Just a Little Snack
As should be evident from all the weird films I've reviewed on this site over the years, I'm a big fan of fucked up horror stories, films that find a weird and strange twist and go to bonkers places, all in the name of delivering lots of gore (and maybe a few laughs along the way). Obviously, the Evil Dead series is the reigning king of bonkers horror/comedy, but there have been other noteworthy entries in the genre. Just last night I watched a little sleeper horror/comedy hit (rewatched, really, since I'd seen it years before): the grisly Teeth.
This film is, in short, pretty darn messed up. It sets itself up as a sweet little teen drama, one about sex and purity (and the promises some brainwashed youth make to stay "pure", to keep their "prize" safe until marriage). But then, after an (admittedly uncomfortable) encounter, the film shoots off into left field and never looks back. The blood starts pouring, the gore gets more and more over the top, and the film suddenly becomes really quite funny. For a coming of age film about a young woman finding herself (and her place in the world), Teeth manages to tell a truly bonkers story in the process.
We're first introduced to Dawn (played as an adult by Jess Wilder, as a small child by Ava Ryen) when she's in a kiddie pool with her new step-brother, Brad (played as an adult by John Hensley, as a child by Hunter Ulvong). Brad decides he wants to play "doctor", but when he puts his finger in Dawn's no-no area (which we only see the aftermath of, not the actual incident), his finger comes away with a wound in it. Years later, Dawn has grown up to be one of the "purity teens", a girl saving herself for marriage who goes around preaching this gospel to kids all around her town. She has a small, but close, circle of friends, but it otherwise mocked and ridiculed by everyone else at her high school.
Things change, though, when Dawn meets Tobey (Hale Appleman), a young man in the purity group. The two have quite the sparkly connection, and soon they find themselves making out, unable to completely pull away from each other. Tobey wants to go further but Dawn has a line she won't cross. When Tobey pushes too far, nearly raping Dawn, he suddenly finds himself on the bad end of the deal when, quite surprisingly, Dawn's vagina bites off Tobey's dick. He freaks out, of course, and goes running off (spurting blood and quite dickless), and Dawn is even more freaked out. What is going on? What is up with her special lady parts? Does she have... vagina dentata?
Yes, yes she does, and this leads to all kinds of scenarios, and a whole lot of blood and gore, as Dawn slowly comes to terms with her affliction. She becomes a one-woman terror around town, taking off appendages quite by accident before, eventually, embracing it as some kind of super power. And the movie follows all of this, never once casting her as the villain of her story, just as someone trying to come to terms with the changes going on in her life, and her body. As a metaphor for puberty and adulthood, Teeth has quite the fucked up sensibility.
For those looking for a fucked up horror movie, there's a lot to recommend about Teeth. For starters, it has a willingness to go anywhere. It doesn't shy away from blood, or gore, or nudity -- and you're going to see a fair number of lopped off penises over the course of this film. It is quite graphic when it comes to blood and viscera but, thankfully, less so when it comes to what's actually going on inside Dawn. Even as a fan of disturbing horror, I feel like that would have been a bridge too far.
Others, meanwhile, could very well be turned off by the early scenes, especially the burgeoning rape scene that kicks off the change in tone for the film. The group I watched this film with yesterday had a couple of people that bailed during this scene (right before the attacker, Tobey, got his proper comeuppance), and I could see others finding this their stopping point in the film. I made it past this part, got to see Tobey get what he deserved, and then followed Dawn as she continued to torture men with her special lady parts, and I honestly liked the shift it tone and perspective the film took from this sequence forward, but I will understand if not everyone could make it past these scenes. It's simply not for everyone.
When I think of this film I look at is as a kind of dark mirror to early 2000s film about purity and the changes teens go through: Saved!. That film had its own warped sensibility, but it came at the idea that premarital sex isn't necessarily bad, and that purity isn't necessarily good, from a perspective of hope and love (and a few laughs). This film is much darker, and more graphic, and much more evil, but the message ends up being kind of the same: don't fuck with women, and don't make them feel bad about their own bodies.
Anchoring the whole film is Wilder as Dawn, and she plays her character with a kind of wide-eyed naivety that really sells the opening scenes. Admittedly the first act of the film (before we get to the blood and gore and chompy vagina) is a tad slow. I like Dawn as a character, but we spend probably a little too much time on this section of her life, especially when you compare it to all the chaos that's about the come (and the way the film twists it all to generate a lot of laughs). But through it all Wilder keeps her character together, from the early innocence to her freaked out stage, to the point where she finds her power, and her charismatic womanhood, and manages to sell it all. Not everyone in the film is as good as Wilder (in fact a lot of the actor as mid-grade verging on bad), but Wilder sells it at carries the film.
It's interesting to me that so few people know (or talk about) this film. While I understand it's not for everyone (and most of the people I watched it with last night thought the movie, in their worked "sucked", which made me sad), but it's also an ingenious little nasty piece of work. It's mean and vile and hilarious in equal measure, just the kind of film you'd expect to pick up cult-classic status and live on for years after, passed from one fan to another on DVD (or, now, streaming media). But instead it seems like most people have forgotten about the film and its fun, evil, blood-soaked message.
It's a film about a girl with teeth in her vagina, and she causes chaos across her town. What's not to like about that? If a gory film like that sounds like your cup of tea, I heartily recommend Teeth. Even the second time around I thought the film was a blood-soaked treat.