Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Teeth": A New Kind of Bite

It is amazing how many horror films are variations on the same old monsters. Here's the zombie again, there's the vampire, now a werewolf, then a demon, and so on. One of the reasons people go to horror movies is to see forms of being that they cannot see in normal life; yet rarely does a horror movie present us with a deformed destructive being (DDB) we have not already seen in other movies. Teeth (2007) should be given credit for presenting just such a novel DDB: the vagina dentata.

Teeth is the story of Dawn (Jess Weixler), a teenage girl whose vagina has teeth. Perhaps this deformity can be explained by her living next door to a nuclear power plant; perhaps it has something to do with the persistence in myth and folklore of the motif of the vagina dentata, or toothed vagina. But in any case, Dawn finds herself capable of fending off sexual assault by biting off anything unwanted that enters her vagina, whether it is a penis or a gynecologist's fingers. She can even use her power to avenge wrongs done to her: simply wield her good looks to lure in the offending male, and CHOMP!

With its explicit shots of bitten-off penises, Teeth is not a film for men made easily queasy. Nor is it a great horror movie. Though Dawn is clearly deformed and destructive, she is, strangely, not quite destructive enough. The men she attacks more or less deserve their fate; she does not make the crucial movie monster leap to attacking innocent people. Dawn starts the movie as a naive girl who embraces abstinence, and she never entirely loses that naivete, no matter how many phalli lie in her wake. This makes for a lightly comic tone rather than the fiercely horrific tone the movie could have had.

Nevertheless, Teeth is entertaining and, without making a big deal of it, suggestive of feminist and other social concerns. Above all, its DDB is something different. With respect to normal form, Dawn's fangs are not in the right place, but with respect to horror movie form, they are.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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