Commonly held beliefs in the supernatural have long provided filmmakers with rich, fertile soil upon which to grow modern celluloid nightmares. From superstitions directing the lives of cultures to the oral folk tales people have told for instruction and entertainment, monstrous figures and universal apprehensions have led to films exploring vampires, ghosts, and werewolves. From curses to harbingers of death, supernatural beliefs resonate with a primal power that provokes not only fear but the more refined sensation of awe. It is small wonder, then, that even the more benevolent figures of nursery and 'story hour' should find their way into horror movies, the serene 'cute' heart of the nursery enveloped by shadows. The Tooth Fairy enlists into horror's dark ranks the benevolent figure of the same name, exchanging the figure's playfulness with an admirable (if uneven) sense of fear. For the most part succeeding in its goal to darken a childhood legend, this new offering from Anchor Bay is surprisingly original in its approach to the supernatural, rich in characterization, and well crafted. While not a classic of genre, the film is an enjoyable fear fable combining raw scares with subtler magic, painting a portrait of adulthood where modern insecurities and the boogiemen of childhood don't recede into the shadows when the lights are turned on. If anything, such fears are revealed to be far more frightening when exposed to the light of reason. Children must face the terror usually reserved for adults, and adults are forced to once again grapple with primal nightmares they thought were long behind them.
In a plot deceivingly simple, capturing the primal essence and effectiveness of oral folklore and legends (which are so very powerful because of their rustic simplicity), screenwriter Stephen J. Cannell weaves together a macabre plot of supernatural evil, all-too-human hunger, and a bold struggle for survival; he does this without sacrificing the pleasant terrors of the fairy tale, no surprise, as the story itself is a fable, of sorts, for adults.
In 1949 in Northern California, a hideous witch of old lured children through the woods of a small backwards town to her crumbling home. There she stole their teeth, butchered their bodies, and cursed them to wander amidst a soulless purgatory on earth for eternity. The house is converted into a country inn decades later, but the eldritch evil of its tragic past resonates like dust. As the witch's slumber is disrupted, her 'shade' seeks to slaughter all those who stay within its walls, taking particular interest in one eleven-year-old girl with a loose molar . . . This time, 'happily ever after' may not apply . . .
As rich in symbol and moral allegory as the Faerie Tales of old upon which it's narrative structure is partially based, and from which its principle figures of childhood heroine and Witch are partially culled, The Tooth Fairy is extremely entertaining. First, the film works on a surface level, offering sheer escapist dark fantasy with its female archetypal fem fatal (a haggard cannibal witch) and various atmospheric chills. Secondly, we're made to care for the characters in a genre when people are more often represented as gross caricatures rather than as folks we can sympathize with. The story is also a modern incarnation of the 'hero's journey,' documenting the struggle between fear and courage. Writer Cannell's script (from a story by Daniel Harris) carries little of the baggage or posturing of Darkness Falls, which, while a fun movie, lacks this story's depth of character and sense of antiquity. Imaginatively directed, the film also benefits from fine performances. Chandra West, Lochlyn Munro, and fan favorite P.J. Soles are all dead on. And while modern Wicans -- often no less extremist in their prejudices than the Christian immoral 'moral majority' -- will be quick to shout foul over the negative deposition of the 'witch' figure in the story, perhaps we can remember that this is fiction, and that fiction, be it film or between hard covers, need adhere to no moral dictates. Further, the script approaches its 'Witch' not as a religion figure, but as a being from folklore and ancient romance. In fact, it is precisely the unapologetic depiction of this figure as a frightening supernatural force that lends the picture its primal power to scare.
Director Chuck Bowen exposes a keen penchant for treating setting as both decoration to instil the basic premise with nostalgia and believability as well as a character in its own right, which its moodily captured scenes of night black skies, wind-swept twilights, and gorgeous shadow-plays between light and dark surly are, emphasizing delicious child-like fear and wonder. Northern California is evoked as a richly detailed physical area and, more importantly, revealed in its cultural spirit, warts and all. The transition between the past and present is presented almost dreamlike, inviting further credibility instead of interrupting the narrative. This modern setting, while convincing, is still riddled with both emotional and physical remains of an older time. With the physical setting often mirroring the contradictory purity and malevolence, prejudice and love, of both eras, the atmosphere itself, appropriately gloomy and creepily lit, embodies the haunted moods of the principle characters.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, Anchor Bay presents The Tooth Fairy in a clean, concise print. Sporting the technical perfection for which the company has long been known, the picture quality is without grain or splotches, and the images lent impressive depth by strong colors. Audio is excellent, equally distributing dialogue, music, and effects in both 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound.
Extras are intriguing and inventive, offering a nice variety of both technical and narrative context. Supplements invite participants to show their more intimate, personable dimensions while satiating our curiosity as to the challenges of production. First off is a short if fun Theatrical Trailer that gives a solid idea of the story without giving away any surprises. This is followed by "Hatchet Job," The Making of The Tooth Fairy." This featurette is the most comprehensive of the disk, exploring through interviews with cast and crew the specific challenges of mounting the film, details of its production, and both the joys and turmoil of independent filmmaking. For the most part the speakers are articulate and easy going, their personalities spilling over their insights. While a bit more on the story/plot and the writing process would have been interesting, the documentary is fun and informative. "Loose Tooth", the Audio Commentary with director Chuck Bowman, Producer Stephen J. Cannell, and Actor "Jessie Hutch," is fine as commentaries go, as each speaker seems to have a good time, and the folks get along well, each weighing in on specific portions of the shoot. Again, it would have been nice to have heard from the writer, as the concept began with him. The most fun supplement is "Tales of The Tooth Fairy," which is exactly what is sounds like, as cast and crew recall their own beliefs and superstitions about the tooth fairy as children. A sound presentation of a modern horror fable interestingly directed, The Tooth Fairy will make you look under your pillow. Watch it with your children . . . if you want to scare the hell out of them!
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Anchor Bay|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|