At The Picture Show
The 'Teeth' down under are neither scary nor funny
Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Screenplay: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Josh Pais, Lenny von
Dohlen, Julia Garro and Trent Moore
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)
Let's get this out of the way first: No, you do not actually get to see the titular
chompers mysteriously attached to our heroine's genitals. So don't go getting any
ideas. You'll have to get your jollies elsewhere.
However, they do fulfill their intended purpose - by accident at first. Before Dawn
(Jess Weixler) learns exactly what she has and how to use it. She's a devout
church-going gal, you see - she even wears one of those virginity pledges around.
But after a seemingly innocent attraction to fellow church-goer turns into a de-facto amputation procedure, Dawn begins to discover that what she has is none
other than the ancient myth of Vagina Dentata - yes, a vagina with teeth. The
Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein deliberately
presents Teeth as a campy B-grade horror movie - and the premise lends itself
perfectly to that style. In certain moments, a frantic sense of sardonic horror rises
up and takes hold. And just as quickly, it dissolves into student-level filmmaking,
and what we're left with is a shapeless mass of satirical intentions.
Lichtenstein is clearly intending a satirical, campy horror flick - one that might be
best enjoyed by cult-movie aficionados. Midnight audiences. But the problem is
he doesn't seem to have anything on his mind other than, "Hey, isn't this funny? A
vagina with teeth!" His amateur approach to even that absurd a premise robs Teeth
of its inherent eerieness.
To reinforce the B-movie milieu, a power plant looms ominously in the
background - or it least it would seem ominous if only Lichtenstein had any sense
of place or atmosphere. Scenes in which the teeth are about to fulfill their intended
purpose should bristle an ominous, cringe-inducing glee, but instead sit flat on the
screen. If only the filmmaker had as much enthusiasm for his filmmaking as he did
for his concept, we might have had something.
The sad truth about Teeth is nothing that appears on
its surface is ever brought to life. Scene after scene presents satirical or otherwise
comic possibilities that beg for the film's attention. But Lichtenstein either ignores
them, or has no idea that such possibilities are even present. By the time we the
audience members can see what can be done with the story, Lichtenstein has
already moved on to the next anti-climactic thread without a second thought.
In fact, the satirical ideas are sometimes two-pronged - and Lichtenstein still
The film follows Dawn beginning with her childhood, when the little boy next
door - and soon-to-be stepbrother - gets bitten (yes) on the finger. From then on,
Brad (John Hensley) has a suppressed, but desperate infatuation with his new
sister, and longs to conquer her. Problem is, in stark contrast to his angry,
rebellious lifestyle, Dawn has grown up as the purest of them all. Innocent,
virginal, loving, kind, naïve. She's the most popular girl at her local church. She
speaks proudly to the youth about retaining purity.
And then, against her will, it all goes disastrously wrong! Having shielded herself
from her pending adulthood, she's impossibly confused and scared. And so her
unintentional reign of terror continues with other boys. And her gynecologist, with
whom she seeks advice and solace . . . only to bite off his hand (in one of the more
The potential here is for a clever twist on sex, culture,
religion, genetic mutation, you name it. But none of that is ever brought to beyond
We can connect the dots and try to see the film as a comic allegory about Female
Empowerment or the role sex plays in society or male/female double standards or
the sex/violence corollary - but we're projecting all that onto the film ourselves,
and giving Lichtenstein too much credit. The truth is, all of that and more was
there for the taking - unfortunately, Teeth didn't bite.
Read more by Chris Bellamy