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For virgin males, the fear of what “it” might actually feel like down there between a woman’s thighs can be very real and horrific if one’s imagination were to run away with itself. Thoughts of anything from a vicegrip like hand to pincers that will chomp off precious appendages can be evoked by even the tamest of minds. Teeth, a movie featuring a teenager with actual chompers between her legs, plays with that concept to the extreme and supplies ample laughs for just as many cringes.
To call Teeth a horror movie is a bit unfair, even though I’m sure the marketing committee would love to have it called as such to give it that special edge to it. In all truths, though, if Teeth is to be considered anything, it’s a black comedy with elements of horror attached to it that make it feel more campy than bone-chilling. In other words, it’s about as alarming a cautionary tale for men as Army of Darkness is a cautionary tale for hardware salesmen sent back through time to fight medieval skeletons atop a castle. As much as that campiness might detract from the overall horror feel this film is trying to evoke, though, that’s what actually gives it its charm—its ability to laugh at itself for being so bizarrely wonderful and wonderfully bizarre at the same time.
The story is centered around a young woman embodying the sexual mythology of vagina dentate, which is, if you’ve never read anything of Freud or Greek mythology before, the belief that some women might have pearly whites beneath their pubes. In the wrong hands (or is that legs?), this could cause almost epically large ramifications for a sexually active woman looking to detach as many male members as possible, but our hero, Dawn (played by the excellent Jess Weixler) is not that kind of girl. No, she’s actually a member of a very chaste group that frowns upon sex before marriage and wears a special ring to indicate how serious they are about abstinence.
The thing is, Dawn is too good. So good in fact, that when a local boy with the kind of submersive eyes that make young girls swoon tries to rape her, you know the remainder of the story is going to be focused on her ultimate descent into madness, and that’s okay. In a way, Teeth acts as a meta-throwback to vintage horror movies like Friday the 13th where the people who bit the big one were always the antsy kids who couldn’t wait to step out of their virginity suits and get it on in the forest. The plot of Teeth takes that idea a bit further. The message of “do it and die” fits nicely here, and is actually mocked at by the ridiculousness (even though it might actually be realistic) of the abstinence group Dawn subscribes to called The Promise. The real promise in the movie though, is that sooner or later, Dawn’s going to be taking a bite out of her victims when anybody steps beyond their bounderies. The real hoot being that, instead of sex being the reason for the killings, as in Friday the 13th, sex IS the killer in this movie. In other words, sex kills.
And a lot of that message couldn’t be pulled off if the actor’s weren’t entirely believable in their performances. Jess Weixler plays the perfect naïve girl who’s just trying to deal with the world any way she can, and her half-brother, Brad, played by John Hensley, plays the perfect polar opposite. He’s the kind of skeevy guy with muttonchops that you could see yourself fearing, but, could also see yourself feeling sympathetic for due to problems he might have had in his childhood—did I mention that Brad can only have sex anally with the women he dates due to something psychological that happened to him and his sister when he was younger?
This movie isn’t perfect though, and some of it is actually hampered by the moments where it’s trying to veer away from comedy and into shock horror territory. Moments of seeing gaping holes where penises used to be are not as silly as they could be, and the dynamics of the overall family could be stronger, especially since Jess’ mother is dying throughout almost the entirety of the film. But that’s just being obsessive about nitpicky details that don’t really hamper the film in any way. Overall, Teeth does have quite a bite to it, even though some of the minor problems give it a sort of softened chew.
Featured on this very barebones disc are deleted scenes that add absolutely nothing at all to the movie as a whole. Also on this disc are a TV spot, a trailer, and a hit or miss commentary by writer/director, Micheal Lichtenstein.
Can I just say how sick and tired I am of these sparse spoken commentaries that are becoming more and more the norm these days? In this DVD, the director seems to feel that it’s only important to discuss his film when he’s not entirely absorbed in his own finely wrought creation. In other words, for almost the entire DVD commentary, the director remains silent and we’re left to watch the movie over again with brief spurts of the director talking about how brilliant the music is, or how finely acted some of the scenes are. For a movie like Teeth, a second watch through isn’t so bad, as there are a lot of comical details on the sidelines and in the musical cues that you may have missed early on the first time through. But for other, far worse films, where the director doesn’t have much to say, then by all means, don’t say anything at all and leave the commentary for those who like to ramble on and hear themselves talk (Kevin Smith, I’m looking at you).
I wouldn’t be so pissed though if the brief, intermittent moments of commentary weren’t so daggone interesting. We learn that the cooling towers in the film, the ones that sit in the background for a majority of the movie, are meant to represent our main character’s emotions; hence, the reason why the smoke that bellows from them gets blacker and blacker the further the plot progresses. We also find out that her sick mother is actually sick because of the smoke from the cooling towers, which was something that was totally lost on me the first time through.
A lot of my angst in all this though is because I’m an honest to God fan of movie commentary who often likes listeining to it more than actually watching the movie itself. For me, one of the main reasons why I think commentary is so interesting is because it adds an extra layer of depth that creates a sort of subcutaneous bit of flesh on top of the skin that’s already on top of the film. But nowadays, it seems like a lot directors feel that it’s actually necessary to put a commentary in their DVD, even if they don’t have anything to say, and for me, that’s a problem.
In the end, though, I guess my biggest complaint is the fact that I feel lied to by the company distributing the film. I mean, I don’t think it’s acceptible to have it printed on the box that there’s director commentary if the director only speaks for about 30 minutes in a 90 minute film. To me, that’s false advertising that hampers the film, rather than enhancing it. Teeth: good movie, bad commentary.
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