Yep, this is that mutant vagina movie. I'm sure some would call it a Vagina Monster, although in reality it's more of a Vagina Superhero. Whatever the case, you better get comfortable with the word "vagina", because you'll hear it a lot--both in this review, and in the movie. Go ahead and say it 10 times slowly. I'll wait...
This dark comedy--I hesitate to classify it as a true horror film--has a lot of fun exploring an ancient myth in modern times. Dawn (Jess Weixler) discovers at a very young age that something is a little different about her. And she quickly represses herself, in part by joining The Promise, a teen abstinence group that stresses purity. That makes it especially challenging when she starts to have feelings for born-again virgin Tobey (Hale Appleman). Their courtship draws parallels to Adam and Eve, ending in tragedy for Tobey after he pushes his temptation a little too far (after one of my favorite admissions in movie history: "I haven't even jacked off since Easter!").
And it's not like Dawn has the happiest home life, either. Her mom is sick, possibly the result of those ominous, phallic nuclear cooling towers that hover behind her house. Even worse is having to live with stepbrother Brad (John Hensley), a tattooed, mutton-chopped bad boy who listens to a lot of heavy metal music, has a pet Rottweiler he keeps in a cage--and has developed an affinity for asses, the result of a painful childhood curiosity for his stepsister that left his finger scarred.
Dawn quickly does some research and discovers the myth of vagina dentata (Latin for "toothed vagina"), which springs from a primitive masculine dread of the mysteries of women and sexual union. It's a myth created by men, playing on fears of weakness and impotence. Men are supposed to take an epic journey back to the womb--the "dark crucible" that hatched them--to become a hero and conquer the enemy. But writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein turns that myth on its head, and the result is a bloody hysterical jolt of female empowerment.
It's clear from the opening scenes that this story plays out as a cautionary fairy tale, a self-aware spoof of exploitation films with exaggerated characters and performances, and a plot worthy of Greek mythology. There are a number of influences at work: It's sort of like Tim Burton crossed with John Waters (think Edward Scissorhands meets Serial Mom), mixed with elements of Carrie and Jaws, with I Spit on Your Grave and Hostel 2 thrown in for good measure.
This is one of those movies you hear about and can't believe got made, like Bobcat Goldthwait's Sleeping Dogs Lie (aka Stay). On the surface, it sounds like a stunt movie destined to fail, but there's a surprisingly powerful message that creeps through. More importantly, it's damn funny, including an intercom scene that had me (and poor Ryan!) in stitches, and perhaps the funniest gynecological exam I've ever seen on film (okay, it's the only one I've ever seen, but it was still a riot), thanks in part to the perfectly cast Josh Pais as Dr. Godfrey.
Lichtenstein has his tongue planted firmly in cheek: look for brief snippets of such classic influences as The Black Scorpion and The Gorgon; a horde of phallic and vaginal symbols (check out that tree!); some hilarious aerial surgery shots; snake references; a final showdown that pays tribute to classic westerns, sprinkled with a dose of Quentin Tarantino girl power; and (can you believe it?) a perfectly placed song by Ella Fitzgerald(!). And Dawn's last name? O'Keeffe. As in Georgia. As in flower paintings that look like lady parts (which appear on Dr. Godfrey's exam room wall).
The director is aided by a fantastic score from Robert Miller, who channels the best of Danny Elfman and Bernard Herrmann, and an effective title sequence that sets the tone of the film perfectly. And he gets a spirited turn from Weixler, who won a Special Dramatic Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival for her "juicy and jaw-dropping" work. She gives a brave performance that transforms with her character, gaining steam as Dawn gets more comfortable with her gift.
As for the horror fans out there, like myself? It's gross, for sure, with just enough bloodletting to make you cringe, but this is a comedy first. So don't watch this expecting to be scared...unless the sight of severed penises is enough to make you scream.
Up next is a behind the scenes feature (28:47), with interviews with a lot of the cast and crew, including Lichtenstein, Weixler, production designer Paul Avery, director of photography Wolfgang Held and prosthetic effects supervisor Doug Field. He briefly explains the science behind creating severed penis effects, which was actually more disturbing to me than the scenes themselves (Hawaiian Punch never looked so repulsive). This half hour is a good supplement, although I wish we heard more about the challenges of marketing the film.
There are five deleted scenes (4:10) with optional commentary, three of which were understandable omissions. I found the mall scene to be fun, and the quick hospital scene with Dawn was enough for a brief chuckle. Rounding out the features are two trailers for the film, with additional trailers before the feature.