is that Ginger Snaps attained enough cultish success to inspire a duet of sequels. For more about those, come back tomorrow!