Teeth (DVD)

Teeth DVD ReviewReviewed by Debi Moore

Starring Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Vivienne Benesch, Ashley Springer

Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein

Distributed by Dimension Extreme

I approached watching the Teeth DVD with trepidation. Words like “female empowerment,” “courageous,” and “alarming cautionary tale” adorn the box, causing me some concern that what I was about to see would wind up being the by-product of the typical male fantasy of a predatory pubescent babe who turns out to be the de rigueur invincible “final girl” so prevalent on today’s horror scene. I couldn’t have been more pleased to be wrong.

While Teeth definitely qualifies as a genre film, it has much more in common with smart, pre-Juno teen-centric indie fare like Saved and, to some extent, Heathers and Donnie Darko, which portray modern kids realistically and respectfully while simultaneously satirizing the culture in which they live. Teeth is equal parts black comedy, squirm-inducing vengeance story, and social satire. It looks like a million bucks, too — Lichtenstein managed to squeeze every last bit of quality out of a budget that was undoubtedly low in quantity. The production value is quite remarkable with each dollar showing up onscreen.

But I digress. Teeth‘s ad campaign made it pretty obvious what it’s about, but in case you missed it somehow or aren’t clear on the plot, let me summarize. Dawn (Weixler) isn’t your typical high schooler. Sadly, her mother is dying so her parents are too distracted to see that she’s having trouble with her transition into womanhood. But Dawn is a good girl of faith and virtue. She’s taken a sacred vow of chastity until marriage and serves as a role model for her fellow virgins. She gives speeches at abstinence rallies and wears t-shirts that proclaim “I’m Waiting.” Nonetheless, the flashback to her childhood that opens the film gives us an inkling that maybe there’s some deeper psychological — or possibly physiological — reason for her repressed sexuality. It also may have something to do with why her stepbrother Brad (Hensley) is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by her. Two massive nuclear reactor towers loom ominously over their hometown, pumping toxic smoke 24/7, leading the audience to the conclusion that her “condition” is the result of some sort of radioactive genetic mutation. And exactly what is that condition? Vagina dentata, aka toothed vagina. I’ll wait while it sinks in …

Teeth DVD ReviewPoor Dawn. She starts out so sweet and pure, but once Tobey (Appleman), a fellow celibate, crosses her path, her hormones start raging, and before long the two of them are making out hot and heavy. To be fair, she sends him some pretty mixed signals, but he takes things way too far way too fast and, in an over- stimulated frenzy, begins to rape her. She struggles against him, he enters her anyway, and suddenly he’s screaming along with her. But whereas her cries are from anger and disbelief at what’s happening, his are from extreme pain. “From what?” you might ask. Lest you’ve forgotten the previous paragraph, vagina dentata, that’s what. Over the course of the rest of the film, Dawn encounters plenty of bad apples on whom to test out her newly discovered choppers, and the camera doesn’t shy away from the carnage. Show this one to your squeamish friends, and be prepared to laugh at their reactions to the numerous severed penis gags almost as much as at Teeth itself.

Vagina dentata is a myth that has existed in almost every civilization since the beginning of recorded history. As with most allegories, many of these involve a man heroically overcoming the dangerous teeth in one way or another and “saving” the woman. Others see it as a castration device and focus on the threat of a man’s diminution from entering into the dark world of a woman’s genitalia. Teeth touches upon both metaphors and then goes way beyond them.

Dawn’s character arc is one of the most challenging I’ve seen in a film in some time, and Weixler more than rises to the occasion. She’s by turns innocently endearing, tragically sympathetic, and, upon coming into her own by finally embracing her inner payback dispenser, utterly chilling. She knocks this one out of the park … and over the wall … and all the way to the back row of the parking lot. Ellen Page may have garnered most of the press last year, but Jess Weixler’s portrayal of Dawn is just as deserving of attention. She alternately reminded me of a young chaste Charlotte from “Sex and the City” and Claire from “Heroes” with dashes of Helen Hunt, Drew Barrymore, and Heather Graham added into the mix. That girl is going places, and I hope they include more horror projects. Her facial expressions are ultra natural and revealing. Actresses who can play likable, intelligent — and tough — chicks believably are few and far between, but she does it so well it seems effortless.

Teeth DVD ReviewHensley’s Brad is just as credible thanks to Lichtenstein’s script and direction. Not only is he an emerging super-talent, he steals every scene he’s in with his smoldering animal magnetism. Josh Pais (the predatory gynecologist Dawn visits) and Lenny von Dohlen (Dawn’s stepfather and the only decent male she knows) should be familiar to viewers from their many years in both movies and television. The rest of the cast is mostly comprised of unknowns, but everyone ably pulls his or her weight with no complaints from this reviewer. There are a few moments when the pacing lags, but overall Teeth is lean and mean and delivers pointed commentary on the gamut of issues and emotions young people deal with nowadays, all with a wicked sense of humor and healthy servings of exaggerated, yet convincing, gore. And the music, much of it by Lichtenstein’s brother, fits in perfectly. All in all, Teeth stands out as one of the best recent coming of age tales, and the fact that it’s told from the female point of view makes it all the more engaging.

The DVD extras, while not quite so praiseworthy, are plentiful. They’re comprised of a commentary by Lichtenstein, a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette, five deleted scenes with optional commentary, a TV spot, and trailers. As usual, it’s obvious why the deleted scenes were removed, but one of them, which explains why Dawn didn’t turn to her closest friends in her time of need, should have been left in to fill one of the main plot holes that momentarily took me out of the experience. The featurette is by far the most informative supplement; it offers in-depth interviews with everyone from Lichtenstein to the stars to director of photography Wolfgang Held, production designer Paul Avery, and costumer designer Rita Ryack. They dissect Teeth to the nth degree including the characters’ motivations, numerous vagina dentata legends and theories, how the various sets were decorated, the real-life organizations that provided inspiration for The Promise (Dawn’s abstinence group), along with discussions about contemporary teen sexual behavior and mores. I have no idea how, but they managed to pack 60 minutes’ worth of information into less than 30. It’s a good thing, too, because as for the commentary, we don’t have a case of less is more but rather less is painfully less.

Lichtenstein starts things off amusingly enough with a story about his problems with a few members of the Austin neighborhood where they did a good amount of shooting. It seems the locals were convinced the project was pornographic. He tells a few more anecdotes, interspersing pauses at just the right moments to let the events of the film emphasize his points. From there, however, things take a downward turn. The lapses become longer and longer and begin dragging the viewer down. I was literally getting antsy waiting for him to say something. I’m all for letting a story speak for itself, but it was such a wasted opportunity, and I could hardly believe this was the same man who was so loquacious and interesting in the featurette. When he did speak, it was primarily about the score and soundtrack. I agree it was awesome, but so was just about everything else in Teeth. Finally we approached the end. Surely he would sum up his message or at least address the closing scene. Nope. Not happening. As the screen faded to black, the only words out of his mouth were, “And that song is …” Argh! Minus one knife for having one of the lamest commentaries in history!

But that’s the only thing lame about Mitchell Lichtenstein. He’s written and directed one helluva movie here that’s bound to spark controversy and fuel more than a few heated arguments. And the timing couldn’t be better. With a woman potentially closing in on the White House, debates about gender roles and biases are taking place all around us. Some will see Dawn as a monster; others as an avenging angel. Is she the product of nature or nurture or both? In the end it really doesn’t matter. It’s evolution, baby! You better be ready, or else you’re liable to wind up like this guy:

Teeth DVD Review

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Deleted scenes with optional director commentary
  • TV spot
  • Trailers

    4 out of 5

    Special Features

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Debi Moore

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    • thedudeabides

      I Spit on Your Grave/Day of the Woman was written and directed by a man, Meir Zarchi.

      Other than being an exploitation movie, it is also considered by people to be a “women empowerment” movie, especially by it’s writer/director.

      In the DVD commentary, Zarchi denied that his film was exploitative, and that the violent nature of the film was necessary to tell the story. He described actress Camille Keaton as “brave” for taking on the role.

      Another online reviewer questions whether the movie is actually a misunderstood feminist film: Click here

      Worldwide reaction, varied of course also contains the idea/opinion that the movie condone’s violence toward men, but it is ok since they were the sexual predators that attacked the woman.

      So as you can see it is possible for a movie that presents men as horrible, degenerate sex monsters can and HAS been made by a man, who actually set out to make the movie that way.

      Now, whether it applies to any of the arguments here is another matter.

    • Morgan Elektra

      This isn’t a semantics arguement. There’s a BIG difference between your statement “EVERY guy she came across suddenly wanted to rape her”, and the two vastly disparate non-consensual acts depicted in the movie. And like I said, with the exception of the gyno, all the other guys – even the jerks – were portrayed as more than just black hatted bad guys. I agree the gyno was a bit far fetched… but to suggest that the entire movie is “man hating” is reactionary.

      I completely agree that the bet didn’t warrant castration… and I think most women would… but it IS portrayed in the movie as an involuntary act on Dawn’s part, not a conscious thought. The filmmaker gives the opposition of her willful act of revenge on her brother (and implied impending act on the old man in the end) to put the acts before it into context.

      And you didn’t just say people would be complaining if the movie was about a killer cock… you quoted someone else who said “if this had been about a cock that bites off tits, you and other would be calling it misogynistic and wrong” and said you agreed with that statement. Since I’ve got a movie sitting on my living room table right now, you can wait and see EXACTLY how I react to that situation (having not watched the movie yet, I don’t know if it’s exact… but it does indeed have a deadly dick in it, I know).

      I think you’re right that SOME people would bitch if the situations had been reversed. Some people will always find something to bitch about. But your implication that all women would be up in arms if the situation was reversed isn’t backed up… ESPECIALLY on this site. Debi and I are both on record as being very pro-penis (check out the interview we did with Pretty-Scary a couple years ago to see what I mean).

    • Sirand

      “And here’s another shocker, Sirand. Minorities can be racist.”

      But you don’t see a black man leading the KKK – which is the equivilant to what you’re saying here.

      Suggesting that all high-schoolers have trouble keeping their hormones in check isn’t hateful or fantasy…it’s just common fact.

      Sorry, Term, you’re just plain wrong here.

    • Terminal

      I guess that’s that then. *sighs*

    • Uncle Creepy

      Yep. That’s all I got. Seriously though … guys … girls … whatever. As long as someone’s buying the farm in horrible ways I’m happy.

    • Terminal

      Please tell me that’s not the only contribution to this debate. Please.

    • Uncle Creepy

      And we NEVER see anything far-fetched in horror movies! LOL 😉

    • Terminal

      I’ll say it again, I enjoyed the movie.

      “And Term… You’re WAY over-simplifying. For one thing, Dawn has 4 sex “partners” if you will… only two of them constitute rape. Tobey and the gyno. Both the boy from school and her brother were consensual experiences… and while both of them were jerks, I actually quite liked both characters and felt bad when they got their bits chomped. They were both given moments when they were something other than bad guys.”

      Regardless of the semantics, there were still two trying to rape her, one asshole who bet on her (and this apparently warranted castration), her brother (an act of revenge, I know), and that old man in the end (a pervert, and suggestive rape), not to mention that gyno who seemed to take pleasure in a way, in fisting her, and the movie just introduced them at a pace that was so absurd. That final scene was just over the top, period.

      “As for thinking a movie with a penis that bites off women’s bits is wrong and evil… I actually have a film with a fatal penis that I’m reviewing here within the next couple days… so we’ll see if I think’s it’s misogynistic. ”

      Hah! Wrong and evil? What are you talking about? I said people would be complaining.

    • Terminal

      The same string of logic applies, regardless. If it’d been opposite people would have been bitching about it being misogynistic. Beyond her boyfriend, all these guys attacking and grabbing at her was just so far-fetched.

    • Morgan Elektra

      No surprise, sis… I agree with you 100%. Loved Teeth… Dean may never recover, but we both enjoyed it.

      And Term… You’re WAY over-simplifying. For one thing, Dawn has 4 sex “partners” if you will… only two of them constitute rape. Tobey and the gyno. Both the boy from school and her brother were consensual experiences… and while both of them were jerks, I actually quite liked both characters and felt bad when they got their bits chomped. They were both given moments when they were something other than bad guys.

      As for thinking a movie with a penis that bites off women’s bits is wrong and evil… I actually have a film with a fatal penis that I’m reviewing here within the next couple days… so we’ll see if I think’s it’s misogynistic.

    • The Woman In Black

      if this had been about a cock that bites off tits, you and other would be calling it misogynistic and wrong

      Hardly. If it was done in the same vein as Teeth, I’d probably love it. Women get mutilated in horror films all the time — I don’t believe you’ve ever heard me label a single one misogynistic. That’s not how I operate.

    • Terminal

      Uh, thanks for explaining what I already knew, WIB. It was pretty obvious from the plot that it was a dark coming of age story, to which you also forgot about the commentary on fear of sexuality, but it was still a man hating tirade with the convenience of sexually violent men inevitably tiresome. While I loved this movie, that’s one plot element I found lazy; to quote another review, if this had been about a cock that bites off tits, you and other would be calling it misogynistic and wrong, and suddenly this is a black comedy. Okay. I just have to laugh at that.

      But no seriously, my sense of humor is right where I left it. Oh I laughed, but yeah, I also cringed and rolled my eyes.

    • Terminal

      And here’s another shocker, Sirand. Minorities can be racist.


    • Terminal

      Shockingly, it can happen, Sirand. Amazing, no?

    • Sirand

      A man-hating film made by men?

    • The Woman In Black

      Oh, where’s your sense of humor? It was a very black, satirical study of one girl’s experience. I’d hardly call it man-hating overall. Yes, it was a little too “convenient” for every guy who crossed her path to rape or, at the very least, want to fuck her (which is why I deducted half a knife from my originally contemplated 4-1/2 score), but otherwise there’d be no story. I would have liked to see her visit a female gynecologist and hear what she might have said, but the whole point was Dawn coming into her own without any input from the adults in her life and embracing her power. If she’d found only great guys and true love within the 90-minute runtime, it would have been an entirely different — and much less enjoyable — film.

    • Terminal

      It was a very good movie, but such a man hating tirade. As if we don’t have enough man hating bullshit in the media, already. I found it annoying how EVERY guy she came across suddenly wanted to rape her. Give me a break.