Monday, March 28, 2011

Mental Caries: A Look Inside A Decaying Mind

As a horror fan, when you lay down on the seat to have a dentist drill your mouth for cavities or pick at your teeth for plaque, you probably think about that movie The Dentist. I know I did, though funnily enough I never was afraid of the dentist because of it. No, when I saw this movie (when I was about 11 or 12) all I could think about was how vulnerable my teeth and gums really where. The entire well being of my teeth lied within the hands of my dentist and if he wanted to, he could make me ware braces the rest of my life. I wasn’t scared of my dentist drilling my teeth to bits but rather scared of the idea that he could. Then again, my dentist was a divorcee who turned to the bottle and was suspended of his license when people complained about his alcoholism and shaky hands. Though, this isn’t nearly as bad as Dr. Alan Feinstone. See, the way I remembered The Dentist was that it was a movie with gratuitous teeth torture and a lot of chasing but what the film really is, is an underrated film that drills into the mind of a psychopath. I’d go further into saying that it has the possibility of ranking up there with Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.

The story centers around a very successful dentist named Alan Feinstone. He’s got it all: a beautiful loving wife, a thriving practice and a respectable reputation within the dentistry community. However, when he comes to suspect that his wife may be cheating on him with the pool boy, he discovers that behind every smile of bright white teeth there is decay hard at work. Now, as he slowly begins to loose his grip on sanity, Feinstone begins to try to reason things out but his mind won’t let him. It isn’t long until he decides to slip completely off the deep end and kill those who have done him wrong and those who lie within his path. But the plot goes deeper into Alan’s psyche because once we realize that he is insane, we begin to suspect that perhaps his wife isn’t having an affair but that it might be in his head. Thankfully, in the end of it all, it’s up to you to decide whether all of it was fake or in his head.

So, how, exactly, does the film get inside the mind of Alan Feinstone? It’s very simple. Yuzna does a masterful job at utilizing filters and camera tricks to show Alan’s decent into madness. The entire movie has this ‘Pleasantville’ look; bright colors, luminescent profiles, heavenly whites and bright blue skies but every time we see Feinstone thinking about things… it’s distorted or showing him looking at himself in a mirror. It’s rather genius how they contrast the bright, glamorous lifestyle of a successful Beverly Hills dentist with the distorted, stylized camera angles. That would mean that this movie is visually satisfying and really adds to the distortion of Alan’s mind. It’s a pretty obvious technique to use image distortion and camera filters to show mental insanity but not many people utilize it. There is also the use of close-ups of grease stains, rotting teeth and mud. We are flung into Feinstone’s head as he watches, in disgust, as the pool boy sullies his wife’s clean face. The scary thing is, as the audience, we can’t help but feel disgusted as well, especially when we see brown rotting teeth. Considering Corbin’s performance is already strong, these camera effects only further Feinstone’s character.

Speaking of Feinstone’s character, what makes him such a great candidate for psychological profiling? As I mentioned before, I ranked this film up there with Psycho and Silence and for good reason. Both of those films have such a captivating yet charismatic character that can be analyzed for mental illness and Feinstone is no exception. In fact, I’d have to include Misery on that list as well. What is so captivating about Feinstone is that he is our anti-hero and we aren’t really given the opportunity to bond with the ‘final girl’ or any other character. We right away follow him from his grim discovery of his wife’s affair all the way till the end when he is sent to an institution. In that regard, I love how the film opens up with him addressing us on how everybody has a story. Going deeper into Feinstone’s head we right away understand that he is unstable because he flipped out over his wife for ironing the wrong shirt since his cufflinks didn’t match. Upon seeing his wife engaging in ‘first base’ activities with the pool boy we feel for Feinstone and we start to understand why he hates decay and he lies the metaphor for what Feinstone’s psyche is based on. His wife, dressed in clean white clothes, kisses the pool boy who rubs brown dirt all over her legs. It’s such a perfect metaphor for the act of dirtying perfection and causing decay and plaque. This drives Feinstone over the edge and at first he thinks about killing himself and he becomes sympathetic because he tries so hard to fight his hallucinations, and we watch as he helplessly descends into madness. He begins to think that everybody has dirty teeth, which may be a metaphor for how everybody has dirty secrets but wear masks of innocents. Perhaps he believes that it’s his job to clean up people’s immoral filth.

Throughout the film, Feinstone mumbles to himself on how dentists are underappreciated no matter how hard they work. He brings up a great quote that states how they have to clean people’s teeth and yet we, the patients, hate them for it. It’s very true because we all hate going to the dentist, especially at a young age but yet we don’t realize that the dentist is actually a great person to have around. Our teeth are one of the most important things in our bodies. When Feinstone finally decides to enact his homicidal revenge on his wife and the pool boy, it’s the defining moment and the point of no return. By this point, Alan becomes a full-fledged psychopath and believes that he has to rid plaque-infested human there is. It’s a rather grim but sad turn of events since we were with Feinstone all the way up until this point. It’s a rather tragic turn of events. This is where we get into the really grisly teeth torture where he drills people’s teeth apart, slices tongues and mutilates gums and lips. I couldn’t take these scenes because I have sensitive teeth and to see somebody’s gums ripped to shreds makes me queasy. By this point, Ken Foree says it best, “He’s a man driven over the edge.” All the pressure of taxes, a failing marriage and a reputation to hold up has put so much pressure on him that he finally snapped.

As far as comparing it to when I was a kid, it’s vastly different from what I remembered. Shockingly, I can’t believe that I didn’t have nightmares of teeth torture and dentistry. I was never afraid of my dentist but I hated going to him because of all the fluoride I had to keep in my mouth and the fact that I couldn’t eat for an hour after getting my teeth cleaned. I remember very fondly some of the dental torture and that beautifully shot scene where Feinstone was slashing the pool boy (pictured above). The rest of the film sort of escaped my head for some reason. Looking back on it, if you couldn’t tell, I love this movie but not because of dental horror but rather the characterization. At a young age it was obvious that I didn’t give two shits about Feinstone, I just wanted blood and action. Now, I think Feinstone, while he was thinking about plaque and decay are the best parts of the movie.

All these musing lead me to believe that The Dentist isn’t a typical horror movie. There are no monsters, the killer doesn’t pop out of the closet and there isn’t a ghost haunting anybody. No, this is a hard-boiled film that follows one man’s descent into insanity. Of course there are is blood and the occasional jump scare but otherwise, this movie is horrifying in it’s own right. It’s horrifying because of how Feinstone’s mind works. He’s the perfect psychopath because he believes he is doing good and isn’t aware that he is actually butchering people, and that is the worst kind of monster. In turn, The Dentist is a smart movie that really puts the viewer into Feinstone’s head and offers no sympathy for when things go terribly wrong. It’s a highly underrated movie that has the potential of being one of the most disturbing horror movies out there. In the end, it makes you want to power rub your teeth with alcohol and sandpaper.


HorrO said...

Another great review. It has been a long time since I have seen this movie, but I feel like I relive it every time I go to the dentist. Hate the dentist, but remember the movie being pretty good.

Dentist Sydney City emergency dentist said...

Your screenshots had me squirming and grossed out. But kudos to your review! Would watch this film.

Anonymous said...


Orange County dentist said...

I don't think I would allow my kids to see this film. It might further increase their fear of the dentist!

emergency dentist said...

This is ghastly! Although there are really some good correlation established between dental health and the mind in this film.

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