I’ll be talking to someone and say, ‘I did Teeth,'” Joyce Pierpoline exclaims, “and their body language changes completely!”
I’m talking to the producer of 2007 cult horror-comedy Teeth in London’s British Academy of Film and Television. Around me, expensively dressed industry executives tap smartly on MacBooks or raise sparkling toasts to future deals.
Pierpoline, a dark-haired woman in chunky silver jewelry and fluffy sneakers, grows animated. “And then,” she goes on, “they’ll turn away from me”—she hunches over, crossing both legs in demonstration—”and be like, ‘Oh, you produced that?”
It’s been a decade since low-budget comedy-horror Teeth premiered at Sundance to positive reviews (its lead, Jess Weixler, received the Special Jury Prize for Acting). Written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, the son of famed pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, the film follows high school student Dawn O’Keefe, an evangelist for the purity movement.
As the film opens with O’Keefe and her stepbrother Brad in a paddling pool, we learn her secret—she has vagina dentata (“toothed vagina” in Latin). Brad attempts to molest her and ends up with a bleeding finger. Teeth follows O’Keefe’s travails as she struggles to maintain her purity vows in a sex-obsessed culture while escaping the unwelcome advances of her abusive stepbrother and rapist classmates. She also tries to look after her sick mom, whose illness appears to be linked to the nuclear power plant O’Keefe bikes past en route to school.
A powerful critique of America’s purity culture, Teeth is also an incisor-sharp commentary on male entitlement, consent, and sexual violence. But despite a mostly warm critical response, Teeth performed poorly at the box office. On a limited theatrical release on January 18, 2008, Teeth barely recouped its $2 million budget. More distressingly, it was outperformed at the box office by Katherine Heigl vehicle 27 Dresses, an asinine rom-com clunker about a perennial bridesmaid. Over time, however, Teeth settled into a new critical importance like dentures in a water glass.