Women as werewolves: reviewing Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream

Daddy to the rescue, musn't let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Daddy to the rescue, musn’t let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Horror creatures began as men. Varney the Vampyre and Dracula, Universal’s werewolf, even the original mummy monster, they were all guys. “Ah,” but I hear you say, “what about J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla?” Thank you for making my point. By all rights, Carmilla should be as well-known as Dracula, which it predates by over two decades. And if vampires are about sex and rape, then the bisexual Carmilla should have blown Victorian minds altogether. Maybe it did, and that’s the problem: a sexually empowered female rapist was just not an acceptable possibility in Anglo-American culture in those days. And not very acceptable now, either.

Werewolves can be about sex, too. Remember how in An American Werewolf in London (1981), werewolf David Kessler is symbolically killed by his English lover? And how in the movie Kessler specifically ties the idea back to Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941)?

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

So what happens when we get female werewolves? Well, horror films are typically not noted for subtlety, so we get blood. Not just other people’s blood, but menstrual blood. And sex. Yep, becoming a werewolf becomes a female form of puberty. Somehow with a guy, this can be played for humor, as in the original Teen Wolf (1985). With girls? Oh, the horror! Sexually empowered women are dangerous beasties, as the two films, Ginger Snaps (2000) and When Animals Dream (2014; Danish with English subtitles) demonstrate. Ginger and Marie both have unprotected sex and start killing people. And people thought Twilight was about abstinence!

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger's shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger’s shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

What’s interesting about these two films is that they are effective because they place their werewolves in social contexts that make us concerned about their fate. Dracula preys on women, so we hope he gets staked; we have no personal interest in him. Ginger, on the other hand, has a loyal younger sister named Bridget who goes all-out in trying to save Ginger. While Marie has a troubled family and hostile community that makes her social isolation heartbreaking.

Otherwise, the films couldn’t be more different. Ginger Snaps is a Hollywood film about werewolves. The lead is pretty, her transformations are extensively portrayed, and the menstruation, sex, and gore are all as obvious as can be. Ginger’s every outcast girl who turns into a slut, and we know how troublesome those are. But, ironically, she’s humanized by the sister she’s dominated in past. Bridget, unlike her sister, is still an outcast, but she cares about her sister. Ginger may now be a slut, but she’s also a werewolf and a killer, which means she’s still an outcast, and Bridget wants to reclaim her.

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

Marie, on the other hand, is always an outcast, even before she begins her transformation. She’s not especially pretty, either. We see less of her transformation, and a good deal less blood and gore all around. What makes Marie human, and enlists our sympathies, is that she tries to connect to others. She may be bad at it, and the isolated Danish village she lives in demonstrates how distant Scandinavians can be, but she does try. We cheer for Ginger’s possible redemption because Bridget enlists our sympathies, but we hope against hope for Marie’s salvation because she herself enlists our sympathies.

On the other hand, I'm growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of glass

On the other hand, I’m growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of broken glass

Ginger Snaps is considered something of a cult film these days. Don’t let that label discourage you. If you don’t mind the gore, it’s a touching, scary, and occasionally funny film about growing up and sisterhood . . . and lycanthropy. I doubt When Animals Dream will even reach cult film status in the U.S.; it’s more understated and atmospheric than American films, and is often unfavorably compared to the vampire film Let the Right One In (2008). I would rank it below Ginger Snaps. And yet it has its charms. Here’s a thought that might help you decide whether you want to watch it. Did you see both Let the Right One In and its Hollywood remake, Let Me In (2010)? Or, not quite as appropriate, but still a help: how about the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its Hollywood remake (2011)? If you did, and you liked the Swedish originals in ways the American remakes didn’t capture, then the Danish When Animals Dream may be for you.

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About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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10 Responses to Women as werewolves: reviewing Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream

  1. crimsonprose says:

    Though, as you know, horrors aren’t my taste in movies, that’s not always true of the books (though the books of late have become excessively explicitly erotic—written by women, you see.) And it looks like the movies are moving that way. But the books, like these movies you’ve reviewed, are now treating the werewolf, vampire,. whatever, as a creature deserving of our compassion. A sign of the times?
    And I must ask if this horror-binge was by way of paying court to your muse for inspiration for a new series. 🙂

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Probably also the tropes of the monster as monster are getting shopworn, though the monster as sympathetic character goes back at least as far as “Frankenstein.”

      I have not done much with sympathetic villains/monsters, so maybe this was a way of thinking about it. I don’t know yet. 😉

  2. How was I not following your site? I could have sworn I was! Gaahh.

    Anyways, this is a very good point about women in horror, and the whole werewolf = puberty thing especially.

    I’ve never even heard of the first female vampire you mentioned (not surprising), but now I have the urge to look into her!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Most likely, I’ve just sent you so many links to my blog that you thought you were following it! So, welcome aboard, Lilyn.
      “Carmilla” is definitely a classic, and worth the read. You can find it online or in many vampire anthologies, as it’s more the novella length.
      I usually have an ongoing serial story on this blog, with weekly chapters, but personal matters have forced me to suspend doing so for a few months.

      • I do have the link for your one story that I still intend to get to, and I know you recently linked something for me, but looking through my comments I can’t find it 😦

        • Brian Bixby says:

          I know I gave you the link for “Nightfeather: Ghosts,” as a coming-of-age story for a young woman with strange powers that does NOT involve kissing. You can find a link for that under the banner at the top of the page. And I see you’ve come across “Dead Cellphone,” my 2013 Halloween story, and I’ll get to that comment presently.

          By the way, I’m still unable to “like” any of your posts, though I can comment on them. I’d been meaning to update you, but I’m still playing catch-up on blogs and am currently somewhere around June 1. No idea why this is happening at my end, since so far yours is the only blog so affected.

  3. Hi, how are you? Are you already writing? Miss seeing Sillyverse around the blogosphere.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Henrietta. I’ve been tied up with family problems for some months now, which is both why I’ve not been able to post to my blogs and why I am often several days late in reading other people’s blogs, yours included.

      I do expect to return to regular postings, but exactly when is up in the air. It could be as early as late July, or as late as October. Needless to say, I’m finding this very frustrating, since the urge to write doesn’t go away just because you can’t find time for it!!

      But thanks again for taking notice and asking. It’s appreciated.

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