Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth is a horror movie with comedic elements that deals with mutation, virginity, and the myth of vagina dentata.
Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a teenage girl who was born with teeth in her vagina. Dawn also happens to be a celibacy-promoting high-school student whose no-sex lifestyle is going well until she crosses eyes with Tobey (Hale Appleman) at a pro-virginity seminar. They are eventually introduced by a mutual friend and start seeing each other. Nature and hormones begin to take effect, something they both initially resist. But when one of them decides to acquiesce to their physical urges, the horror element of Teeth – that previously had been only hinted at – comes into play.
Unlike most horror movies, the actual horrific acts in Teeth take place off screen. (Else, the film would have received a NC-17 rating.) What we can see on screen is the result of the act: the bloody, squirting, messy remainders of whatever Dawn’s vagina dentata (Latin for toothed vagina) chewed on. It’s gruesome, but nothing the average horror movie watcher isn’t used to seeing. It’s the thought of what will happen, what is happening, and what has just happened that is horrible and effective.
I usually try not to talk about a specific scene in a film (for fear I will ruin it for the first-time viewer), but there is one hilarious instance in Teeth, involving Dawn and a gynecologist, that I must mention: After investigating her vagina’s condition over the Internet, Dawn decides to see Dr. Godfrey (Josh Pais) to find out if there is indeed something abnormal between her legs. (The fact that Dawn lives in close proximity to a nuclear power plant – that may be the source of her mutation – is never mentioned, except via careful camera placements.) Anyhow, after the gynecologist has abused his authority (think Dr. Mott at the beginning of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), both patient and doctor find out that vagina dentata is no myth.
The viewer sits there watching the doctor vigorously attempting to pull his four fingers out of Dawn’s vagina. That was no typo. Four fingers. The gynecologist is yanking left and right, with Dawn’s body going right along with him as she grows increasingly more terrified by the doctor’s agony and the fact that he can’t get himself out of her.
At first, the scene is totally fucked up because of Dr. Godfrey’s unethical behavior (“You’re tight. Relax.”), but then the tables are turned and the abuser and abusee switch roles. The scene sounds sick, but keep in mind that Teeth is a horror movie, after all. As a plus, the gynecologist visit was both well directed and quite funny.
Unlike most horror movies where the heroine, who in Teeth happens to be the antagonist as well, goes through no personality change even after enduring a perilous and/or extraordinary situation, Dawn does change. That transformation can be clearly seen on her face in the film’s last scene.
Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth isn’t a mainstream horror movie: there is no high body count and no splashy nudity (though there is nudity). Teeth is an independent horror movie whose antagonist is the stuff of most men’s fantasies. That this frequent male fantasy has been turned into a monster capable of divesting a man of most of his reproductive organ is unsettling – and will give males who see Teeth pause the next time a coital encounter is at hand.
© Reginald Williams.
Teeth (2007). Dir. / Scr.: Mitchell Lichtenstein. Cast: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, John Pais, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Vivienne Benesch, Ashley Springer.