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John’s Horror Corner: The Dentist (1996), featuring less “horror” than expected, but lots of feisty antics make it enjoyable. And is that Mark Ruffalo!?!

May 5, 2022

MY CALL:  A feisty Full Moon sort of horror that keeps a fun cheeky tone, but doesn’t deliver the gore for which I had hoped. Still worth a visit on a weekend afternoon.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The DentistFor more feisty “medical horror” movies, consider Re-Animator (1985), Doctor Giggles (1992) or Fresh (2022).

Wealthy and successful but far from happy, Doctor Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen; Temptress, Tales from the Hood) loses his grip on his sanity when he witnesses his wife (Linda Hoffman; The Dentist 2) cheating on him with the pool guy. Rattled and manic over this, he begins to see delusionally enhanced flaws in people’s teeth, much to his patient’s suffering.

Corbin Bernsen plays delightfully into the mania of the character. His tantrums remind me of a hokier version of Terry O’Quinn from The Stepfather (1987), and his visual figments of slimy rotten teeth are giggle-worthy as I shake my head at the nonsense on screen. And from what I can tell, the entire tooth-mutilating rampage to come was induced by a medication overdose.

The movie takes a while to build up to the real horror. Early delusions threaten something horrible will happen without the gruesome follow-through. But the real blood and gore must wait until he gets his wife in the examination chair. Following Feinstone’s bloody trail is Detective Gibbs (Ken Foree; Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Dawn of the Dead, Death Spa, From Beyond). Considering his strong horror resumé, Ken Foree felt woefully underutilized, but I still enjoyed seeing him on screen. And watch out for a young Mark Ruffalo (Mirror Mirror 2-3) as well!

Unfortunately, this was not nearly as gory as I had remembered. Sure, there are some entertaining visuals. But they are shorter-lived and less extreme than my 90s teen memory served (and, to be clear, it is a rarity that this happens to me). The tooth extractions aren’t nearly as mean or grueling or graphic, the slashing stabs are less obviously apparent and barely on screen, and the “jaw widener” scene was not as jaw-dropping. Although, that device probably offered the best gag of the movie, and they got a lot of mileage out of it.

For me the most horrifying part was the syringe needle penetrating a patient’s gum. Yikes. Oh dear Lord and the drill scene with the “tooth dust” accumulating as the patient yelped while Feinstone wore her tooth down to a craggy hollow chamber! ACK! It’s the more real-ish stuff that freaked me out in this movie.

Despite all my criticism, this movie has a very fun vibe to it—the kind of feistiness you’d find in Puppet Master (1989) or Re-Animator (1985). I just expected so much more gory, slimy, macabre grossness from director Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Return of the Living Dead III, From Beyond) and co-writer Stuart Gordon (Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants, Re-Animator). I’m hoping The Dentist 2 (1998) offers a bit more in the gore department.

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