The vagina dentata! It's the myth of a woman with teeth in her vagina, one of those myths that seem to originate in the demonization of women and especially their sexuality. And, since horror films often have a somewhat troubled relationship to women and especially their sexuality, it seems natural for a horror film to finally address that particular myth. And here, at last is that film that finally addresses it! In a really trite way.
We open with a bucolic suburb with two nuclear towers steaming in the distance. I think we are to infer that radiation from the nearby plant may be responsible for the vagina in question, but I also think it is the lesser filmmaker's shorthand for the dark side of suburban life, as seen in Daydream Nation. We pan down and see two kids in a wading pool, overseen by their parents. We quickly establish that the kids are not related, but the prior children of the couple before getting together. The kids are playing "show me yours," mere feet away from their parents. The boy inserts his finger (not shown) and comes back with a nasty bite. Then--credits!
The credits show microscopic cells. Long brown worms pursue and destroy round cells, until at the end, one different-looking cell devours the long brown worms, delivering a theme of the movie: the pursued becomes predator. We now meet the girl, in high school, named Dawn and looking like Heather Graham's young sibling. She is a spokesperson for The Promise, which is one of those youth things about maintaining virginity until marriage. She goes home, where we see that her mother has cancer, and her brother, Brad, is now a nihilistic burnout. Dad is played by the guy who played Laura's secret friend in the second season of Twin Peaks.
Uh-oh, the steam from the nuclear plant is growing darker, surely symbolic of the moral corruption happening in town. Brad has loud anal sex with his girlfriend before forcing her to eat a dog treat, forcing Dawn to try to drown out the sounds. At school, Dawn is made fun of for her Christian beliefs and virginity pledge. We notice that the actress, Jess Weixler, is doing an excellent job of making Dawn seem strange but completely believable. She finds a new boyfriend in Tobey, also committed to virginity. She and her friends go on group dates to avoid temptation. Tobey says he's a virgin "in His eyes," which I think we are supposed to mean he was sexually molested. The sex education books in school have diagrams of the penis, but state-mandated stickers over female anatomy, showing us that the entire culture Dawn lives in is afraid and ashamed of female sexuality.
SPOILERS > > >
One day Dawn and Tobey go to a swimming hole, with a cave make-out spot conveniently furnished with a clean sleeping bag. They make out, but Tobey won't stop when Dawn clearly protests and forcibly rapes her. In a snap, his cock is bitten off. Yes, we see it. He falls back into the water. By now the highly-symbolic CGI nuclear steam is black.
Dawn finds she can no longer deliver the purity speech. Then another friend, who looks pretty much EXACTLY like Tobey, asks her out, leading to long minutes of confusion. Is Tobey still alive, and completely forgiving? Then Dawn rides her bike, past billboards that trade on women's sexuality, to a gynecologist for a checkup. He, being an male, is of course a pig who takes off his gloves to insert several fingers rather roughly into Dawn, starting to, ummm, manipulate her very roughly, and pays the price. She rides to the swimming hole, where--in the movie's best image, Tobey's body is brought up by the police (oh, so I guess the new boyfriend is someone else, then). She then rides home, where her mother has collapsed, ignored by her brother, who is visibly fucking his girlfriend with the door wide open. Wow, this sure is some day for Dawn, huh?
She goes to the new boyfriend's house, where she tells him she has a vagina dentata. He gives her a sedative and, while she's out of it, he puts the moves on her. But it works out okay, and we see that if a man is respectful and caring, Dawn won't bite it off. And you at home are thinking "Oh, so I guess there will be at least one male in this movie who isn't an evil rapist pig." Well, guess again, because this guy made a bet with his friend that he could bag Dawn, especially with her "commitment" to virginity and all that, a fact that he thinks she will be terribly amused to hear. She bites it off. Once again, we see it, and the stump, spurting a geyser of blood.
Now we have a short scene with a doctor showing a cop a tooth he removed from the penis of Tobey. These characters have never appeared before, and will never appear again. Similarly, there are scenes of the gynecologist and the guy who looks like Tobey in surgery, showing their fingers and penis on trays awaiting reattachment, although these scenes go nowhere and add nothing. Perhaps they were intended to be funny?
Then Dad tries to kick Brad out of the house, only to have Brad unleash his Rottweiler on him. Then Dawn overhears that Brad heard their mother screaming for help, but did nothing. Dawn gets a plan, and I think I you what it is. She goes in, seduces Brad, bites it off. The dog's cage becomes spontaneously unlatched--these things happen!--and when Dawn drops it, the dog eats it. We could see this coming. Then Dawn runs away, her bike breaks down, and Dawn starts to hitch hike. This guy picks her up, and they soon pull into a convenience mart. He smiles sweetly at her, and you're like, "Okay, at least there will be one guy in here that is not an evil rapist." Well, I hate to break it to you, but Dawn soon discovers that she is locked in the car, and the man is making lewd gestures at her. Dawn smiles a knowing smirk back at him, and there we are.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was just garbage. It's not just stupidly written, it is also poorly made. But let's start with the good. Far and away the best thing about it is Jess Weixler as Dawn. She apparently won a special acting award at Sundance for it, and she deserved it, because she does wonders for this role. When she is an isolated Christian devotee of virginity, she is entirely convincing as someone socially isolated but not that weird, going along with an exaggerated smile to aid in her denial that anything awful is happening in her life. She then goes through a lot of convincing turmoil as she goes through the several traumas, and goes far to keep this together as the script starts wildly falling apart. She brings much, much more to this movie than is there in the script, and Jess Weixler, hats off to you!
Also adding to the disappointment, which might be put in the good column, is that it's a good idea for a horror movie, there's a lot of rich potential here, and the idea of setting it against our culture's fear of women's sexuality and our streak of Puritanism, and especially bringing in those virginity pledges, is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, that's where the cleverness ends.
Now, I proudly consider myself a feminist in the sense that men and woman are more equal in abilities than not, and that what we need to do is work toward greater evenness of opportunities and recognition of ability. But there are others who seem to believe that feminism means that men are, to a person, evil pigs and the answer is for women to annihilate them. Of six prominent male figures in this film, five are rapists, and the other is Dawn's dad, i.e. not a sexual suitor to her. Not just sexists! Not just guys that play cruel pranks, or make insensitive passes! But RAPISTS. Which is just too much, and it's a shame that writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein doesn't even realize that this undermines his own movie, and makes us unable to take the statement he is trying to make seriously. It seems that perhaps we are supposed to get behind Dawn in a rah-rah, give them bastards what they deserve way, and perhaps we are to find the idea of men separated from their penises funny, but the case is built on so many straw men it just doesn't hold.
Add to that the piss-poor filmmaking. What's going on when you have a prominent character who looks exactly like another prominent character? Really poor casting. And when you start story threads--such as the doctor and the cop--that are just dropped, with characters who appear for one scene and never appear again? Not to mention the two surgical scenes, which are pointless in the larger context of the film. Or having Dawn get molested by the gynecologist, see her boyfriend's body being found, and have her mother collapse all in the course of a few hours? The movie just flies apart in its second half, as Weixler tries her best to make it seem remotely plausible.
So, too bad, it was a good idea. And, as usual, the reason I'm coming down so hard on it is because it had so much potential, and all of it squandered. It's still interesting to see how it is handled, and see what they do with the premise, if one is prepared for the disappointment that they don't end up doing much with it at all.
You could do worse, although the filmmakers could have done so much better.