Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a virgin, and proud of it. She gives pep talks on abstinence to her fellow high school students and wears T-shirts emblazoned with the mantra, 'Love is worth waiting for'.
This is just as well. She doesn't know it, but when Dawn talks about the dangers of pre-marital sex she's put her finger on the button. That gnawing desire she feels despite her high-minded principles ' that's a craving with lethal consequences.
The first to find it out is Tobey (Hale Appleman), a fellow virgin (sort of) who Dawn goes goofy over. They flirt, decide to break-up for their own good, then go swimming together in a local make-out spot. Tobey gets carried away and won't take no for an answer ' but something very nasty happens down below, something that leaves blood everywhere, and his penis severed from his body'
At first blush this grisly little horror movie seems an odd debut to come from Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of the artist, Roy. Still, it soon becomes apparent that this isn't a sleazy twist on Deep Throat, Lichtenstein has given some serious thought to the 'vagina dentate' metaphor.
Crucially, while this surprisingly deep-seated myth is traditionally ascribed to men's fear of women, Lichtenstein turns the thing on its head to give us a female, even feminist perspective.
There's certainly an element of satire in the early scenes of Dawn pledging herself to purity but fantasizing about her wedding night. But Dawn is a sympathetic figure whose sexual inhibitions are part ignorance, part innocence. (Oddly, Lichtenstein only makes oblique references to the character's Christian beliefs, and she fails to seek spiritual guidance when things get sticky.)
It's true she doesn't immediately go to the authorities, but her confusion is understandable, and she is as much a victim of predatory men as they are of her. Indeed it seems likely that her 'affliction' is activated by fear and anger, not sexual desire ' it's a form of extreme self-protection that she might one day learn to control.
In one scene Dawn's biology class study the male reproductive organs, then turn the page to look at the female's' only to find the image blacked out by order of the local authorities. Presumably Lichtenstein has taken this absurd detail from life, though it's the first time I've heard of it. It's surely not coincidental that there is no full frontal female nudity in this movie, but there are male members aplenty, most of them disembodied, and not looking good on it.
Any red-blooded male will squirm during these sequences, but Teeth could use more suspense and, yes, more bite; it's never really scary. Nor are the performances more than adequate. It was obviously a low-budget affair, though Lichtenstein relishes packing in as much phallic symbolism as he can, and he does show some visual panache. A God's Eye view of a penis transplant operation is particularly memorable, along with the surgeon's throwaway line 'It hardly seems worth bothering''
Interestingly Lichtenstein's next film sounds like a complete change of direction. Happy Tears is a sentimental dramedy about a couple of grown women (Demi Moore and Parker Posey) returning home to look after their ailing dad (Rip Torn). Ellen Barkin is the old man's girlfriend. With a cast like that there should be plenty to chew on.
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