Edinburgh International Film Festival

Teeth (2007)

Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman

Directed by: Mitchell Lichtenstein

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Jess Weixler and Hale Appleman in horror comedy Teeth

If you thought vagina dentata was a myth, you've clearly never been to the American Bible belt…

High school sweetheart Dawn (Jess Weixler) doesn't know what female genitalia are supposed to look like. The diagram in her sex ed text book has been covered over with a great big sticker. And, because she's a devoted member of a 'true love waits' abstinence programme, she's never had the chance to put her rose-tinted wedding day sexual fantasies into action.

But when fellow 'promise' member Tobey (Hale Appleman) pushes his luck too far, he finds out he's bitten off rather more than he can chew – or rather, Dawn has. A sleazy gynaecologist (Josh Pais) finds himself in a similar painful position when he gets a little over enthusiastic in his examinations, and as for the loser who sleeps with her to settle a bet, and her foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, misogynistic stepbrother (played, somewhat ironically by Nip/Tuck's John Hensley)… ouch!

Jess Weixler and John Hensley in Teeth

Yup, Teeth, like The Lost Boys or Fright Night, is a horror/comedy with bite – although the teeth in question are not in the mouth. Yes, ho ho, it's all very funny, we get to see lots of hilarious chewed off willies and spouting stumps. But Teeth also has a more serious agenda – not least in its implication that Dawn's mutation may have something to do with the enormous factory chimneys belching foul smoke into the air behind her house, or its satirical poke at born again American puritanism.

But mainly, like American Werewolf in London, Teen Wolf and their aforementioned 1980s vampire chums, Teeth is about growing up. It's about the unexpected, embarrassing things that start to happen to the body, over which it appears one has no control; and it's about sex, and how actually, when you're a teenager, sex can be really quite scary.

While 1980s horror comedy tended to focus around young men, as their freaky new urges put them at the mercy of predatory females like Grace Jones's marvellous Katrina in Vamp, Teeth is set squarely in the girly camp. But whereas your traditional horror heroine, from Halloween's Laurie onwards, draws strength from not having sex, Dawn discovers that sex can be a weapon.

Clips from old horror films featuring giant black widow spiders and a serpent-haired Medusa serve both to emphasise Dawn's links to ancient, powerful, mythic figures, and to sink Teeth firmly into the tradition of the B-movie, which has always served as a warped reflection of current social fears, from invading Ruskie aliens to demon kids. And in an age where women are increasingly portrayed in the media as pliable and plastic, desperate and disposable, where rape convictions sit at around three per cent and drinking 'til you throw up is regarded as empowering, it's refreshing and exciting to see Dawn's transition from helpless victim to archetypal femme fatale. Isn't it time we women all started celebrating what God's given us, instead of trying to starve our bodies into submission, or sculpt them under the knife? In effect, isn't it time we started biting back?

But if you're worried that this post-feminist dissection makes the film sound rather dull, remember, you do get to see a dog swallow half a penis, and spit out the Prince Albert afterwards. Was that a spoiler? Well, it certainly was for the dog...

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