Monday, January 27, 2020

Vamp or Not? Teeth

When I read Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction, and Popular Culture by Sorcha Ní Fhlainn I was struck by her reading of the film Teeth as a vampire film. Teeth was a satirical horror film directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein and released in 2007, and it centred on the myth of vagina dentata – literally vagina with teeth. The reading clearly sits within the realm of the othered woman – just as the vampire generally is othered, and warranted some thought and a ‘Vamp or Not?’ for the film.

Ní Fhlainn admitted that “critics may feel uncertain about Teeth belonging to the vampire genre”. In fact, she recognised that, even if not, the use of the text was important to the argument made but did cite Barbara Creed who, in her book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, argued that the vampire, archetypally, is a mother figure. If, in Creed’s reading, the male vampire becomes a fetishized vision of the mother, he perhaps also represents vagina dentata. Creed then argues that this imagery is most clearly drawn when the vampire is female, dispensing with the need for the shadowy form of the male, especially when the camera lingers on parted, blooded lips with sharp fangs in view.

Jess Weixler as Dawn
This film follows Dawn (Jess Weixler) but begins when she is a young child (Ava Ryen Plumb) in a town dominated by giant cooling towers (there is an undercurrent that these, a visible symbol of a nuclear power station, represent the cause of her mutation). Her mother (Vivienne Benesch) and step-father (Lenny von Dohlen) sit on the porch whilst Dawn and her step-brother, Brad (played young by Hunter Ulvog), are in a paddling pool. Hidden from the viewer, he shows her his, as it were, and then tells her to show hers. There is a scream and his finger is bleeding.

John Hensley as Brad
Memory fades, of course. Whilst her mother is very ill, both mother and father are very proud pf Dawn, who is now a spokesperson for an abstinence group. They are less proud of Brad (John Hensley), who is now a bad boy. It is telling that he will only have anal intercourse with his girlfriend, Melanie (Nicole Swahn), (indicating fear of the female and castration anxiety, which the concept of vagina dentata represents) and is – we later discover – sexually obsessed with Dawn. An obsession that might be likened to the obsession that is often shown between the bitten victim and the vampire. Dawn meets a boy called Tobey (Hale Appleman) and they are attracted to each other.

before the attack
I won’t go too deeply into the detail of the film as it isn’t necessary for the investigation. Let it suffice to say that Dawn and Tobey decide to avoid each other but give in to their attraction and, subsequently, he rapes her and her vagina dentata protects her by castrating him. Dawn suffers more sexual abuse as the film continues, and is defended by her unique biology, but has also been abused by a misogynistic society, which even covers up the diagram of female genitalia in a biology text book, but not the corresponding male diagram – leaving her unsure as to whether the teeth are normal. It also becomes apparent that they are defensive, that when she consents the teeth do not bite (though that consent can rightly be withdrawn at any point).

Melanie and Brad
This defensiveness of a vampire’s bite to sexual abuse can be seen in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. In the film the drug dealer and pimp Saeed forces his finger into the Girl’s mouth in a moment of non-consensual penetration. The scene is a mirror image of an earlier one where he forced the prostitute Atti to give him fellatio, but here the Girl, fangs apparent, bites his finger off. This scene in AGWHAaN can be read as a moment of vagina dentata and ties nicely with Teeth in that sense. Equally, whilst Blade Trinity is the weak link in the Blade franchise there is a moment of misogynistic insults where Hannibal King says to Blade “Her name is Danica Talos. You met her earlier. And unlike typical vampires, her fangs are located in her vagina.” Whilst she is a bad guy vampire, the insult is tellingly that of a man attacking a stronger woman who he feels emasculated him.

So, is Teeth a vampire film? If one accepts that the vampire can be a representation of vagina dentata (and vice versa) it can be read that way. Certainly, there are similes to be drawn with other vampire films as I’ve shown. Whilst not every vampire film shows the vampire feeding, however, to me it is the lack of feeding here that also adds weight to the other side of the debate. Without a doubt the film’s central trope is one that can resonate with vampire tropes but, ultimately, I think that is about as far as it goes. The film, however, is certainly worth watching as a brutally satirical piece.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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