Thursday, 14 February 2008

GFF Preview: Teeth - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Screenwriter: Mitchell Licktenstein
Running Time: 88 mins
Certificate: Not Yet Rated
Screening: Sunday 17th 2.00pm (Cineworld) & Monday 18th 8.20pm (Cineworld)

Monsters, demons and axe wielding maniacs are no longer the terror du jour in contemporary horror cinema, instead director Mitchell Liechtenstein favours an even scarier spectre: the vagina. The vagina dentate myth, often erroneously accredited to Freud, appears in the myths of several North American Indian tribes but has rarely been dealt with so directly on the silver screen. It’s certainly subliminally present, in HR Geiger’s double-jawed Alien for example, but in Teeth it is dealt with in all of its gory glory.

Still a stranger to her own body, high school student Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a member of the abstinence club but now is confused by her feelings for new member Tobey (Hale Appleman.) After some risqué skinny-dipping, Tobey tries to force himself on her and then she discovers her body’s darkest secret: a set of razor sharp gnashers where no woman should have them. While trying to unlock the mystery of her discovery, she has to deal with many sexual predators in the local community.

Jess Wiexler’s Dawn, she of the carnivorous vagina, with a nod and a wink to 70s scream queens and 80s teen-com heroines. Her passionate support of teenage celibacy is a gentle poke at contemporary conservative values; pre-marital sex hilariously emerges as their bogeyman. Yet Weixler is never anything less than sincere. Dawn could easily have been a cipher but she manages to find the heart within the joke, as she wades through the sea of hormones.

The men of Teeth are far less admirable, as nearly all have malicious intentions. Dawn’s abstinence club boyfriend Toby may seem innocent but he secretly conceals uncontrollable lust. Her hedonistic brother Brad (John Hensley), literally scarred by a childhood encounter with the titular teeth, masks his incestual desires with sexual deviance. Even a supposedly benevolent gynaecologist (John Pais) attempts to molest her, resulting in the cheap laugh slapstick of his hand getting stuck. However Dawn’s understandable penile vendetta does avoid accusations of misandry through her stepfather (Lenny Von Dohlen), an admirable man and loyal husband. It seems there are good men and bad men, and the later don’t deserve the male signifier.

Separating this from the likes of Troma is Liechtenstein’s belief that what he is making is worth the effort. The cheerful mise-en-scene of the pastel shaded suburbs is eye catching, and haunted by an ever-present smoking power plant. Evoking the Universal monsters of the 30s who were products of environmental catastrophes, Teeth takes a horror genre issues of the past and finds contemporary relevance. Robert Miller’s pounding score, a nod to Henry Mancini, is appropriately over dramatic and playful. It’s a gorgeous looking and sounding film, and a credit to the production that low budget horror can still make a visual impact.

Naturally the story will have feminist theorists in a fever over Liechtenstein’s intentions. However nothing particularly radical happens in the film. The result is an amusing and wry body shock horror with the tone sitting snug somewhere between David Cronenberg and Joe Dante. Dawn’s eventual control over and enjoyment of her power, and the eye-rolling denouement, if anything plays the vagina dentata myth straight. Sexual intercourse is still very much a threat to men, and even worse the rasmus of this particular Terrible Mother is actively intent on diminishing male masculinity. Outside the interesting subtext, Teeth remains one of the finest and most audacious genre movies of recent times.

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