Dawn is just an ordinary girl dealing with the troubles of adolescence: attractive, but bemused by the changes her body is going through, she suffers from the customary teenage lack of confidence in her self-image. Whilst becoming increasingly aware in members of the opposite sex, she has found herself as a spokesperson for the ‘True Love Waits’ movement, who encourage the wearing of rings as a sign of pre-marital chastity. ‘Purity’ is their mantra. So when Dawn becomes attracted to a boy at her school, Tobey, she is naturally conflicted, her physical attraction to him in contradiction to her promotion of abstinence. Her brother, on the other hand, is a promiscuous misfit, taunting her with some seriously innapropriate comments.
The subject of chastity movements is extremely ripe material for parody, and there is some light mockery: for instance, Dawn’s erotic dreams of Tobey suitably intertwined with some rather strange wedding imagery, poking fun at the idea that marriage is the answer to healthy sexual relations. But there is one simple twist to the film’s satire: Dawn, unfortunately, is not exactly like everyone else as she has teeth in her genitalia. The results of this condition are as grimly predictable as the havoc inflicted by Carrie (1976), and we are spared little graphic detail – any men going to watch this are strongly advised to pack a strong stomach and some loose-fitting underwear. Needless to say, her increasingly dysfunctional encounters with a succession of terrible men do not end well for them.
Vagina dentata, we are informed, is a condition rooted in many different mythologies, but is ultimately a product of genophobia (male fear of sexual castration) as well as being rooted in misogyny. So what Teeth does is cleverly turn this misogyny on its head (no pun intended), making her condition an empowering one: she demonstrably can have normal relations, but when being taken advantage of physically, quite literally bites back (ouch). The subject of gynaecology raises the spectre of David Cronenberg’s masterpiece Dead Ringers (1988), a film which is rooted in the subconscious male fear of the female organ, and while Teeth never aspires to that level of psychological insight, it is certainly a kindred spirit.
At the centre of it all is the wonderfully cast Jess Weixler – a picture of cherubic innocence, looking a cross between Reece Witherspoon and Heather Graham. Her confusion and horror at the realisation of what is happening is played straight, but with real comedy, and pleasingly won her a Special Jury Prize at Sundance last year. Elsewhere the peripheral characters are a little too cliched: the heavy-metal misfit brother, the unhelpful if well meaning parents, and her succession of nerdy, sexually charged victims. But, after all, this is a camp exploitation horror, not a painstaking character study.
I found myself laughing out loud at least five times at some terrifically comic moments, though admittedly uncomfortably so. Director Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of pop art painter Roy, exploits the setup for all of its worth, and keeps a control over the pacing so as to keep the blood and guts neatly spaced apart, slowly ramping up the graphic intensity to keep the audience increasingly amused and horrified simultaneously. I found it hugely enjoyable, but those of a slightly more squeamish disposition should be advised to steer well clear.