Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Teeth: A Feminist Horror Film?

So we finally have a movie about vagina dentata:

In the case of Teeth, if some of the marketing copy is to be believed, the teeth in her vagina symbolizes her sexual repression.

So is this movie a feminist tale of revenge and a woman retaking her power? Or is it making fun of that idea?

Here is the "personal ad" seen on the Internet that is really an ad for the film:

And here is a link to the main character's Dawn MySpace
, which has as its tagline, "must love dental dams!"

Now, dental dams are traditionally associated with a form of protection against STDs that lesbians use. Is the line, then, not only referring to her toothed hoohah but is a subliminal reference to gay women? Does Dawn not only have teeth in her vagina because she is sexually repressed, but because she hates men, and because she may not even "like" men?

Perhaps this movie is more about paranoid men's fears than about any sort of feminist empowerment. Which reminds me of other classic "women's revenge" flicks:

But, in the end, I think the real message the movie might be trying to impart is not women's empowerment, or women's revenge, or even primal make fears. It seems that the real culprit might be...

See, a big point in the film is that Dawn is a Christian, and is raised to wait for marriage before having sex. So it seems that being a serious Christian & devoted to chastity might give you vagina dentata.

Has making fun of Christians in the popular media grown old yet? Is there any more cheap shots to make? While I completely disagree with the traditional Christian stance on birth control, is the idea of a teenager waiting to have sex until they at least graduate high school so absolutely insane-crazy?

Anyway, here is a horror film about the sexual issues of teenage girls that I actually know is very good:

In Ginger Snaps, these sexual issues and related issues of power are represented not by vagina dentata, but by one's menstrual period. Oh, and werewolves.

It remains to be seen if Teeth will be as good as Ginger Snaps -- if it is, as some reports say, an "art" horror film, or just sensationalistic.


  1. ... I saw this film at a festival last year. It made me feel sick, exhausted, and like I wanted to hide under my duvet for the rest of my natural life.

    It seems to be part of a series of horror films (though it's debatable whether this is a horror film or not) that feature rapists getting their penises cut off in one way or another, and then assuming that the audience is male and will therefore feel sympathetic pain. Also, because they usually then die, it's as if they got their punishment for their sins (rape).

    Except it's ... I'm finding it hard to articulate what I mean here, but it's as though all the focus, all the sympathy, is on the mutilated rapist. The woman is sort of incidental.

    The girl in Teeth gets raped over and over and over again. She's either forced by a boyfriend, drugged and date-raped, or violated by a doctor, who's obviously abusing his position of trust. When each of the men involved gets injured, the audience roared with laughter, and I nearly threw up - because it's a movie with just endless amounts of rape.

    All the old tropes come back into play - it's a rape/revenge film, and at the end, the girl goes out into the world, almost soliciting rape in order to get her revenge, sharing a knowing smile with the audience, and it's just downright disturbing.

    Apologies for the rant. I'm constantly seeing this film described as feminist and I just don't understand how people interpret it that way. It just seems to be about how female sexuality is dangerous and scary - and let's not forget, funny.


  2. Ever since I saw this preview it has proven what I have always said...

    "Beware of the vagina, it has teeth and it will bite you..."

  3. Sarah leaves me feeling like...this must suck. Sad; I had hoped it might be okay.

  4. Wow, could I have said the word "rape" any more in my previous comment? I've been on about three different rants about this film already today, thanks to coworkers linking me to trailers and so forth. Sigh.

  5. I'd second the recommendation for "Ginger Snaps." Can't vouch for the 2 sequels, but the first is really good.

    If you can get ahold of the Canadian DVD (it's a Canadian film), there's a good commentary track from the writer, where she talks about what she was going for with the film.

  6. "The girl in Teeth gets raped over and over and over again. She's either forced by a boyfriend, drugged and date-raped, or violated by a doctor, who's obviously abusing his position of trust. When each of the men involved gets injured, the audience roared with laughter, and I nearly threw up - because it's a movie with just endless amounts of rape."

    -- man, I'm depressed. Not shocked. But depressed. I figure I have to see this one eventually just to assess its gender issues for myself (and I'm a horror fan), but I'll wait for DVD.

  7. ps, regarding jeebus:

    mike huckabee, "i believe it's a lot easier to change the consitution than it would be to change the word of the living god, and that's what we need to do is to amend the consitution so it's in god's standards, rather than to change god's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family"

  8. "ps, regarding jeebus:"

    But Huckabee's got those big puppy-dog eyes tho. He's like Nixon redesigned by Mattel Toys.

  9. I had never heard of this film before. Sarah's review aside, it just sounds God-awful and sorta...stupid. Teeth in a vagina? It's like Snakes on a Plane only without the potential for hijinks. It just sounds like a corny idea, like those Flight of the Living Dead ads I see in comics occasionally.

    After reading Sarah's review, it sounds like a corny idea done horrifically wrong. I don't want to sympathize with rapists and I especially don't feel comfortable with a girl actually seeking out rape for any reason.

  10. Ginger Snaps, now that's a movie. The first sequel is much more focused on the Werewolf aspect of things, with a pretty great twist ending. But much of the sex issues are pretty much ignored.

    In regards to Teeth, if you have Teeth in your genitals, nobody wins.

  11. I don't expect making fun of Christians, religion and such to grow old in the near future, at least not any more than thinking that politicians are all corrupt or mistrusting big companies: if it's big in the society, people will think bad of it. As atheism, agnosticism, and secularism grow (or islam or scientology), I would expect more and more criticism and humour targeted at them, though.
    I assume the great importance Americans give to marriage stems from how important religion is, that influence noticeable even among non-religious people. At least that's how it is perceived from the cultural goods the USA exports (films and TV mainly)
    I am Spanish, this used to be a very pious country which nowadays still has a rather big group of very devote people. However, few among young people (let's say, thirtysomething and below) assume they will get married for sure. Besides religion and family pressure, it has virtually no advantages from a legal point of view to get married. However, they probably assume they will have sex someday. Therefore, the idea of waiting until your wedding night to have sex sounds weird, few people follow that (they exist, I swear, I've seen two of them) and even fewer expect that belief to be of any cultural significance.

  12. "man, I'm depressed. Not shocked. But depressed. I figure I have to see this one eventually just to assess its gender issues for myself (and I'm a horror fan), but I'll wait for DVD."

    I'm not sure it's even a horror movie, really. The packaging is worrying - it looks like an indie schmindie Sundance film, both in terms of the poster and the actual film's aesthetic. It's not scary, exactly; not in the way you expect a horror movie to be. Quite gory, though.

    It's technically well-made, well-acted, and all that stuff. It just depressed and terrified the hell out of me. I was supposed to see All The Boys Love Mandy Lane straight afterwards, and I just went home and cried instead. It marred the whole horror movie festival for me, because I realised that I just didn't feel safe, or comfortable, with that particular festival's audience; they seemed to have been conditioned to laugh uproariously at any onscreen bloodshed at all.

    The vagina dentata thing crops up briefly in Storm Warning, too: a couple are held prisoner by your typical horror movie rednecks, and when the woman realises her partner won't be able to protect her, she fashions some kind of device out of a bottle cap that she then inserts into her vagina in preparation for her inevitable rape. The rapist then gets his obligatory long crotch-grabbing scene, howling over his lost penis.

    Hostel Part II and Black Sheep featured severed penises, too. Did the ratings system change, or something? I don't remember that particular thing being so common before, but maybe I'm just misremembering.

  13. Ooh - apologies for all the comment spam, but - Flight of the Living Dead is awful. Not particularly sexist, just really illogical and stupid, without any of the fun of Snakes on a Plane. I'm not sure how you make a movie about zombies on a plane and manage to sap it of all entertainment value, but they did it.

    And to save myself commenting again - yes, Ginger Snaps was great!

  14. Ginger Snaps was freakin' awesome. I went in seeing that film thinking it'd be another crappy direct-to-video schlockfest and it completely blew me away. Haven't seen the sequels but I've heard they're not as good, alas.

    And thanks for the heads up, Sarah. Ugh. That's a lot of rape. And a lot of severed penises. Good Lord.

  15. The Ginger sequels were a good watch, as well. The second one is more-or-less a follow up on Ginger's sister's story (Sorry, blanking on her name) that kind of fumbles a wee bit in the middle but has a pretty creepy finish; and the third is a prequel that doesn't make a whole *lot* of sense, but does work a lot better if you take it on its own terms as a werewolf period piece.

    They're not as straight-up brilliant as the first one, but they're not rubbish either.

    Oh yeah, whatever you do, do not under any circumstances ever go and see Baise Moi. Just... don't. Ugh.

  16. Wow. I can't really believe how sick that movie sounds.

    I've often been disappointed with the way rape is handed in media in general - especially movies and comics.

    Although, seriously, I don't think I'd be able to rent/go see a movie once I found out that there was, within it, a vagina that needed be concerned about gingivitis. It's a little too close to Soul Vengeance for me (go ahead. Google it. You know you want to...)

    Which is a long way around to this:

    Ginger Snaps is the best werewolf movie since And American Werewolf in London, and as far as I am concerned exceeds that film by a fair margin.

  17. My problem with 'Teeth' is that I can't hear about it without this popping into my brain:

    Complete with associated music.

    The movie sounds like one I'll give a miss.

  18. Actually, I've interviewed the director, Mitchell Lichtenstein, and the story I wrote is on my blog - - perhaps gives some context to his attitude in making it. Amusingly enough, it's all the result of something Camille Paglia taught him in college! But "I Spit on Your Grave " was a very apparent reference for him in making it.

  19. I saw "Teeth" last week (I'm a freelance writer/critic) and I have to say that I disagree with Sarah Dobb's analysis (not completely, but mostly). "Teeth" is a bit more complex and, therefore, more open to interpretation than the comments I've read here from OS (who, to be fair, hasn't seen it yet) or Sarah.

    My review's basically in a queue (it'll go up on when it opens here), so I'm not supposed to say too much, but as far as sympathy for the male characters goes, there isn't any. There's exactly one male character worthy of sympathy and he's Dawn's stepfather. That's it. Heck, the director opens himself to being accused of presenting too negative a view of the male gender (and of being anti-male).

    Sure, men in the audience are going to wince at the violence aimed at the male member (I did, each and every time), but, at least at some level, it's "deserved". Maybe the punishment doesn't fit the crime (since the punishment is, in several cases, final) and the justice rough, but it's justice nonetheless. I expect some men in the audience will end up rooting for Dawn, if not for her specific actions, then to escape the circumstances constraining every choice she makes.

    Endless amounts of rape? No. There are four scenes involving sex or sexual violence, including a doctor's visit and in each case, it turns back on the victimizer (brutally, of course). In one case, Dawn clearly seeks out a sexual encounter as a means of obtaining revenge for a prior act (so it doesn't count as rape) and another switches up with Dawn eventually taking charge of the situation (to her pleasure).

    I do agree, however, that the final scene doesn't work, but, at least for me, it was because it tips too far into generic horror cliches (e.g., ambiguity, the monster free to kill again), ultimately undermining everything else that comes before it.

    As for the cause of Dawn's condition, it's never clarified. The Christian upbringing/abstinence is, as Lichtenstein has admitted in interviews, an excuse for her ignorance of her body and of sex. How else could she get to her sixteenth b-day and not become aware of her unique condition.

    As for the Christian thing, I honestly don't understand why so many people lump every denomination into one, monolithic group. It's not. We're not. As a progressive, I take some of my values from Catholicism, but none of the conservatism. The director here, Mitchell Lichtenstein is taking aim squarely at religiously motivated sexual abstinence programs. But it's not the abstinence per se he has a problem with, it's the willful refusal to allow young people to make well-informed choices for themselves (the key words being "well" and "informed"). Abstinence is fine on its own, but under the guise of repressive, social control? No, not at all.

    As for "Ginger Snaps," great premise ("American Werewolf in London" meets "Heathers"), but like most genre efforts, it's let down by a cliched third act. First sequel isn't half bad, deserving some credit for attempting to take the characters and the series in a different direction. The third one is actually a prequel set in the early 19th century on the Canadian frontier (with the two lead actresses playing their ancestors). Not bad for what it was, but neither the sequel nor the prequel come close to matching the first film for its combination of sexual metaphors, black humor, and gore.

    Anyway, my apologies for the length of this comment. All I can suggest is that you see "Teeth" for yourself. I love horror as a genre, but I have high standards, but "Teeth" met them and then some. "Teeth" also comes as close to David "body horror" Cronenberg's work as anything I've seen in the last ten or twelve years.

  20. The Vagina Dentata Purse:

  21. Sarah:

    I certainly understand your point. I see it a bit differently. Yet another movie that portrays all men as rapists.

  22. Hi!

    Good post!

    I wanted to tell you about my horror zine AX WOUND: Gender & The Horror Genre.

    Its all about feminist/gender studies and the horror film.

    you should write something for it=)

  23. i recently saw this movie, and i've been trying to find a good discussion about it online, but i've been sort of disappointed by what i've found.

    i found teeth to be ultimately empowering to dawn, and to women in general. i felt like the control that she took over her life, her sexuality, over the course of the film was quite impressive for a movie written and directed by a man.

    it's shitty that she gets raped, but women get raped. it's real, it happens, and not talking about it is not really a good way of dealing with it. i feel like what is unfortunate about this film is the society in which it's being released.

  24. Anonymous7:34 PM

    I couldn't watch this movie. I agree with Sarah Dobbs, the "satire" of misogyny was just too close to real life for me - the scenes with the brother and his girlfriend made me sick to my stomach and I had to turn it off. I'd like to have a feminist satire that depicts the world in some sort of empowering way, not in a way that tells us that sexual misogyny is inevitable and everywhere and there's nothing to do except react violently. It really upset me.

  25. I was just browsing through your blog and came across this interesting post. Teeth reminds me of a Japanese folklore (I never seen it though) about a woman who has a teeth-monster living in her vag. And it took a man with a steel dong to conquer the monster.
    I just found that funny.

  26. Anonymous2:31 AM

    The advertisement shouldn't be a representitive(in this case) of what to expect in the film. I think that part of the reason the advertisement was so idiotic for this movie was because it is the secound time that it is being released err,.. I mean the first time on a non-indie scale. The movie first came out onto the indie scene in like 2005 and then two years later to a wider audiance. I agree completely that the posters and advertisement of the movie is really ridiculous.But I think that it does deserve the label "feminist horror" though, because it is deconstructing the vagina dentata myth(which is incredibly misogynist)and rebuling it into something more empowering for women. An example; when Dawn takes the page that is being censored in her anatomy book and the sticker that was covering the vulva comes off, the music in the background and the wonder on her face when she sees it, is a heartwarming scene.

  27. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Empowering, Ass-Kicking Women in Horror Films!!!

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  28. Anonymous4:15 PM

    Empowering, Ass-Kicking Women in Horror Films!

    Hey Ladies!! Check out’s women of horror as they discuss their ass-kicking roles and why they want to see more sexy, strong and intelligent female leads! As both a woman and a horror fan I think it’s awesome and wanted to share…hit the link below to watch ‘Tea Party Macabre’ on!