There are three bitten-off penises in plain sight in Mitchell Lichtenstein
's Teeth, all three accompanied by shots of the gaping, below-the-equator wound. One of them, in the film's most grotesque sight gag, plops onto the carpeted floor like a freshly-pinched turd. 2007 gave us Quentin Tarantino
's melting junk in Planet Terror. Welcome to 2008.
Decked out with odes to the 1950s bargain-basement sci-fi films that Lichtenstein grew up on, Teeth tells the delightful yarn of a teenaged girl named Dawn (Jess Weixler
) and her shark-tooth-lined vagina. (The press kit, and one seriously unlucky gynecologist, is quick to point out that the Latin term is actually vagina dentate.) Bopping back and forth from churches and schools, Dawn spends her time as an abstinence-is-rockin' faith promoter. After a speech, she meets Tobey (Hale Appleman
), and the purity sparks fly. Their idea of a fun date includes a wild night of popcorn and the latest animated feature at the multiplex. Article continues below
Well, Tobey gets horny one day at the swimming hole and just can't keep those promise-keeper shorts on. Amidst the rape melee, a lone crunch is heard and Tobey's face goes worse than Ben Stiller's frank-and-beans incident. Lichtenstein lingers on a shot of the gnawed appendage as the young man holds his wound and drops into the swimming hole in shock. Three more men learn the hard way; sex-crazed demons that we are, men just can't stop trying to degrade our heroine. Even the gyno (Josh Pais
) has a sinister way about him, a little too forward and cold. With a sick mother (Vivienne Benesch
) in the hospital and a stepbrother (Nip/Tuck's John Hensley
) in the next room, its Dawn's charge to teach the males a lesson.
Though reminiscent of the bonsai charms of Larry Cohen's '80s output (and the 2003 direct-to-DVDer Angst), Teeth has a severe lack of concentration, due in no small part to a scattershot editing job: Random shots and scenes abruptly come in to reiterate motives or allow for another redundant sight gag. For a film that is basically humping one note, Lichtenstein sure does know how to wear out a welcome, and by the fourth victim, even seeing a bitten-off penis getting gobbled up by a mutt comes off as repetitive. Call me old-fashioned, but three is enough to get your point across.
The hints and intimations towards feminist theory, the male gaze, and fear of women are all well and good, but it's the B-movie spunk that makes Teeth entertaining. It owes a special ode to Cohen's It's Alive, the schlockmeister's homage to abortion and fear of parenthood. The looming cooling towers insinuate that Dawn's problem stems from pollution, but Lichtenstein's script, often overwrought, is very careful to never explain Dawn's mutation. Though never egregious, the faults in Lichtenstein's filmmaking render Teeth a passable entertainment and nothing more. You'll have to forgive the pun, but it simply lacks bite.