Director/Screenplay – Mitchell Lichtenstein, Producers – Mitchell Lichtenstein & Joyce Pierpoline, Photography – Wolfgang Held, Music – Robert Miller, Visual Effects Supervisor – Marko Forker, Visual Effects TexFX (Supervisor – Gary Weller), Prosthetic Effects – Doug Field, Production Design – Paul Avery. Production Company – Teeth LLC
Jess Weixler (Dawn O’Keefe), John Hensley (Brad), Hale Appleman (Tobey), Ashley Springer (Ryan), Lenny Von Dohlen (Bill), Josh Pais (Dr Godfrey), Vivienne Benesch (Kim O’Keefe), Nicole Swahn (Melanie)
As a teenager, the virginal Dawn O’Keefe has become a crusader for Christian chastity campaigns. She and fellow campaigner Tobey both admit an attraction for one another. Both struggle to resist temptation, but then head out to a special lover’s grotto. While Dawn tries to deny her urges, Tobey tries to force his way with her. However, when he inserts himself in her, her vagina bites his penis off. Dawn comes to the realization that she has a vagina dentata, a vagina with a set of teeth inside. After her gynaecologist gets his fingers bitten off, Dawn starts to come to an understanding of the power she has.
This indie made feature caused a few ripples when it came out with its outrageous premise of a woman who has a set of teeth in her vagina. The theme had been touched on before with the Japanese Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy (2004), as well as a demon figure character in the anime Wicked City (1987) and the subsequent insanely over-the-top She Kills (2016), which lacks any of the tasteful restraint that Teeth chooses. Teeth was the directorial debut of Mitchell Lichtenstein. Mitchell is the son of Roy Lichtenstein, the artist recognised for creating the Pop Art movement and his work that replicated comic-strip panels.
For all the controversy that surrounds Teeth, it is surprisingly more straightforward than anything going into it might lead one to assume. One expected Teeth to emerge as some wilfully bad taste Troma film or something totally gonzo and madcap like Killer Tongue (1996) or The Killer Condom (1996). The surprise about watching Teeth is how seriously it takes the central idea. Moreover, considering its premise, Teeth is a surprisingly chaste film. We never see anything of the vagina dentata in question – at most, we get the diagram of a vagina in a school textbook. And for all the sex scenes, there is precisely one topless shot of Jess Weixler. We do get to see a number of severed penises, although peculiarly none that are still attached. All of which makes for a treatment of the central premise that is far more tasteful that one could possibly have expected. Certainly, Teeth is no cheesy B movie getting by on its outrage factor – everything is cleanly shot and professionally produced and acted. The measure should be that rather than leap into the horror genre, Mitchell Lichtenstein next went onto make the family drama Happy Tears (2009), although did later return with the ghost story Anjelica (2015).
At most, Teeth comes with a darkly laced sense of black humour – lines like “Dinner?” “No thanks, I’ve eaten” – as Jess Weixler returns home after having bitten off her first penis. Underlining everything is footage from films like The Black Scorpion (1957) and The Gorgon (1964), where the respective menace in either is seen as symbolic of the vagina dentata here. The film aims a good deal of satiric focus at the Christian Right and the absurd chastity movement that is being promulgated in a worrying number of American high schools. The film’s jabs at the preaching of these groups – the sentiments of these or Jess Weixler’s horror at getting up to speak and knowing she is no longer pure is spot on.
John Hensley from tv’s Nip/Tuck (2003-10) is the only actor of any name recognition value, aside from a minor role from Lenny Von Dohlen as Jess Weixler’s stepfather. Here Hensley plays Jess Weixler’s stepbrother and relishes the opportunity to behave badly. However, the show is captured by the previously unknown Jess Weixler who holds everything together amid her journey from prim and ungainly sex-hating poster girl for the chastity movement to, by the end of the film, a femme fatale who is dressed to kill and enjoying her power. Her smile of danger-laden intent as the film fades out on is marvellous.