THE DENTIST is a unique little horror movie about a couple of days where a guy’s life totally unravels. Dr. Alan Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen, TALES FROM THE HOOD) is an asshole from the word go – we see him berating his wife Brooke (Linda Hoffman, FACE/OFF) over a stain not coming out of one of his shirts, then forgiving her because she bought him expensive cuff links. When he catches her blowing the pool cleaner (Michael Stadvec, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… FOR MORE, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… TO APOLOGIZE BECAUSE THEY’VE REALLY CHANGED) he fantasizes about screaming at her and forcing her at gunpoint to bite down with her “perfect teeth.” Instead he doesn’t confront her and then completely loses his shit.
I like the messy, accidental piling up of events. There’s almost a true crime feel to it. He tries to sneak up on the homewrecker and shoot him, ends up instead shooting a neighbor’s dog that attacks him for trespassing. Ken Foree (FROM BEYOND) and Tony Noakes (BREAKAWAY) play the police detectives who circle around with the potential to catch him, but they’re investigating the killing of a pet, not a person. They’re investigating a weird, creepy thing, not knowing it’s more serious than that.
At the beginning he narrates the movie and claims to have been living a “perfect life” with Brooke, which is hard to believe since she’s cheating on him and he’s a fuckin weirdo who gets amped up saying things like “Once the decay gets started it can only lead to rot, filth, corruption.” He tries to just go to work and keep his shit together, but he can barely contain the inner maniac. It does a good job of depicting regular people living their regular lives and not knowing how to react to the way he’s behaving – telling themselves it must be okay.
When his co-worker Karen (Patty Toy, News Anchor #2, SPEED) walks in on him muttering “Keep it together” and shakily pawing through a drawer of pill bottles she gets her first hint this is gonna be a long shift. He imagines people saying mean things to him, sees the walls moving, fucks up and horribly injures a little boy’s mouth, then defends his fuckup by saying that the boy is spoiled. He keeps having to badly lie, punches and injects a co-worker, spaces out and pulls a gun on his most enthusiastic patient (Virginya Keehne, INVADERS FROM MARS, PUMP UP THE VOLUME, TICKS), tries to make sure nobody finds out about any of this.
The most upsetting of his psychotic on-the-job delusions is when he’s imagining an aggressive sexual encounter with his wife while he’s actually molesting a drugged patient. April Reign (Christa Sauls, Acapulco H.E.A.T.) is a wannabe actress with a Marilyn Monroe hairdo who quickly switches from isn’t-Hollywood-vapid? joke to sympathetic victim, and her sleazy-ish manager (Mark Ruffalo, WINDTALKERS) becomes heroic by busting in and getting her out of there.
There’s a sort of crazy-day-on-the-job feel to it, with these two dental hygienists Karen and Jessica (Molly Hagan, AIR BUD: SEVENTH INNING FETCH, SULLY) stepping out of their work areas, witnessing suspicious things, exchanging “what the fuck?” and “did you see that shit?” looks.
“They’re dropping like flies” Molly says at one point, not knowing the half of it. When she finds April’s nylons abandoned in Dr. Feinstone’s office she knows things are really bad, but of course they’re actually worse than she suspects. It seems like kind of a relief when he leaves the office, until we see that he’s going home to trick his wife into sitting in his fancy home dental chair so he can drug her and pull all of her teeth. (Which, to be clear, is not a necessary procedure.)
Of course, this being a psychotic dentist, there is some horrifying damage done to teeth and mouths. At first accidental, then spiteful. The effects are well done and the graphic drilling of teeth is a rare and disturbing category of onscreen violence. The sounds and the sights of teeth being yanked, twisted or sanded into dust cause much more sympathetic wincing than your traditional stabbings or slashings.
But being a low budget slasher type movie of the mid-‘90s they also gotta have a few asshole characters who you maybe sort of enjoy seeing get killed in horrible ways. At least that’s the role of sleazy IRS agent Marvin Goldblum (Earl Boen, THE TERMINATOR). But poor Sarah is only guilty of being dorkily excited about getting her braces off, and she gets chased around and terrorized. She barely gets away by tearfully promising to brush three times a day and not eat candy.
The score is by John Carpenter’s frequent music collaborator Alan Howarth, his followup to HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. There is some good pulsing synth stuff, but unfortunately more of it is the Full Moon style keyboard-as-subpar-orchestra type bullshit, the only thing about the movie that seems cheap-ass in a bad way. There’s lots of solid work on display here: the disorienting camerawork of cinematographer Levie Isaacks (SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, THE GUYVER, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION), the gore effects of Anthony C. Ferrante (WISHMASTER 2), Rob Burman and Kevin Yagher, and of course Bernsen’s depiction of a miserable prick falling trying to hide that he’s absolutely falling to pieces. Apparently the story was inspired by a real life killer dentist who Bernsen had already played in the 1993 TV movie BEYOND SUSPICION, with Markie Post and Don Swayze.
The script is by the great Stuart Gordon (who was doing SPACE TRUCKERS around that time), his frequent partner Dennis Paoli (BODY SNATCHERS), and Charles Finch (story credit on BAD GIRLS, that western with Drew Barrymore). That reminds me of Gordon’s attempt to make a movie of AMERICAN PSYCHO several years before this. THE DENTIST doesn’t star Johnny Depp and isn’t shot in the black and white style of an Obsession perfume commercial, as Gordon says he wanted to do with AMERICAN PSYCHO, but it definitely has some thematic overlap. Unfeeling rich guy, obsessed with his appearance, losing grip on reality, doing gruesome, torturous murders, mostly to women, with an undercurrent of very dark class satire, and some indication that some of it is all in his head.
It’s nothing big, but it’s got decent amount of clever nastiness and the insanity swiftly and effectively spirals to its conclusion in 92 minutes. At the very least it’s one of Yuzna’s best.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.