Friday, August 22, 2008

Teeth (2007)

Dawn O’Keefe was just your regular everyday teenage girl, until the day her boyfriend tried to rape her. It was on that day that Dawn learned that she, unlike other girls, was in possession of an extra little anatomical feature: a fanged vagina.

Teeth (2007) is a dark-comedy/horror movie directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein and staring Jess Weixler as the pictures’ heroin Dawn O’Keefe. Teeth originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 07’ and later hit theaters in New York and L.A. that same month. It eventually reached North Carolina in late April/early May where it played the art houses for roughly two weeks.

Now I fully understand that for most people – most men in particular – Teeth does not sound like a film that anyone would ever want to go see. But trust me, it’s worth it. Not only is Teeth a good movie but it also funny and strangely touching in addition to being downright scary. The picture received largely positive reviews from critics (80% on Rotten Tomatoes) and when I told my friends, both male and female, to go see it all of them really liked it.

Now why did I go see Teeth? Well the reason is simple; as the film itself points out time and time again the motif of “the toothed vagina” is one that can be found in myths, legends, folktales and even religious lore all over the world. The technical term for these mythological femme fatales is the Latin phrase vagina dentata and frankly they are rather fascinating. World mythology is, after all, filled with all kinds of “bad girls.” There’s Eve and Lilith, Delilah and Jezebel, Circe and Medea, Morgan le Fay and Queen Mab, the Baba Yaga and the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s even the Poncan’s Deer Woman whom I just previously wrote about. But none of these girls can even hold a candle to how scary the vagina dentata is.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: variations on the vagina dentata myth can be found all over the world. In India, the vagina dentata are the daughters of the Rakshasas (demons who oppose the gods) while in South America the vagina dentata takes the form of a primeval mother-goddess who embodies the waters of chaos and whose vagina is home to a man-eating fish. Similarly, the Maori of Polynesia tell of Hinenuitepo; the goddess of death and darkness whose vagina is equipped with fangs. Even into the 16th-Century legend circulated the Queen Elizabeth I of England was a vagina dentata and had castrated Thomas Seymour, thus earning her the moniker of the “Virgin Queen.”

The most famous myth to concern the vagina dentata, however, comes from the Apache Indians of North America. According to the Apache, in the beginning no women were equipped with vaginas at all. The first women to actually have vaginas were the four daughters of an evil ogre called Kicking-Monster. Each of Kicking-Monsters four daughters looked like normal human females except for the fact that their vaginas were equip with razor sharp teeth and that after sex they had the preying mantis-like-habit of devouring their male suitors - via their fanged vaginas.

Now, in order to end these vagina dentatas sexual reign of terror the champion of the Apache people, a young brave known as Killer-of-Enemies whose father was none other than the Sun God, set out to stop them. When Killer-of-Enemies arrived at Kicking Monster’s lair he went inside were the four sisters who immediately tried to seduce him. However, Killer-of-Enemies was smarter than the men who had gone before him and first asked the sisters what had become of all the other men who had had sex with them. The sisters, being honest monsters, told the truth: “We ate them up, because we like to do that,” they said. Upon hearing this Killer-of-Enemies, now very much alarmed, cried out saying: “Keep away! That is no way to use the vagina!"

Killer-of-Enemies then set to work making a special sour jam out of four different kinds of berries. When he was done with the jam, he fed it to the four sisters who were then each instantly overcome with an orgasm so powerful that all the teeth in their vaginas feel out and it was in this way that Killer-of-Enemies domesticated the vagina, making it safe for use by men everywhere.

Of course, Killer-of-Enemies’ triumph over the frightful specter of the vagina dentata is typically the way all of the above stories end; the one exception being the Maori myth in which the hero falls victim to the dread goddess. The reason for this, as well as the reason these myths exist in the first place, is undoubtedly to provide a way for the male leaders of a society to justify the ruling patriarchal government, a means of maintaining the status quo. Which is another reason why Teeth is such a fascinating picture. It takes what was original a burden upon women, a means of keeping them down, and uses it to create an empowering and likeable heroin.

Lastly, I feel that it probably necessary to point out that myth of the vagina dentata is not always just a myth. As it turns out there is a rare medical condition known as a dermoid cyst which can cause hard deposits of calcium to grow out of the tissue inside the vagina. You can read about it here and here.

Teeth is now available on DVD from Dimension Extreme.

Sources: The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983), by Barbara G. Walker, Primitive Mythology (1991), by Joseph Campbell, The World of Myth (1992), Goddess: Myths of the Female Devine (2001), and Myth, Legends and Folktales of America (2003), by David Adams Leeming

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