31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 14]: What Big Teeth You Have

Day 14 (which I oddly felt obligated to equate to Valentine’s Day despite there being absolutely no reason why beyond it being Oct. 14) presents a film with an emphasis on sex and sexuality. The film tomorrow does the same. Both films are also some of the most modern additions to the horror canon.

Arguably, 1996 (aka “Scream”) served as the transitionary line between the original canon and the modern interpretations and additions included post 2000. What we say in the conclusion of the 90s was a heightened reflexivity that wasn’t seen in the monsters and villains since Universal’s monster stable first emerged or Nosferatu made waves on America’s shores. What followed is an attempt to more critical wrestle with issues of American identity, society and culture. A number of these films, which would include Jordan Peele’s films and certainly “28 Days Later” and “Cabin in the Woods,” refocus the viewer on specificity, not just on murderous behaviors. Here, in the modern era of horror, we are explicitly seeing opportunities of catharsis that possibly the original monsters, slashers, ghosts and zombies didn’t. There is certainly a number of scholars out there who would claim that catharsis is a key psychological concept related to those films. But I believe that in the millennium we are now wrestling with globalization and extreme technological innovation and interruption. This has forced us to genuinely move beyond speculative fiction into a fearful dance with a possible factual dystopia.

Thus here we are and here are the films for today and tomorrow: “Teeth” and “It Follows.”

“Teeth” borrows from a South American myth and provides its viewers with a visceral and harsh encounter with sexual assault and rape. While the initial rape isn’t a mirror to “Last House on the Left,” which I argue may just be one of the most difficult scenes in film to watch, it becomes central to the plot. The 2007 film claims to be a comedy and horror combo, but in no way would I say that the comedic elements allow that classification to hold.

The film itself might actually be even more relevant right now than it was upon its initial release. In fact, it may be considered to be speculative of what culturally would follow–a rich discussion about assault and the national tragedy that emerged. Despite the dark undertone and very difficult content, Mitchell Lichtenstein arms the lead with something to combat that and protect herself, thus the use of the South American story of Vagina Dentata–the toothed vagina. What we learn is that in trauma Dawn, played by Jess Weixler, finds that her natural fight (instead of flight) is her vagina. As she learns how to use her gift, she begins to take back power and rise in what is clearly an attempt to down the patriarchy.

Now, as a male, there are certainly moments in which I’m left crossing my legs or wincing in pain for the characters on screen. Yet, the message is that women, as being objectified and sexualized, feel this daily as they are imposed up through a male gaze. So… I will take pain in order to promote their cause.

Tomorrow’s film will hit screens seven years after this one, and, as a teaser, I believe it may just be the best horror film released in that decade.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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