Face-Off: Silver Bullet vs. Ginger Snaps

We're getting deep into the month of October, the time when even people who don't obsess over the horror genre all year round still find it within their hearts to pay tribute to our beloved ghosts, ghouls, and monsters. Monsters like the werewolf, a creature that has had a tougher time getting into good movies than some of its peers, but which still has some bona fide classics to its credit. A couple of the more popular werewolf movies out there are Daniel Attias's 1985 Stephen King adaptation SILVER BULLET and John Fawcett's GINGER SNAPS from 2000. Since both of these werewolf movies center on young characters and build up to a climax set on Halloween, they seemed like perfect Face-Off contenders in general, and for the month of October in particular.
Although 11-year-old Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim) is introduced being complicit in a prank on his 14-year-old sister Jane (Megan Follows), the fact that he feels terrible about it after shows us that this actually a nice, thoughtful kid. The siblings butt heads, but they care deeply for each other. As residents of his home town of Tarker's Mills, Maine start turning up brutally murdered at random, it's Marty who first theorizes that the killer could be a werewolf. Eventually it becomes clear that Marty is going to have to solve this werewolf problem himself, and he doesn't let the fact that he's confined to a wheelchair hold him back from being a hero.
Outsiders in the suburban hell of Bailey Downs, teenage Fitzgerald sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) have only each other to cling to, and they have promised they will be together forever. Their bond is tested when Ginger is bitten by a werewolf and starts to take on a more wild personality. Ginger is Brigitte's world, and she tries desperately to save her sister with the help of one of a very unlikely hero - a young landscaper named Sam (Kris Lemche) who deals drugs to high schoolers. He could be a bad influence, but he keeps things respectable with Brigitte and puts a surprising amount of effort into solving the werewolf issue.
There are a lot of adult characters in SILVER BULLET - Terry O'Quinn as the town sheriff, Everett McGill as an intense preacher, locals who panic over the situation. Marty and Jane's father is rather ineffectual and their mom is so protective of Marty that she doesn't notice the inner strength he actually has. The most important adult in Marty's life is really his Uncle Red (Gary Busey), who lets him be a kid and have fun. Maybe too much fun, giving the kid a custom made motorized wheelchair called Silver Bullet that can reach motorcycle speeds.
The adults around the Fitzgerald sisters aren't the most reliable bunch. Their father has little to no impact on their lives, they deal with awkward teachers and overly exuberant nurses, and Ginger doesn't like how that school janitor acts around Brigitte. Their mom very badly wants to connect with them, to the point that she's willing to just skip town with them when she suspects they may have committed a murder. With authority figures like this, it's no surprise that Brigitte and Sam are left to handle Ginger on their own.
The werewolf attacks like a badass beast and racks up quite a bodycount, but it suffers from the same issue that has plagued many werewolf movies: it looks rather goofy. Designed by Carlo Rambaldi, the werewolf works best when it's presented through quick glimpses of clawed hands and gnashing teeth. When the camera pulls back to show its head and torso, it looks like a man in a modified bear costume.
Large creatures that awkwardly move on all fours and are oddly designed to have much less hair than you would usually expect to see on such a beast, the werewolves in this film are also a bit of a letdown and not entirely convincing. Still, they work well in the attack scenes and are allowed some good screen time. The FX artists and Perkins even manage to milk some emotion from the moments with these rubbery wolves.
The kills in this film are great, starting with the one we get right at the start - a man's head knocked off with one swipe of the werewolf's hand. As the attacks continue, we get the werewolf smashing through a window to tear a suicidal woman to pieces, a man getting pulled through a floor and impaled on a busted plank of wood, a hunting party being massacred, a baseball bat beating... The violence comes at an admirably steady pace.
The Beast of Bailey Downs that attacks Ginger stuck mostly to canine prey, seemingly only drawn to this teen girl because she was on her period. Ginger gets a bit more out of hand. While the kills in SILVER BULLET are carnage candy, the ones in GINGER SNAPS are brutal and painful - you don't want to see Ginger do these things, you want Brigitte to be able to stop her, to make her come to her senses, to cure her. But people keep losing their lives in horrible ways.
Although there are scenes set throughout the month of October, there is little to no indication that the latter half of SILVER BULLET is taking place during Halloween season. I guess the fact that their neighbors keep turning up mutilated has caused the residents of Tarker's Mills to lose their Halloween spirit. Now that's tragic. Some decorations do show up by the 31st - a jack-o-lantern, a paper skeleton in a window. That's about it. Lamest Halloween ever. At least a werewolf comes busting in the house at midnight in attempt to liven things up.
The last 40 minutes of this film are set on Halloween, and Bailey Downs does the holiday right. Houses, the high school, and local businesses are decorated with jack-o-lanterns, streamers, skeletons, colorful lights, and balloons. Trick or treaters are out in the neighborhood, and older kids dress up as well. A large party is held at a greenhouse, with costumed partiers enjoying multiple kegs of beer as the transforming Ginger moves among them without arousing suspicion. Halloween is just a passing reference in SILVER BULLET, but in GINGER SNAPS it's celebrated.
I expected the outcome of this Face-Off to be what it is, but I was surprised by what a hard-fought battle it took to reach this outcome. GINGER SNAPS is my favorite werewolf movie, whereas I had never been a fan of SILVER BULLET before. It wasn't until my viewing of SILVER BULLET for this article that I truly began to appreciate it as a solid creature feature. While I prefer the characters, style, and setting of GINGER SNAPS, the BULLET ain't bad.

Do you agree that GINGER SNAPS deserved the win, or do you prefer SILVER BULLET? What is your favorite werewolf movie? Let us know by leaving a comment below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off pairings, send me an e-mail at [email protected].



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