Dr. Alan Feinstone runs a highly successful and profitable dental practice. He’s got some anger issues and some serious OCD related to dirt, but he doesn’t let that or the stress of an upcoming audit get in the way of running his business. Or at least he didn’t right up until he found out his wife was having an affair on the morning of their anniversary. That was apparently one too many stressors for Feinstone, and the good doctor finally snaps. With the illusion of his perfect life shattered, Dr. Feinstone now sees rot and filth behind every clean surface, to the point where he has become obsessed with purging all the decay from his world, regardless of who he has to hurt in order to achieve his goals.
Well, that’s certainly one way to convince your patients to floss after every meal.
The Dentist is an American horror film from 1996, directed by Brian Yuzna, who’s probably best known for his film, Society. The movie bills itself as a horror, but I think it’s probably more accurate to describe it as a dark comedy with some horror leanings. It does have some pretty horrific elements and some very graphic imagery to go along with it, especially if you’re at all squeamish when it comes to going to the dentist, but too much of it is too intentionally cheesy and hokey to really try to really describe it as an outright horror film. But even considering that, it’s still the kind of movie that horror fans would have had fun stumbling upon during the old video rental days. It’s a movie with a rather ludicrous plot, but because of the intentional humor, the silliness doesn’t feel too out of place, and it’s interspersed with just enough violence and gore, that even if you’re a bit put off by the story, there’s still enough blood afoot to keep the horror hounds entertained.
And I’m telling you, if you didn’t like dentists before….
The film’s ridiculous plot could be considered either a help or a hindrance, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, parts of it, like Feinstone’s actions and delusions, are so gloriously intentionally over the top that you can’t help but be amused by it. Yet at the same time, there are small, little moments that will make sticklers for accuracy cringe up a storm. Chief among them being the male Dr. Feinstone being left alone with female patients in closed rooms while his female patients are sedated. This movie is a glowing example of why nurse chaperones are a thing, even for well established doctors with a glowing reputation. Cause you never know when your doctor is going to suddenly snap and go off the deep end after finding their wife boinking the grungy pool boy.
For a guy who can’t stand filth, he sure is making a mess.
And speaking of snapping, the movie really pushes the idea that the affair is what made Feinstone fly off the deep end into crazy-town, but while accurate, I honestly think that’s a little disingenuous. Because it doesn’t seem to be just the affair that made him snap, but rather that the affair was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were. We don’t even spend five minutes observing the good doctor before we learn several important things. The first is that he has noticeable anger and control issues. He snaps at his wife over a shirt, for gods sakes, then immediately mellows when she gives him a present, as if he’ssome sort of overgrown toddler. The second is that he has quite a bit of OCD related to dirt. And the third is that he’s being audited by the IRS thanks to his business manager, and can’t get them to leave him alone, because if there’s one thing he can’t stand it’s people interfering with his business. So really, the guy was already a ticking time bomb and the affair just lit the fuse and exacerbated all of his pre-existing issues, especially the dirt and its relation to oral hygiene and sex. But honestly, the guy was already so close to the edge that something as innocuous and inconvenient as a check engine light probably would have just as easily tipped him over into crazy-town.
The film’s greatest assets are likely it’s lead actor and gore. Corbin Bernsen does an excellent job as the obsessive perfectionist who took a left turn into la la land. For a movie so intentionally cheesy as this, he manages to contribute just the right amount of insanity and levity, and can seamlessly transition between the two at a moment’s notice. And while the rest of the acting is perfectly serviceable for such a low-budget affair (including a brief appearance by Mark Ruffalo), Bernsen easily steals the show with his moody, psychotic performance.
But the real star of the show are the practical effects, which are surprisingly bloody and graphic for a film such as this. But don’t expect the movie to get right to the good stuff too soon. The film does a good job of pacing itself on the violence and gore, starting out slow with a shooting, then working it’s way up to dental stabbings, angry root canals, and forced teeth extraction, before moving on to murder and deliberate dental torture. Then it throws the aforementioned sexual assault in there to cover all of it’s bases. So it starts off rather slow, but gets surprisingly bloody and brutal very quickly as it goes on. And while there’s mundane deaths included like strangulations and shootings, it also includes quite a bit of gruesomely detailed dental work, so if you’re the type who’s at all squeamish about going to the dentist, then this film with undoubtedly freak you out far more than your run-of-the-mill slasher.
As silly as the movie ends up being, I found myself really liking The Dentist. It’s not your typical movie billed as a slasher. The plot and a lot of the characters are pretty stupid, and there’s enough holes in the story that it resembles a slice of Swiss cheese, but it also ends up being kind of fun, and there’s a lot of impressive and cringe-worthy gore to help keep your interest. It suffers a bit from a lack of any background for the main characters, and there are a few pacing issues around the middle, but overall there were enough shocks and wry humor to keep me entertained. If you like dark comedies, gore or cheesy horrors, then The Dentist should be right up your alley. But if you’re looking for something more serious, look elsewhere.
The Dentist is available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Tubi TV.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray (Region B only).