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PARK CITY ’07 REVIEW | Lady Jaws: Mitchell Lichtenstein’s “Teeth”

PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | Lady Jaws: Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Teeth"

During the course of its premiere Sundance screening, in countless psychiatrist offices everywhere, there are people describing their fear of vaginal dentata, the belief that women have sharp teeth lining their vagina. I can’t say with certainty if anyone with that fear was sitting in the audience watching actor-turned-filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein‘s “Teeth,” a silly, splatter movie about a teen girl with G Spot canines. But there were enough screams, as well as nervous laughs, to conclude that everyone has some queasiness when it comes to bodily fluids and orifices. If Lichtenstein’s aim with his mixed-bag horror comedy was to bring the fear of vaginal dentate to life, he succeeded fantastically. As far as achieving the perfect balance of comedy, horror and coming-of-age satire, Lichtenstein comes up slightly short. Still, to his credit, he set his bar very high.

Dawn (Jess Hexler) is a teen innocent, a student at a Christian high school who pledges to her school’s purity campaign to remain celibate until marriage.

Sexual ignorance means Dawn is unaware of how unique she truly is. It takes an aggressive boyfriend, Tobey (Hale Appleman) to bring out the beast in Dawn.

Geysers of blood from doubled-over lovers qualify “Teeth” as a horror film in the spirit of David Cronenberg‘s “Rapid” and “Dead Ringers,” although Cronenberg’s cerebral cynicism has been replaced with coming-of-age sensibilities and playful pokes against the religious right. “Teeth’s” best moment, a trip to the gynecologist turned bloody, occurs when Lichtenstein mixes the shocks and belly laughs expertly. The sight of Dawn’s doctor struggling to yank his hand free is one for movie history books.

As Dawn, newcomer Jess Wexler flashes much-needed anger beneath her girl-next-door looks and unicorn t-shirt. Dawn’s eyes hint that she enjoys playing the monster and Wexler deserves much of the credit for the film’s playful dance between comedy and horror. Surprisingly, the film’s best performance belongs to man, John Hensley (“Nip/Tuck“) as Dawn’s bad boy brother. He’s the true monster in “Teeth” and while his comeuppance offers no surprise, it’s fun just the same.

Lichtenstein remains best known as the son of Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein and if one has to make a comment on his family history it’s to assume that this is someone who knows how to concoct arresting images.

The challenge for a movie hybrid like “Teeth” is to remain dramatically coherent as it shifts from genre to genre, laugh to scream with one too many lulls. Yet, I can’t wait for horny, teenage boys, the biggest fans of horror movies, to flock to ‘”Teeth.” They may leave “Teeth” screaming with pleasure or newfound fear for women.

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