Biting Commentary

A pair of new horror movies turn female fears (and fear of the female) into standard genre thrills

The audience for horror films is overwhelmingly male, and the people who make horror films are even more overwhelmingly male, so it's perhaps understandable that women have played a rather fraught role in the history of modern horror. (Someone could write a good book on this subject, and in fact someone already did: Carol J. Clover's 1992 Men, Women, and Chainsaws.) Two recent horror films new to DVD attempt to tackle specifically female fears, or in one case, more accurately, the root of male fears of the female. If the movies were better, it might even seem like progress.

Things start looking wobbly for French import Inside in its opening moments, when a car accident causes a bad-CGI in utero infant to spout bad-CGI blood. The crash outright kills the male companion of news photographer Sarah (Alysson Paradis), leaving her bereft and her yet-to-be-born baby fatherless. Cut to a few months later, Christmas Eve, the night before the listless Sarah is due to be induced, when she is startled to find a strange woman (Beatrice Dalle) outside her front door, demanding in. The woman not only wants in the house, she wants in Sarah's belly and has brought along a pair of shiny shears to manage it. She didn't bring any anesthesia.

In movies, motherhood is often portrayed as a source of hidden strength in the most unlikely moms, from Ellen Ripley to Juno MacGuff. Sarah, on the other hand, doesn't seem to care about her baby at any point. The fact that Dalle's unnamed assailant (who's styled a bit like a dry version of the creepy little girl from the Ring/Ringu movies) is so determined to have the child wrong-foots the traditional assumptions about maternal instinct to interesting effect. Meanwhile, co-writer/directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury pack the early going with plenty of effective, low-key Euro-horror creeps: The moment when the intruder first introduces her shears to the sleeping Sarah's bulging belly is likely to stick with viewers for many bedtimes to come. Soon, though, Inside settles in for a typical gorno war of attrition, as Sarah's tidy suburban home gets doused in guts, then tides of crimson from everyone involved. In a film this bloody-minded it seems almost silly to grouse about gaping plot holes and rich thematic material squandered for another watch-through-your-fingers gross-out, so a decent genre film it remains.

Teeth, on the other hand, just plain bites. As with Inside, the essential premise is high-concept: Teenage all-American girl Dawn (fresh-faced Jess Weixler) discovers she has real-life vagina dentata. Dawn happens to be a born-again abstinence crusader, which helps explain why she doesn't discover her hidden difference until way past puberty. It also leads to a number of intriguing scenes of Dawn and her fellow pledged-virgins-until-marriage proselytizing their views while navigating the teenage hornies. But since this is a horror movie (a horror-comedy would be more accurate), it isn't long before new-to-school abstinent hottie Tobey (Hale Appleman) pushes things too far, and crunch. From there on out, the whole film functions as an excuse to maneuver penises or other appendages attached to various dicks into position for Dawn to use her girly cigar cutter on them. Bleh.

As with Inside, Teeth shows just enough potential to make it a disappointment. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of abstract expressionist Roy, it turns out) handles the camera fairly well and the less outré aspects of his script aren't bad at all. It definitely helps to have Weixler in the lead; she has a future as an actress if she can ever live down this role. She does an excellent job with what is, at root, the only theme novel to Teeth: female sexual organs and how they continue to mystify and irrationally terrify many, sometimes even those who possess a set. Dawn's negation of anything below the waist leaves her utterly unprepared to deal with the feelings Tobey stirs up, not to mention the fact that she has no idea what's up down there to begin with, fanged or otherwise. Of course, when she braves a gynecologist appointment to try to sort out her confusion, the doctor is a creep and gets what's coming in a spectacularly disgusting fashion, because, after all, this is a crappy horror movie.