Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
January 2008

Bite me

The 'Teeth' down under are neither scary nor funny

Roadside Attractions
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 equalizer.

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 misses them!

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 effective scenes).

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 surface value.

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

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