Ninety nine percent of horror movies are about men hacking up young women. That’s not a fact, but its close. Horror movies, like ancient horror myths, don’t like women. Like virgins being fed to the Minotaur, the fairer sex are mostly screamers in horror flicks; they get to flail, they get to plead, they get to die – and that’s their lot. In the 19th century it was Bram Stoker who immortalised misogyny; in the 1980s it was Friday the 13th… A movie like Teeth isn’t designed to redress the historical imbalance, but it does feature a vampire vagina that chomps off men’s bits. Is this how horror does equality?
Boldly holding firm against a vicious siege by her hormones, Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a believer in abstinence. We meet her at an anti-premarital sex rally where her key-note address asks teens to think of their virginity like a gift they wouldn’t want to share with strangers. Dawn is a rising star of a movement known (wishfully) as The Promise. But danger is fast approaching Dawn. A new member of The Promise looks like he belongs in a boy-band – and it looks like he wants Dawn to be his groupie. Sadly, for the boy-band wannabe, Dawn harbours a frightening secret. She was born with a vagina detentata. Literally, a lady garden with teeth!
Oh, how I would have longed to be at the pitch meeting for this movie. Not since Deep Throat has a movie had a more likely-to-induce-heart-attack premise. And Deep Throat was made in the 70s. You can understand how Deep Throat got made in a climate of key parties. Teeth comes out of nowhere. Here we are, playing innocently on our Play Stations, and then…. This. A vampire vagina! And you thought having read The Beauty Myth was the cutting edge of feminism! Is this feminism? Is it misogyny? Who knows! I imagine all the producers wanted to know was: how much sex is there in this movie?
Thankfully, director Mitchell Lichtenstein doesn’t completely go the exploitation movie route. Teeth is not Roger Corman’s Teeth, nor a movie Russ Meyer would have relished. Sorry kids, but there isn’t much nudity in this movie (unless you count severed penises). Instead of skin, and against expectations, Teeth concentrates on the young woman at the heart of the story. Every bit as much as Secretary did for Maggie Gyllenhaal; the movie acts as a showcase for Jess Weixler. Seemingly undaunted by the insanity of her part, Weixler plays Dawn as someone guilt-ridden about sex; terrified, fulfilled and ultimately unhinged by losing her virginity – but always sympathetic, and real, no matter what her anatomy does.
This is no mean feat on Weixler’s part, as she has to contend with a score that sounds like the orchestra was smoking peyote, a script that features lines like “I haven’t jerked off since Easter!”, and a line-up of male antagonists who’d stand out as sleazy in the audience of a porno theatre. But Weixler has a Drew Barrymore-innocence about her. It’s the same aura that protected Drew herself through cocaine addiction and flashing David Letterman. As an audience member, you look at any actress with the Drew-aura and think: she’s sweet. So it is that Weixler can emasculate willy-nilly and still win-over boys.
There’s a lot that could be read into Teeth, but every accurate reading should start: it’s not… It’s not a feminist movie, because Dawn’s an outcast at the end. It’s not a misogynist fantasy, because Dawn is Dawn. The premise itself is so ridiculous, Teeth has a hard time being a straight horror. So maybe its best described as a revenge on sex in horror films. Revenge for all the girls who had sex on screen just so we could watch them get killed. Now Dawn kills to have sex! And she gets the lead role. It might not make the horror genre any healthier psychologically, but it’s horror – it comes from the darkest depths of the subconscious. It’s ok for it to be weird.