PARK CITY — “Teeth” is the most alarming cautionary tale for men with wandering libidos since “Fatal Attraction.” It may also be the first horror movie that women drag men to see rather than the reverse. Mitchell Lichtenstein’s female revenge tale can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a comedy, horror flick or social satire so it does all these things. There’s also an artlessness about it, some of which appears intentional, that will probably marginalize the film as a midnight cult film rather than a movie that opens number-one its first weekend. But these “Teeth” have enough bite that the film is certain to gain domestic distribution once it quits the festival circuit.
The heroine, played with sly blandness and innocence by the very talented Jess Weixler, discovers she is a real-life example of the vagina dentata myth. Yes, your high-school Latin is working just fine — that does mean toothed vagina. Now do you see where this movie is going?
For young Dawn (Weixler), her body is a scary mystery. Not understanding her budding desires and having suppressed a childhood incident that left her stepbrother with a damaged finger, she prolongs the inevitable by joining a chastity group. Meanwhile, her grown stepbrother (John Hensley), perhaps in response to that long-ago love at first bite, has turned into a tattooed, body-pierced punk who seeks erotic pleasure in pain.
Dawn experiences first love with fellow chastity pledge Tobey (Hale Appleman). Their courtship reaches its climax in a swimming grotto where passion overpowers Tobey’s vows. The next thing he knows he is staring at his severed penis on the cave floor. (Yes, the film is that graphic.)
Tobey disappears and Dawn, in complete shock, tells no one. To clarify her anatomical aberration, she visits a gynecologist (Josh Pais) but what happens there isn’t pretty either. The Web reveals that central to the vagina dentate myths in most cultures is the hero who must conquer the toothed vagina. Perhaps Ryan (Ashley Springer) is the answer.
Lichtenstein, an actor making his feature writing-directing debut, never quite gets the tone right. The gore, bloody as it is, is built for laughs. Yet serious issues get in the way of the comedy, such as the mortal illness of Dawn’s stepmother (Vivienne Benesch).
Helping matters though is Weixler, who marvelously conveys youthful confusion over blooming sexuality, not to mention her newly discovered powers. She develops an intimate relationship with the camera, where she lets you in on her innermost thoughts and feelings, which the other characters never discern.
Also helping matters is Paul Avery’s production design. While the story takes place in an unnamed contemporary small town, Avery’s interiors and exteriors reflect the depressing bad taste of ’50s design. This triggers memories of old sci-fi movies, right down to the nuclear plant cooling towers that loom over the town and offer a possible explanation for the heroine’s genetic mutation.
“Teeth” is a solid first effort that makes you extremely curious about the filmmaker’s next project.
Writer/director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Producers: Joyce Pierpoline, Mitchell Lichtenstein
Director of photography: Wolfgang Held
Production designer: Paul Avery
Music: Robert Miller
Costume designer: Rita Ryack
Editor: Joe Landauer
Dawn: Jesse Weixler
Brad: John Hensley
Dr. Godfrey: Josh Pais
Tobey: Hale Appleman
Ryan: Ashley Springer: Kim: Vivienne Benesch
Bill: Lenny Von Dohlen
Running time — 93 minutes
No MPAA rating