What defines a “comfort movie?” I’ve always understood it to mean a movie that can cheer you up when you’re sad, make you feel safe and secure, and wrap around you like a warm blanket. It’s the kind of movie you watch when you’re feeling sick, heartbroken or overwhelmed. For me, one of those movies is the biting (get it?) comedy horror flick, Teeth (2007).
Now, if you’ve heard anything about Teeth, you may be a bit taken aback by this assertion. However, I take your Mamma Mia, and I raise you Vagina Dentata. If you’ve never heard of Teeth, it’s the story of Dawn o’Keefe, an evangelical teenage girl who is a spokeswoman for a pro-abstinence group, who discovers that she has teeth … down there. Throughout the film, Dawn is attacked by a variety of men who want to take advantage of her, but she is able to take revenge through the power of the mythical Vagina Dentata. She goes from a sheltered girl dreaming of her white wedding to a hardened woman who is prepared to use her newfound power to punish dangerous and lecherous men by biting their genitalia off.
Now, I am not going to pretend that this film is some sort of artistic masterpiece. It’s a cult classic B-movie, plain and simple. It’s often absurd, campy and provokes more laughter than screams of horror (well … at least for me). For instance, when a predatory gynecologist’s fingers are bitten off when he violates Dawn during an exam, he screams “VAGINA DENTATA! THE LEGENDS ARE TRUE! VAGINA DENTATA!” in the most dramatic line reading physically possible. There are also multiple scenes involving penises being eaten by various animals that I couldn’t help but giggle at. The fashion is also so very 2000s in the best way possible. Think long-sleeved shirts with cutesy baby tees layered over them.
So, why do I love this movie so much? Why was it the first thing I thought to throw on when I was in bed feeling sorry for myself because of a stomach bug? I think it’s a mix between the campy fun of it all and the genuinely thought-provoking message that it contains. Quite a few of the actors in the film also do a fantastic job balancing humor and real pathos in their performances. Dawn’s actress Jess Weixler truly conveys the naivete of an idealistic teenage girl, and she masterfully handles the transformation of this girl as she comes into her own. The movie has quite a bit to say about the censorship and shaming of women’s sexualities and bodies. A scene that stood out to me was one where Dawn is in a health class and the diagram of the vulva (but not the penis) is covered up completely with a giant gold sticker. Dawn’s story is a bildungsroman (coming of age story) where she must learn to understand her own desires and power despite the way that society treats young women. Jess Weixler makes this evolution feel real and organic.
Now, onto something more serious. This is not just a comfort movie for me because of the comedic elements, the great performances and the wild script. It also provides a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy. Before the wish-fulfillment comes in, however, there is genuine darkness. There are a few key moments in the movie where humor takes a backseat, and I truly feel disturbed and afraid. Dawn first discovers her abilities when a classmate who claims to support her in her pro-chastity mission attempts to assault her. The scene is chilling and all too real. So many of us know what it’s like to be violated by someone you thought you knew and to realize that you are smaller, weaker and ultimately trapped. The wish-fulfillment comes in because Dawn may seem helpless, but she has a built-in form of protection that lets her overcome her physical disadvantages and take immediate revenge on the men that prey on her. Much to both of their surprises, her vagina bites off this classmate’s penis, leaving him screaming in horror as he sees the bloody appendage lying on the ground. He gets to take no pleasure in his violence against her. She can also still have consensual sex because we see that things only get toothy when she is being violated. Honestly, her Vagina Dentata seems to come with many more pros than cons. I won’t outright say biologists should get on this, but …
So ultimately, despite its flaws and problematic moments, this movie is immensely comforting to me. It’s an escapist daydream where a woman has the upper hand. Maybe you’ll find the same comfort in it. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who loves campy and feminist dark comedy and B-movie style horror. It’s also a fun one to put on during a party and watch some of your male friends squirm. Okay, maybe that’s a bit wrong of me. Well, now that every man at Brandeis is probably at least a little afraid of me, I must bid you adieu. I will leave you with an amazing one-star review of Teeth that I found on Rotten Tomatoes.
“I watched this movie with my then-boyfriend, thinking we’d have a fun night with a corky dark comedy. I say “then-boyfriend” because we aren’t together anymore. I’m not saying that this movie ended our relationship, I’m just saying is that for a stretch of time we were dating, then one day we watched this movie, and now we’re not dating. Whether or not this movie was the direct cause of our not dating anymore, I’m not sure. One thing is certain though, we did not have sex afterward.”
Tragic. His loss!