One of the greatest stories of feminism and revenge ever told is the offbeat horror/comedy “Teeth.” First time writer and director Mitchell Lichtenstein put a new twist on an old myth to deliver a film that is able to have its audience laughing and cringing at the same time.The premise of the film is based around the vagina dentata myth. While this myth has been documented in several different cultures, the facts are the same: the hero of the story must conquer a woman with a toothed vagina.
The myth feeds into male insecurities of castration and warns against the dangerous nature of women.
Revamping the old story for the big screen, Lichtenstein turns vagina dentata into a coming-of-age horror flick with a bit of female empowerment by making the villain of the myth the heroine of the film.
As a member of The Promise, a teen abstinence group, high school student Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) has a hard time coming to terms with her body’s physical changes.
Things get more complicated when Dawn is attacked by a fellow Promise member (Hale Appleman) and it is discovered that there are teeth growing in her vagina.
Dawn sees her uniqueness as a curse; however, she soon learns that her curse can be used to her advantage to seek revenge and thwart would-be rapists.
Weixler’s performance as the reserved, soft-spoken Dawn is the film’s strongest feature. Having won a Special Jury Prize in 2007 for her performance, Weixler immediately establishes a connection with the audience through her portrayal of Dawn. With believable fervor while delivering an abstinence speech or just the look of horror on her face when her curiosity gets the best of her, Weixler’s Dawn is a character with whom any adolescent can sympathize. Even when the story takes a turn for the worse and we are to believe that after having sex with a classmate (Ashley Springer) Dawn has transformed into a nymphomaniac, Weixler is able to make a seamless transition from innocent teenager to a woman seeking revenge and knowing how to get it.
Most notably from the supporting is John Hensley in the role of Brad, Dawn’s stepbrother. Hensley’s constant scowl and hatred towards the other characters provides the viewer with the understanding of the disfunction that has been building in the O’Keefe home. Hensley’s disturbing performance as the bad boy who lusts after his stepsister can be felt through the tension between Weixler and Hensley onscreen.
While the premise for Lichtenstein’s film may seem horrific to many people, the film, however, is able to make light of the nightmarish situations that Dawn must go through. “Teeth” is probably one of the only films to have equal laughs and jeers during a rape scene. This may seem impossible, but Lichtenstein’s method is so unusual that it works. Pairing ridiculously funny dialogue with the heinous images of rape allows the viewer to laugh, when otherwise it would be unacceptable.
Not only was Lichtenstein’s screenwriting successful in making rape less horrific, his directing also played a part. The use of blood, or lack thereof, allows Dawn to remain pure and untouched by her attackers and sexual partners.
Understand that dismembered body parts and blood are something that the men in Dawn’s life have to deal with, but due to Lichtenstein’s decisive directing, blood never sullies the heroine of the film.
“Teeth” is a film not to be missed. While the premise of the film may seem shockingly horrific, the witty dialogue and outstanding acting make that horror easier to watch. The efforts from both Lichtenstein and Weixler should be appreciated for what they are worth on the big screen.
Allison Hurwitz is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in film criticism. She can be reached at AH592893@wcupa.edu.