October 18, 1996
Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon and Charles Finch
Corbin Bernsen as Dr. Alan Feinstone
Linda Hoffman as Brooke Feinstone
Michael Stadvec as Matt
Ken Foree as Detective Gibbs
Tony Noakes as Detective Sunshine
Dr. Alan Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen) has the kind of life some people dream of: large house, beautiful wife (Linda Hoffman) and his own dental practice. Life should, theoretically, be good. But Feinstone has a psychological problem. He’s obsessed with cleanliness and the eradication of any form of decay, as seen when he chastises his wife angrily for a virtually invisible stain on his dry-cleaned shirt. Of course, it also doesn’t help that he discovers his wife cheating with their new pool boy…
He tries to put the affair (and violent revenge fantasies) out of his mind and heads to work; where the patients are getting annoyed he’s running late. He seems to be back to normal when he arrives, after popping what one presumes are antipsychotic pills. His first patient is happy little Cody, there for his first visit. What starts off as a routine cleaning turns violent, though, as Feinstone hallucinates the boy has a mouthful of rotted, decayed teeth and becomes so distracted and obsessed with them that he cuts into the boy’s gums with his drill by accident, sending him and his mother running out of the office.
As the dentist continues his day the hallucinations grow worse and line between the real world and an imagined world filled with rot, decay, and reminders of his wife’s infidelity is blurred completely. His wife isn’t safe, his staff isn’t safe, and his patients aren’t safe. How far will Feinstone go to clean up his world… and will Detectives Gibbs and Sunshine (Ken Foree and Tony Noakes) discover his crimes or be able to stop him?
The Dentist has been relegated to the direct-to-DVD dustbin for quite some time, but it deserves better than that. For one thing, the movie features a rather extensive pedigree behind the scenes. It was written in part by Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon (the writer and director of Re-Animator,From Beyond, and Dagon), directed by Brian Yuzna (the producer of those films as well as Dolls), and featured music done by Alan Howarth (John Carpenter’s go-to composer on many of his post-Halloween movies).
The film also has truly disturbing gore effects, the majority of which is a type that isn’t often seen in horror, mouth trauma. One of this film’s trademarks is a camera shot in which it appears the camera is inside the mouth looking at Feinstone’s work or is attached to the tool he’s using. You are right there, up close and personal, when he pulls a tooth, cuts the gums, cuts into the tongue, rips out teeth, or tries to rip a jaw open. Feinstone’s murderous mayhem, though, isn’t exclusive to oral injuries as he dispatches other people using such tactics as strangling, stabbing, and blunt force trauma to the head. The overall result is a series of truly grisly dental procedures and violent acts that are more than enough to put the viewer on edge.
The realism of the movie is crucial as well. The Dentist is said to be based on actual serial killer Glennon Engleman, a dentist/hitman who died in 1999 while serving a life prison sentence for killing at least 7 people. This might be part of the reason that the movie has the distinct feeling that, while the plot is a touch outlandish, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Feinstone might be deeply disturbed, but there’s nothing supernatural about what he’s doing. He’s just a dentist. His patients are average people: a little boy, a teen getting her braces off, a beauty queen, etc. He doesn’t have superhuman strength nor use any weapons or methods that a real dentist wouldn’t probably have been able to do as well… were they so inclined. As a result, you get the impression while watching that this could be happening right down the block from you and you wouldn’t know it.
All the violence and atmosphere in the world, however, would be worthless were it not for the outstanding performance of Corbin Bernsen. From the opening title sequence to the very end of the movie, his performance perfectly captures a man just on the cusp of (and later experiencing) a total nervous breakdown. When speaking with his patients, he manages to deliver his lines such that he never seems wholly good or sincere. Even when talking with little Cody, early on, you can tell his voice and his actions don’t seem quite right for the friendly neighborhood dentist, but perfect for a man who’s putting on a façade of collectedness while his world crumbles around him.
With all of the strong points, The Dentist is far from perfect. For one thing, Foree and Noakes are massively underused in the movie to the point where they almost feel like tacked on characters in the whole affair. The movie also feels like it slows down at a few points even though it’s hard to tell exactly how… it just feels boring at times for no readily apparent reason. It takes a decent amount of the movie (roughly half) for the full break to take place. Feinstone hallucinates and has problems early on but the film doesn’t really pick up until he goes over the edge. Finally, one of the patients who escapes from Feinstone during the film does so in a laughable way that seems out of place in the film.
Overall, The Dentist is an above average film about a man’s psychological decline and a showcase for some brilliant gore effects. So remember: floss, brush twice a day, don’t eat too many sweets, and don’t miss The Dentist. It may not be perfect… but it’s nothing a little drilling wouldn’t cure.