Teeth (2007, 1 hr 34 mins)
There’s been something on my mind for the longest time…and it involves female genitalia.
Let me explain.
I recently checked out a film called Teeth on Netflix, which centers on a teenage girl named Dawn (Jess Weixler) who is proudly saving her virginity for marriage. She is a bit nerdy, and on the surface, very committed to her cause. Holding school assemblies, encouraging her friends to stay true to their promise, and trying to keep herself chaste despite her feelings for her new beau Toby (Hale Appleman). On an idyllic afternoon, Dawn succumbs to her natural urges and makes out with Toby. Unfortunately, sexually frustrated Toby gets aggressive and the make out session becomes rape. And unfortunately for Toby, Dawn’s vagina sports teeth. You can see where this goes. What follows is Dawn’s horror and guilt over the incident as she copes with hiding her secret, watching her mother’s health fail, and deal with her obnoxious step-brother Brad (John Hensley). Add the ominous nuclear plant stacks in the background that imply genetic mutations in an otherwise all American town, and you get a tongue in cheek story of the much feared myth of vagina dentata.
This myth is an ancient one found in many cultures, basically to caution men from sleeping around with loose women and to deter them from rape with threats of castration. And there it is. Female genitalia was shrouded in such mystery that it became demonized and a great target for creating myths and stories where men could lose their masculinity by succumbing to women’s wiles.
I really enjoyed this film. It dealt with risqué subject matter without overt titillation. You never saw a gaping toothy vagina, in fact, we only saw dismembered penises lying around, ready for their close-up. Weixler played Dawn with kooky fervour and surprising anguish, and Hensley was the ultimate over the top nemesis as her sexually deviant step brother Brad. The cinematography was reminiscent of teen parody films from the early 2000’s, however, Teeth takes the serious subjects of women, sexual power and suppression, and their right to express themselves sexually, and turned them into a campy, thoughtful horror film. It actually made me think about how horror movies have adapted the vagina to make it the basis of horror, or rather the inspiration for many big screen monsters.
Facehugger (Alien) Predator Talk about dentata!
The vagina’s deep dark secrets still scare men, and so they create monsters of Freudian proportions to mask their fear. Look at the facehugger in Alien. Clearly, it was inspired by the vagina. Actually, the whole Alien series is ripe with genital imagery. Also joining the vagina monster ranks are the alien from Predator, the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi, the Graboid and Shrieker of Tremors fame, and Gweomul, The Host‘s creature. Sure, there are some phallic counterparts, the most notable being the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, in fact a lot of creatures resemble orifices from our nether regions, but I find the female genitalia to be of particular interest because of the horror and fear behind it.
Graboid (Tremors) Shrieker (Tremors 2)
Sarlacc Pit (Return of the Jedi) But wait, there’s more dentata!
Gweomul (The Host). Maybe it’s just me, but if you’ve seen the movie, note the subliminal fish/vagina tie-in. Not cool, people. Not cool.
Xenomorph (Alien). Really happy to see you…
We accept anything that looks phallic in nature because we are surrounded by it, and for the most part, men still wield power in society. Highrises, the CN Tower, remote controls, bingo dabbers, jeez, even chocolate dipped pretzel sticks! Penises are everywhere! But bring up a vagina, and we think about dark and damp places that seem to have no end. Heck, it’s a place where men give up control and hope for the best; a place where their performance has to be up to snuff (if they care); a place where blood is shed monthly, and it’s a place where life springs from. You can’t see the inner workings, so of course it’s an unknown that until the last few decades, no one cared to investigate.
It’s only natural to fear things we don’t understand, so by this extension, it’s only natural for monsters to look like that mysterious orifice, once likened to the Hell mouth, that lures the best of men (and women) to its moist, quivering door. Or is it? Are we always going to blame the thing we don’t understand? I for one, am glad that during my research, I couldn’t find any recent pulsating, glistening gashes that chew/suck/crush and wreak havoc in general. The only “genitalia” creatures I found were from the gaming world, and they were just ridiculous.
Maybe the absence of newer vagina monsters stems from the war rooms of movie moguls where they started to realize that these creatures were becoming offensive, silly or just no fun. Maybe they realized kids would want action figures of their favourite creatures and that a vagina with legs and teeth was not the best addition to the toy box. Or maybe it’s as simple as the censors saying “That looks too much like a vagina!” Who knows? Whatever the reason, it’s all good. A vagina shrouded as a monster should not be the only way we see them on screen, if we do at all, and it’s promising that the trend is dying down.
Now, from my previous comments, there is the assumption that these creature designers are all men. And that assumption was correct. These vagina monsters come from the subconscious of male designers, who have publicly displayed their issues with female genitalia which have now become, for the most part, iconic. And incidentally, I’ve also discovered that female creature concept designers are really, really scarce, despite the popularity of the makeup artist competition show Face Off; and the few I found did not design genital based creatures (thankfully!). It’s interesting to note that out of the 5 seasons of Face Off so far, there have been 2 female winners (Nicole Chilelli-season 3, and Laura Tyler-season 5). That’s a squidge under half, so I guess things aren’t that bad. I would love to see that fresh new talent come up with some really great monsters. Better yet, I hope the next big budget creature designer is a woman! Come on Face Off lady alumni! Gimme some cool creatures!!
Sex and horror will always go hand in hand, and stay consistently unavoidable, but it can be handled cleverly and with real finesse, like with films such as Teeth, which pokes fun at the fear of the vagina (no pun intended). Trust me, I’ve got one, and she’s quite un-scary…unused, but not scary. And at the very least, we are moving away from masking that fear with a creature. Strangely, there seems to be a creature lull right now, as possession, zombies, demons, violent crimes and hauntings lead the horror movie pack of late. Let’s hope the next monster we see bears a striking resemblance to a mutated lemur, ear or shopping bag…leave Madge the Vadge out of it, and Peter the Penis too, for that matter!