DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Lichtenstein
FEATURING: Jess Weixler, John Hensley
PLOT: A teenage girl involved in the abstinence movement discovers that she has an unusual mutation—teeth hidden inside her vagina, which clamp down on intruders.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got an odd little premise, but not enough bite (c’mon, you had to see that one coming.)
COMMENTS: If you’re going to make a film about a girl who discovers she has ravenous teeth inside her vagina—you know, a poonfang flick—you have a serious decision to make about tone. The concept is so ridiculous that it can’t be done realistically: the best you could do would be to make it into a sci-fi version of a “disease of the week” movie. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein chooses to play the concept (mostly) as a straight horror movie. Since the other possibility would be to go for a horror/comedy hybrid that would inevitably degenerate into juvenile genitalia jokes, his choice seems like it should be the correct one; but based on the results here, I’m not so sure this material wouldn’t have played better with more icky genital wackiness (a la Bad Biology).
Teeth is technically well-made and benefits greatly from an all-in performance by Heather Graham lookalike Jess Weixler as Dawn, who undertakes a sexually confused journey from idealistic prude to reluctant predator. But the way Teeth handles the inherent absurdity of its situation is problematic. There are no real scares—though prosthetic penises provide some gross-out moments—but there are no big laughs either. It’s impossible to be horrified by the girl’s ridiculous condition, and only slightly easier to be amused. You might involuntarily guffaw when young Dawn decides to visit a gynecologist (“I think their might be something weird going on inside”) rather than a dentist. Some may find the straight-faced parody of the teen abstinence movement in the first act mildly amusing. The movie also hits all the b-movie monster movie cliches, like overdramatic musical cues at the moment of revelation and a cutaway to a forensic scientist providing stilted explication to an investigating detective, although those segments play as much as homage as satire.
The film’s message about the patriarchy’s fear of female sexuality is pure symbolism 101; its implication that all men are potential rapists may strike some as offensive (although this feature may result more from the awkward demands of the plot than from any anti-male ideology). While it would make good copy to quip that movie’s shock and comedy aspirations merge about as well as teeth and vaginas, that’s not really the case. Teeth isn’t a triumph, but nor is it a disaster—which is a real problem for critics when trying to discuss a movie that offers so many opportunities for dentition related puns. You can’t imagine how many reviewers were secretly hoping this movie would be a disaster so that they could be the first to quip “Teeth bites” or “the rotten Teeth should be yanked.”
It’s worth noting once more that Jess Weixler’s portrayal of troubled innocence is a key to making Teeth work, to the extent it does. With a lesser actress in the role, the film might have ended up as pure dreck. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival jury agreed, honoring Weixler with a special jury award for “dramatic acting.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s definitely not for Aunt Minnie, but cult movie mavens will appreciate director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s willingness to push the boundaries of bad taste.”–Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by Mr. Worf, who described it as “[p]art dark comedy, part horror film. Becoming a young woman is tough, especially for Dawn who is ‘very different.'” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)