Teeth with Writer-Director Mitchell Lichtenstein

During the research, writing and making of TEETH, one idea always stood out: the vagina dentata myth actually says very little about women and a whole lot about men. It's also amazing how such a preposterous notion still remains taboo.

In the many cultures in which the myth exists, the central story is always the same: a hero must conquer the woman with the toothed vagina. I wanted to turn this story around and make innocent teenager Dawn the heroine. So TEETH is a bit of a female revenge fantasy about a seemingly normal girl who discovers she has a superhuman power.

Although it's pretty much the most basic gynophobic image, I hope its clear in TEETH that I wanted to poke fun at the myth. I also wanted to expose the roots of the myth: masculine fear.

Since scary stories usually deal with primitive fears, I guess some people will see this as some kind of twisted horror film. But I hate movies in which women are merely victimized. I very deliberately made certain my heroine stayed clean of blood. She remains pure, never defiled by her attackers, never truly violated. That said, I still think there are a few scenes, which will satisfy gore fans. And even in its most horrific moments, I hope everyone will have a few laughs.

Not a Monster-Heroine

When I decided to create a real-life case of vagina dentata, I realized there were a lot of things to consider, a lot of choices to make. One thing was for sure: I didn't want my heroine Dawn to be a monster. I also knew I wanted to focus on her self-discovery.

I essentially wanted to tell the coming of age story of this young woman. Dawn being a virgin was the core element among a lot of issues. Making Dawn a member of a chastity group allowed the character to delay finding out the truth about her anatomical uniqueness. Dawn has been kept from knowing her body–by her teachers, her peers, society, herself.

Yes to Penis, No to Vagina

I remember reading about this Lynchburg Virginia school boards censorship of an illustration of a woman's vagina in a high school biology textbook. The school board allowed the penis diagram, but deemed the inner vagina drawing a violation of a woman's natural modesty. The most shocking thing about this story is that it happened in the year 2000. I think it's medieval to see such perpetuation of a squeamishness, a distaste, a fear of female anatomy.

Over the past 25 years, there have been numerous other instances involving the hindering of sex education. The result of all this is that young people suffer from ignorance. In one of the classroom scenes in TEETH, I also hint at the ongoing U.S. debate about evolution being taught in public schools, another potential threat to young minds.

Crisis of Values

When she falls for handsome Tobey, Dawn reaches a crossroads in her belief system built around sexual abstinence. So part of the film is about this teen romance, a quintessential first love which ultimately leads to Dawns awakening to her sexuality, womanhood and the truth about her anatomical uniqueness. It's a big moment for sheltered Dawn when she decides to be alone with Tobey for the first time out at the swimming hole. This innocent notion seems almost unbelievably old-fashioned in this day and age of oversexed advertising.

Dawn and Tobey appear even more awkward in the scene where they first see one another in bathing suits. I chose a very idyllic natural environment because I wanted Dawn and Tobey to experience a before the Fall moment, very Adam and Eve.

Chastity Group

It made sense to me that Dawn would eventually be drawn to a chastity group like the fictional “The Promise” to help her subconsciously delay knowledge of her vaginal teeth. Growing up around her stepbrother Brads creepy sexual vibe has probably put her off sex somewhat, too. So Dawn finds safety in the group, and solace from her problems at home with her sick mother. It's also the place where Dawn shines as a star speaker in her fight to block out anything referring to sexuality.

My intention wasn't to make fun of these groups in TEETH, although such zealousness as demonstrated by Dawn and her friends can appear pretty amusing to non-believers. I have nothing against chastity groups as long as they don't withhold knowledge from young people.

On the other hand, there's little evidence that teens that participate in chastity programs actually abstain from intercourse longer. Across America, many schools regularly host chastity pledges and rallies similar to those seen in TEETH. The US government spends an estimated $100 million annually to fund sexual abstinence programs. This is a direct result of the “family values” movement of the early 1980s, when Congress passed the Adolescent Family Life Act to fund chastity education.

Inner Power

In the many cultures in which the vagina dentata myth exists, the central story is always the same: a hero must conquer the woman with the toothed vagina. I wanted to turn this story around and make Dawn the heroine. So TEETH is a bit of a female revenge fantasy. Dawn is just a typical teenager who ends up discovering she has a superhuman power. The set-up is similar to that in super hero movies: Dawn uses her power against the bad guys who get their comeuppance. At first Dawn goes through a sort of denial, a fear of what she has down there. Then eventually, she embraces the idea of her power within and how it evolves her.

The Males

Brad has been obsessed with his stepsister Dawn since they were little. Her biting of his finger can be considered his first sexual experience, which colors the rest of his life. Pain ends up becoming part of his erotic language, either inflicted on his girlfriend Melanie or on himself through tattoos and piercings. His preference for anal sex is also a result of that first scarring childhood contact with a vagina. Brad becomes more and more frustrated by his inability to possess Dawn, intensified by a repressed memory: what lurks between her legs

Horror Comedy

Even in its most horrific moments, I hope everyone will have a few laughs in TEETH. Although its pretty much the most basic gynophobic image, I hope its clear that I wanted to poke fun at the vagina dentata myth. Talented costume designer Rita Ryack brought in many subtle touches of humor by accenting the sweet moral center of Dawn and her friends.

I also wanted the visual composition and music to punctuate whenever possible the quirky nature of the characters and their situations. The actors remained truthful emotionally to the plots far-fetched ideas. There are obstacles to overcome in every romance. But pushing that notion to the extreme with Dawn just made everything more fun for me.

Generic American Suburbia

TEETH was shot in and around Austin, Texas, in March and April 2006, but in such a way as to give the film a generic suburban American feel. Although the city itself is disguised, some people may recognize the natural beauty of neighboring Krause Springs and Hamilton Pool in the swimming sequence. I wanted Dawn's neighborhood to have a depressing working class look, similar to what so much of suburban America seems to be becoming. The nuclear plant cooling towers looming in the background are thanks to computer graphics.

Primal Fear

Since scary stories usually deal with primitive fears, some might see TEETH as a kind of twisted horror film. But I didn't set out to make a horror film. The other scripts I've written are very far from horror. In fact, I was never into horror films. As a kid, I loved the 1950s radiation inspired sci-fi movies. I hate movies in which women are merely victimized.

Clean of Blood

I very deliberately made certain Dawn stayed clean of blood in TEETH. She remains pure, never defiled by her attackers, never truly violated. That said, I still think there are a few scenes, which will satisfy gore fans. If you don't cover your eyes, you will see cut-off penises.

Perhaps the most difficult part was pondering the question of how Dawn was created. I finally decided that wasn't really for me to decide, but I do give a couple possibilities in TEETH. As a tribute to the radiation movies I so loved as a child, there is a suggestion that Dawn's uniqueness is the result of the looming cooling towers of the nuclear power plant next door. I'd also like to think that maybe women have finally anatomically adapted to their environment after thousands of years of repression and oppression.

Despite all our great strides, violence against women still exists. Women are raped, forcibly circumcised. So maybe Dawn is an example of nature adapting to this male-dominated world. In any case, however it happened, Dawn is the first.

Metaphors

I first heard about the vagina dentata myth in college. I remember the subject came up in a literature class taught by my professor, author Camille Paglia. Since then I've always noticed how variations on that myth are used metaphorically in horror and sci-fi movies. Most she-monsters can be seen as representations for the toothed vagina, itself already a metaphor for male fear of women. This additional remove is what I always found disturbing because it masks the original fear, assuring that it never be resolved and allowing monstrous qualities to continue to be attributed to women. I hope TEETH exposes this by confronting the vagina dentata myth directly and playing with its preposterous and still taboo nature.

Say Vagina

I don't think it could have been possible even 10 years ago to make a movie with this kind of focus on the vagina. Were talking about a word that some people are still uncomfortable saying out loud. Rumors about the subject matter alone caused up quite a stir during the shoot. Plus, in this male-dominated movie industry, I doubt many men have been eager to depict the results of an encounter with the vagina dentata. It's also a tricky subject that can too easily be misconstrued as misogynist or sexist.

Vagina dentata is Latin for toothed vagina. It is the classic symbol of men's unconscious fear that a woman has the power to cut off her partner's penis. The vagina dentata appears in the myths of practically all cultures, modern and ancient alike, regardless of religion. The myth expresses the threat sexual intercourse poses for men who, although entering triumphantly, always leave diminished. Many people consider female genital mutilation a male reaction to castration fears. If this is true, then there are an estimated two million new female victims every year. There may be a medical origin to the vagina dentata myth.

Dermoid cysts are formed by the outer layers of embryonic skin cells. In rare instances, these cells are able to mature into bone, hair and even teeth, and these cysts are able to form anywhere the skin folds inwards, such as in the vagina.

In 2005, South African inventor Sonette Ehlers unveiled the “rapex”, an anti-rape female condom lined inside with microscopic barbs that hook onto the rapist's penis and can only be removed surgically. In an article about the Rapex condom, Ehlers said she was inspired to invent the device after meeting a victim who told her “If only I had teeth down there.