‘It’s what’s inside that counts’
Teeth is a 2007 American comedic horror film written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, about a teenage girl who has teeth in her vagina.
Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a teenage spokesperson for a Christian abstinence group called The Promise. She attends groups with her two friends, Alisha (Julia Garro) and Phil (Adam Wagner).
One evening after giving a speech about the purity ring worn by members of the group, she is introduced to Tobey (Hale Appleman) and finds him attractive. The four begin going out as a group.
Dawn has fantasies about marrying Tobey, although after acknowledging the attraction they agree that they cannot spend time together. Soon after they give in and meet at a local swimming hole.
After swimming together, they go into a cave to get warm and begin kissing. Dawn gets uncomfortable and tries to get them to go back. Tobey then attempts to force sex on Dawn, who panics and tries to push him off. Tobey becomes aggressive and shakes Dawn, resulting in her smacking her head on the ground.
While she is recovering from disorientation, Tobey takes this as his chance to begin carnally assaulting her. Dawn fights back and inadvertently bites off his penis with her vagina. Horrified, he stumbles away and she flees the scene…
Teeth is, in concept, a real attention-getter of a straight-faced horror-comedy/feminist-empowerment revenge fantasy (whew, deep breath). It riffs on vagina dentata the old wives’ tale/archetype male nightmare about vicious, castrating retractable fangs hiding inside select female genitalia. This iffy premise was written and directed by the son of modern artist Roy Lichtenstein. Son of Lichtenstein, yes. Guess you could say his life’s thorny way was cursed from the start.
And there is kind of a resemblance, in the slow pacing and build-up, to those genteel Universal Horrors of yesteryear – think The Wolf Man especially – where more time was spent on the thought of turning into the monster than actually showing anything. While Teeth does serve up a few sickening severings, splatter fans expecting a full-on David Cronenberg-Rick Baker carnival of gross-out gyno-mutations and animatronics should take their business elsewhere. Perhaps go for Troma’s Killer Condom, or the Japanese Killer Pussy (which some on the internet claim Teeth remakes; I cannot render a verdict).
In Lichtenstein’s creation, Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a virtuous blonde teen in a suburb dominated tellingly by nuke-plant towers and salacious billboards. At school she’s a star motivational speaker in the local faith-based pro-virginity movement, preaching to other kids about purity and temptation. At home, she has to tolerate her foul stepbrother’s loud humping with girlfriends and overt semi-incestuous lust for her (that makes the conclusion of the narrative very foregone indeed).
When Dawn meets an apparent dream guy, who claims to believe just as much in waiting for marriage as she does, Dawn is troubled by feelings her female equipment is somehow… different. Since the same Christians who are censoring teaching of evolution in the classroom have also been covering up sex-ed texts with stickers, it takes the heroine a long while to investigate whether it’s all in her head or in her genes/jeans, that she’s an “adaptive mutation.” A combo of radiation and response to the mixed messages, and a culture that bombards kids with messages about caution and chastity, yet glorifies tarted-up women in media images.
Yes, it takes its time, and where the script is going is generally predictable. Still, Freudians will have a field day with the elemental dreads that Lichtenstein probes, usually with more taste than anyone would have any right to expect in the Eli Roth era of cinema. It’s nice how the filmmaker rediscovers the old Late Show creature feature The Black Scorpion (1957) for some visual shorthand about the heroine’s worst imaginings about herself. Nice also how the title Snatch was already taken.
Charles Cassady Jr, MOVIES and MANIA
” …this is an impressive feature film debut from Mitchell Lichtenstein and it’s nice to see a return to “body horror”. The movie certainly isn’t for everyone, and gorehounds will be disappointed. But, for those looking for something which lies between the arthouse and the grindhouse, then Teeth is something to chew on.” DVD Sleuth
“By playing it straight, all the gags hit the mark, although there is a law of diminishing returns as the ‘eeuw’ factor rises and the satire recedes in the latter stages of the movie. Nevertheless this is a fresh and welcome breath of air through the genre which is sure to play well at Frightfests everywhere and could well become a longer term cult favourite.” 4 out of 5, Eye for Film
“Importantly, it is all played absolutely straight, and Weixler resists any temptation to camp it up. Hidden socio-sexual meanings are there in plenty, but as Sigmund Freud might have said: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a hideously severed penis is just a hideously severed penis. Good clean fun.” The Guardian
” …its joke becomes repetitive. Before the movie’s over, the screen is littered with severed pieces of the male anatomy, one of which is snapped up by a dog. Ho-hum. The problem with shockers, comic or otherwise, is that once the coup de grâce is delivered, there are no big surprises left.” The New York Times
“Kudos to Lichtenstein for the sheer audacity of his premise; it’s just a shame that he never seems to have figured out exactly what he wants to do with it: The film’s mix of cheap gags, macabre coming-of-age story, social satire and Cronenbergian body horror is apparently meant to gel into black comedy, but it never quite does.” TV Guide
“Yanking the ancient myth of vagina dentata up to the present day in a treatment combining outright gore, social satire and freakish comedy, Teeth bites off more than it can chew. A game, disarming lead performance from Jess Weixler, who won a jury acting prize at Sundance, goes some way toward making palatable this mish-mash.” Variety
“What I dug about this movie is that it didn’t go for any cheap exploitation shocks. Nor did it try to be a cheesy After School Special […] Director Mitchell Lichtenstein actually depicted high school life with a keen eye and did as good of a job portraying teens in this movie as Jason Reitman did in Juno.” The Video Vacuum
Teeth premiered on January 19, 2007, at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in the independent drama category. It was released on DVD in the United States on May 6, 2007, by Dimension Extreme.
Hamilton Pools, Austin, Texas (where Dawn and Tobey go swimming)
1 hour 34 minutes
Audio: Dolby SRS | DDS Dolby Digital
Aspect ratio: 1.78: 1
The Black Scorpion (1957)
Dawn watches it on TV
The Gorgon (1964)
Brad watches it on TV