US | 2007 | Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein
Logline: A teenage girl discovers, much to her horror, she is cursed with vagina dentata, and must seek a hero.
Dawn (Jess Weixler) belongs to The Promise, her high school’s chastity group, and she is the most active non-active member. She gives empowerment speeches to the other students about how cool and right it is to remain a virgin until after marriage. The group members wear t-shirts with “I’m waiting”, and though she is teased relentlessly by the non-Christian students, Dawn doesn’t care, she knows she is right.
That is until she meets tall, charismatic Tobey (Hale Appleton). A mutual attraction is immediate, and a yearning begins to itch. Now Dawn is confused. She lies in bed and fights the primal urge to rub one out, repeating the word “purity” over and over. It doesn’t help having a creepy sleazoid as an older stepbrother; Brad (the suitably hirsute John Hensley), and a very ill mother.
In the movie’s prologue we see a very young Dawn and Brad playing in a paddling pool on the front lawn. Dawn’s mama and Brad’s papa are lounging nearby. Brad shows Dawn his pee-pee and demands to see hers. Brad decides he wants to do more than just have a squizz. Cut to the respective parents and we hear Brad cry out in pain. “What happened?” enquire the parents, “Dawn bit me,” sulks Brad holding up his bloody, gashed fingertip, while young Dawn gives a little baby-toothed grin.
This opening sequence sets the blackly comic tone for the rest of the movie. Yes, the tongue is firmly in cheek with Teeth, when it bites it does so with sharp, yet playful incisors, like a tigress cub. The movie toys with the themes of sexual awakening, feminism, sexism, adolescence, and, of course, the enduring myth of the vagina dentata, (which is Latin for toothed vagina, in case you were in the dark there), in which a hero must conquer the woman with the sex that chomps. In itself this myth says more about masculine fear than female power.
There’s a strong hint as to the reason for Dawn’s anatomical mutation (or is it simply evolution, with Dawn being the first of her kind, Nature finally answering to man’s multi-millennial dominance over the female kind); the ominous image of two giant nuclear power plant cooling towers belching out thick black smoke in the background to Dawn’s home is repeated several times. Apparently there may be a medical origin to the vagina dentata myth, as the outer layers of embryonic skin cells form dermoid cysts, and in rare instances these cells are able to mature into bone, hair and even teeth, and the cysts are able to form anywhere the skin folds inwards, such as the vagina! But I digress!
A revenge fantasy flick cloaked as a high school coming-of-age story, but with horror overtones and satirical undertones. Lichtenstein (son of the legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein) has penned a deliciously simple, yet astute screenplay, but what actually gives this small, but very memorable movie the real edge is the terrific performance from Jess Weixler in her debut. The nuances in her facial expressions are better than many young actors’ entire resumes! Also very good is John Hensley, as the repressed and anally fixated stepsibling, who embodies an almost diabolical presence, further aggravated by his Rottweiler - named Mother - kept in a cage in his bedroom. The mutt, most satisfyingly, devours a scene of her own at film’s end!
Squeamish men, beware, as director Lichtenstein doesn’t hold back on showing us the aftermath of Dawn’s angry femme-jaws upon her victims, in what must have been a bold move for a semi-mainstream American movie. Ten years on, Teeth still has a firm bite.