This site of mine is definitely lacking in the 90s horror department, so let’s add to that category with the 1996 horror/dark comedy The Dentist. I just saw this movie for the first time tonight on Epix 3, although it was highly recommended to me by a male friend back when it came out on video. He described it as a hilarious movie in which a dentist gets revenge on his cheating wife, and I said domestic violence something something and crammed one of my Birkenstocks up his ass. Just kidding; those shoes are way too expensive for ass cramming.
As it turns out, the wife may not have been cheating at all, because it is established from the beginning of the film that the dentist, Dr. Feinstone, is an unreliable narrator. We know this because the movie opens with him in his cell at a mental institution where he is imagining himself working on a patient, complete with pantomime, as he tells the story. As we flash back to the day he finally goes batshit insane, we can already see that he is psychotic, jealous, hallucinatory, and overly obsessed with things being clean. That’s the scariest part for me: try to kill me if you want, but don’t make me maintain a spotless life. Clean freaks, ugh.
Anyway, Dr. Feinstone sees his wife (maybe) giving the pool man a blowjob, so he does what anyone would do: he goes to work after killing the neighbor’s Rottweiler with a nice shiny silver handgun. There in his perfect office he manages to slice open the gum of a young patient on his first trip to the dentist and then sexually assault a beauty queen who is in for a cleaning. All the time I was waiting for him to get ahold of his wife’s teeth and dreading that moment at the same time. Well, if you like a bit of gore with your sick laughs, this is a movie for you. If you’re scared of the dentist, proceed with caution.
The acting here is pretty good. We get the always reliable character actress Molly Hagan as a dental hygienist who knows something’s up with the good doctor. How everyone else doesn’t know has got to be some of that aforementioned black humor. The oddly handsome Mark Ruffalo in an early role plays the beauty queen’s sleazy agent. Corbin Bernsen in the title role really chews the scenery, but I’m sure that is intentional.
As for the comedy, there’s yuppies being their ridiculous selves, a dental assistant in a room with clouds calling it “heaven” and wearing a choir robe, an office manager who thinks she knows everything that goes on there, a corrupt and perverted IRS auditor, and all of Bernsen’s outbursts. My personal favorite is right after Ruffalo punches him in the face, when he screams about how nobody appreciates his discipline and long hours and everyone ignores dental hygiene.
I’m sure there’s a big ol’ metaphor here about corruption in the wealthy, or maybe decay in suburbia. I usually look for that type of crap in a movie and put the themes in the story ahead of the visuals; well, in this movie it’s impossible not to notice what the camera is doing. The cinematography in a movie hasn’t grabbed me this hard since I saw Lisa and the Devil. The difference is that Brian Yuzna isn’t really Mario Bava (but who is?), so the camera work was distracting. I’ve seldom seen a camera become a character in the story the way this one does. But I did feel very tense throughout the picture, so maybe the constantly changing perspective and camera effects was to make the viewer tense. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t love going to the dentist. There were a couple of weird shots of some windchimes outside of the dentist’s ridiculous (mid-century modern, I think) mansion. Maybe that was to alarm the viewer.
Oh, and The Dentist was inspired by a real dentist named Glennon Engleman who carried out contract killings in his spare time. A sequel, The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself starring Bernsen followed in 1998. Bernsen also played Engleman in a TV movie in 1993. Guess the role was one he could really sink his teeth into.