Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: ‘Ginger Snaps’, ‘Thirst’, and ‘Dead Set’

Halloween is over! Damn. Well, it doesn’t mean my viewing of horror films will stop. Here’s some of what I watched during the week leading up to Halloween. After this, I got two more films I still need to write reviews for.

Ginger Snaps

Just so you know… the words “just” and “cramps”… they don’t go together!

As far as I can tell, Ginger Snaps is the only, or at least the first, film to use lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty, specifically as experienced by girls. Luckily the metaphor is not used in such a way as to accuse women of being irrational beasts during their menstrual cycle. Instead it tastefully (ha-ha, werewolves, get it? ha-ha) represents the difficulty of the physical and emotional changes that come at that age.

Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are already fed up with their teenage lives in the town of Bailey Downs. So much so that they have a death pact. “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever,” they tell each other.

That possibility becomes all too real on the night they’re attacked by a werewolf, the same night that Ginger starts her period. Brigitte is left unscathed but Ginger is bitten. During the next month she goes through some physical and personality changes that begin alienating her from her sister.

I get this ache… And I, I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.

The obviousness of the metaphor doesn’t hinder the great screenplay. It’s witty and insightful and I rarely felt like I always knew where it was going. The two leads are fantastic. Emily Perkins especially does a great job of looking like she can’t believe what’s happening but trying to maintain her sanity enough to help her sister through her ordeal. Mimi Rogers also stars as the girls’ mother, who is clueless in the beginning but attempts to come to her daughters’ rescue at just the right moment. She has some of the movie’s funniest and most touching moments.

Oh, yeah, there is a horror aspect to this flick as well. The makeup of the gradual part of Ginger’s transformation is pretty convincing. There’s plenty of gore without being overly disturbing, which would not have fit the tone of the film. The creature effects are… well, they’re not great and the main transformation scene is brief. But the budget was pretty low for this kind of film. The werewolf itself is just ‘rubber monster’ enough to take you out of the film for a couple of brief moments. Still, it’s just cheesy enough to be satisfying.

You wrecked everything for me that isn’t about you.

The final ten minute sequence is a near masterpiece of suspense mixed with brutality. Almost all of the dark humor that has gone before fades into the background as the sisters’ relationship is stretched to its breaking point. There is a scene where Brigitte is trapped in a closet while Ginger, in full werewolf form, savagely crushes, again and again, a victim against the door. Most of it takes place within the closet, which only makes it all the more horrifying.

Horror fans, check this out. Ginger Snaps has a large cult following for good reason.

Thirst

Did you know that you can become a vampire through a blood transfusion? Apparently that’s one of the ways it works in Park Chan-wook’s horror-drama Thirst. That’s nowhere near as ridiculous as the notion that a blood transfusion can cure vampirism, as in the vastly overrated Near Dark, but that’s for another blog post.

I don’t mean to come off as snarky towards Thirst because I really enjoyed it. It is a long, beautiful, hypnotic film, the kind of thing I’ve been appreciating more lately. Korea has released some fantastic, stylish horror films that avoid the fast cutting, super closeups, and jerky camera work all too common in Hollywood horror films. It’s a relief to see something that pays such close, serious attention to its characters.

Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho, who also starred in the fantastic Korean monster movie, The Host) is a Catholic priest who is desperately anguished over the pain and suffering he witnesses in the world. He volunteers to participate in an experiment intended to create a vaccine for something called the Emmanuel Virus. Unfortunately the vaccine is a complete failure and all of the test subjects die… with the exception of Sang-hyun, who recovers after a blood transfusion. Soon he realizes that he’s become a vampire!

The problem is that he must feed on human blood lest he succumb to the virus, the symptoms of which includes severe blistering and bleeding from the mouth and nose. This alone would make for a typical vampire film that might be halfway decent but the story takes a different direction when Sang-hyun meets with the family of a childhood friend. Soon after he discovers his vampirisim, he begins an affair with the dissatisfied wife (the beautiful Kim Ok-bin) of his ill friend.

That’s about all I’ll reveal of the plot. It may take some predictable turns here and there but it’s always engaging. The tone ranges from intense and intimate to grandiose and operatic. The cinematography and moderate pacing entranced me.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I didn’t find it transcendent. But that’s a very slight criticism. Also, the film is directed by Park Chan-wook who directed the fantastic Oldboy, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, films that I thought were masterpieces while Thirst is merely great. I can’t put my finger on what exactly would have elevated it. Perhaps the middle portion could have used some tightening in the editing room? I’m not sure. Still, I’m realizing that I need to watch more Korean horror films.

Dead Set

Dead Set had promise. It has an interesting premise: cast and crew of the UK reality tv-show Big Brother are trapped on the set in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Who wouldn’t relish seeing such people tormented by the undead? This British horror mini-series was nominated for a BAFTA award, so it must be good, right?

Well, don’t bother with Dead Set, folks. That is unless you enjoy not seeing zombie attacks in your zombie flicks, in which case you’ll love this! Do you think the best way to film such sequences is to give the camera to someone who’s suffering from a seizure? This is the show for you.

It’s not that this show doesn’t have anything going for it. It’s good to see a couple of strong female leads, for one. The acting is fine. The effects and make up, when you can catch glimpses of them, seem pretty well done. But glimpses is all you’ll get, so who cares?

It’s too frustrating to watch. I’ve only gone as far as the first two episodes; I’m not sure I’ll go much further. I’ll reserve my television horror for the much more promising The Walking Dead. Happy Halloween!

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