Turn and Face the Strange

It’s October! Halloween lurks. The Season of the witch is upon us! Is there a better time to discuss two films that use the metaphor of lycanthropy to explore the minefield of sexuality on whose edge childhood leaves all young women?  Would it be more appropriate to go with “primal, wilderness” over “minefield” for this introduction? I would imagine that would be a “Maybe” to both.

This week, I give you, “In the Company of Wolves” VS “Ginger Snaps”. Just writing the titles makes me want to skip the rest of the day and hide in the attic watching movies. But, no, today is a writing day. No movies for me.

Movies for you though!

Werewolves are inherently complex, as monsters go. Even your most basic werewolf story is about internal struggle made external; good vs evil, primal vs civilized, cake vs a nice salad.  Werewolves are a great tool for exploring the strange complexities the chaos of teen life forces on once reasonable children. I think this is especially true when a good solid writer uses them to explore what women face, which is arguably a little rougher road than the typical XYer.

Now, this is a light-hearted blog, and I like to keep it brief. A discussion of what young women face in their early teens is neither of those things. Buuuut…part of the benefit of doing movies about teenage girls and lycanthropy (written by women I must add) is they might foster some thinking about the lives of teenage girls in those who, maybe, haven’t done much thinking in that direction.

“In the Company of Wolves” is Red Riding Hood. They don’t hide it. There’s a red cape, a wolf, and a grandma for a late lunch. It’s also framed as a dream, so it can embrace the surreal in a, for me, pleasant, early eighties fashion. Red is prey of course. The Wolf is a metaphor for men who prey on young, solitary women. That’s what the fairy tale was all about. You know that. Everyone knows that.

Angela Carter wrote the short story the film was based on, as well as the screen play. She takes the old story into deeper, murkier waters.  Wolves prowl the forest on the way to Grandma’s house, but there are two kinds, There are the wolves that are hairy on the outside. Those are the easy ones.

But then, Grandma warns, there are the wolves that are hairy on the inside.

That’s stuck with me for years.

The problem is, one might be intrigued by a wolf like that. What’s it like to be hunted, yet attracted to one’s hunter?

Again, the movie is a surreal, fairy tale of a dream. It can handle the contradictions of human nature a little more smoothly that way. You’d think the whole thing would lose the investment of the audience by alerting them to the fact that they’re just watching a young girl take a nap for an hour and a half, but it turns out they make the dream matter.

Which brings us to “Ginger Snaps”. I love a good Canadian movie. Small budget, lots of talent.

Again, we’re looking at complex material here and this one is a touch more literal in its approach. It sounds a bit on the nose in a plot summary, but, even if it is, it does what it does so well, you will not care. I promise. And if you do care, there’s something wrong with you. So, it’s not my fault. Promise kept.

Ginger snaps begins with two sisters, Ginger and Bridget, navigating the no man’s land between teen life and child life, in the same suburban town all kids in horror movies grow up in. They are who you’d expect them to be; unpopular in the way most of us felt, and charmingly eccentric in the style we wished we were. Most importantly, the pair are best friends.


Ginger gets her period.

Well, she also gets attacked by a dog, that’s really a werewolf, making her a werewolf, too, on the very same day she got her period. Ginger isn’t just dealing with puberty, she’s dealing with lycanthropuberty.

Of course, with the change comes, um, changes. Ginger’s behavior becomes a little erratic, a little primal and boys start looking yummy.

Okay, sure. Ginger is a werewolf. At that time of my life, I wouldn’t have been one bit surprised that one of my classmates went werewolf. Half the kids were coming back from summer vacation mustachioed or bra clad, a foot taller, with stories of putting their tongues in each other’s mouths, leaving the rest of us to cringe and wonder what the hell happened to kickball and cartoons. Werewolf? Sure, maybe they were werewolves, too. It would have just been an add on to the strange.

Of course, it’s not all tongues. Being a teenager is like being drunk all day, every day. Teens are big bowls of bad judgement, looking for new mistakes. This is a horrifying thing to watch when you’re the best friend who hasn’t yet crossed the threshold into perpetual inebriation themselves.

That’s how Ginger Snaps works. Bridget watches Ginger do all the things teen girls do. She sees her develop an interest in sex, appearance, desire to eat boys and growing a tail. We’ve all either been there, or been on the sidelines. Like any best friend, Bridget struggles to keep Ginger safe from herself.

I won’t ruin the story, but it has two sequels. Good ones. One with a kid version of the girl from Orphan Black. Which I really need to finish watching. Sigh,

Okay, so “In the Company of Wolves” can be found on Amazon Prime. “Ginger Snaps” turns up on streaming a lot, or you can come over to my house and watch it.