Chattery Teeth (1997): King on Film

Rating:

That Old Garris Magic is at Work Again

Main Cast: Raphael Sbarge and Silas Weir Mitchell

Director: Mick Garris

Look, if Mick Garris is going to continue to show up in these King on Film reviews, I don’t know how much longer I can go on.  The guy sucks. His writing sucks, his direction sucks, his choices suck.

Once upon a time in 1997 someone had the idea to make a horror television series, which sounds like it could be awesome.  But you messed up when you grabbed Mick Garris and asked him to have anything at all to do with it.  Originally John McTiernan was set to direct, but eventually he left the project and Garris took over as director.

Not that I think McTiernan could have saved this train wreck; did I mention Mick Garris was attached?  Yes, I know McTiernan directed DIE HARD and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.  But Mick Garris made The Shining and The Stand, two weak ass limp attempts at putting Stephen King on television.

For the first installment of the horror series that never was, Garris adapted two stories, one by Clive Barker (The Body Politic, for which he cast Matt Frewer in the lead role, thereby immediately destroying any attempt at drama or tension that should have been present in this classic story), and one by King, Chattery Teeth, easily one of King’s most ridiculous and just plain awful stories.

In the story, Bill Hogan is given a large pair of novelty chattery teeth, which, according to the story, fit in his pocket.  The teeth are metal and Hogan is wary of them, but takes them anyway as the convenience store clerk just gives them to him.

Upon leaving the roadside store, Hogan gives a ride to a hitchhiker who then tries to rob him and take his car.  The teeth attack Hogan’s would-be assailant, Hogan crashes his van and, in the ensuing chaos, Hogan thinks he sees the chattery teeth—which fit in his pocket—dragging the hitchhiker away, into the desert.

Even now, I can’t think seriously about this story that George Beahm, in his STEPHEN KING FROM A TO Z: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Work, called “quintessential King” and “a horrific little gem of a story”.  It is neither.

So of course this is the one Garris picks to adapt and film.

Raphael Sbarge (Star Trek: Voyager) plays Bill Hogan, with Silas Weir Mitchell as Bryan Adams, Hogan’s would-be robber.  This is the main cast as the story takes place mostly in Hogan’s van.  The acting here is inconsequential and the dialogue is pure King cheese, as adapted by Mick Garris, who obviously thinks the way people talk in Stephen King novels is the way they actually talk, all colloquial phrases and snide 50s greaser tough talk.

The titular teeth, this time around, are the size of a toaster and the effect here is just stupid and ridiculous and when they attack Bryan, my horror-loving heart breaks just a little bit.  When we see them later dragging a body into the desert, I weep tears of shame for my beloved genre.

And I know it was 1997, the early days of television when pretty much anything could get on as long as it filled time and someone would sponsor it, but come on, have a little pride.  You watched the finished product and thought “Yeah, that’s what a horror series on television should look like.  ANOTHER TOUCHDOWN for the old Mickster!”?  Christ, that’s probably exactly what he thought.  I want to appreciate Garris’s devotion to the horror genre, I really do, and for a while he was the go-to for King on television, but if anyone had been paying attention from the beginning, they would have understood that just because Mick Garris loves horror doesn’t mean he knows how to MAKE horror.  Not good horror anyway.

He makes the Goosebumps equivalent for adults, except Goosebumps are not for adults!

Stephen King, in 1997, had SO MANY other short stories out there in the world that could have been adapted for television and a good half dozen of them would have been foolproof, meaning even Mick Garris couldn’t mess them up.  So with this incredible breadth of work to choose from, he picks the one where chattery teeth drag a guy into the desert…!?!

Look, I hated that story when I read it in NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES and I hated it when I saw it on television originally in 1997.  Nothing is going to make this a horror story I am able to suspend my disbelief in, not as long as it is the story of a set of chattery teeth dragging a body into the desert.  And I know I keep saying chattery teeth drag a body into the desert, but it’s only because I want you, the reader, to understand just how ridiculous this image is, and that THIS is the one Mick Garris CHOSE to adapt for a brand new, untested HORROR SERIES ON TELEVISION.  This is the story he thought would win over audiences.  Chattery teeth drag a body into the desert.

Whatever, dude.

I just can’t with Mick Garris anymore.  When I first set out to do these King on Film reviews, I was excited at the prospect of revisiting some old favorites and maybe giving another objective viewing to some I had dismissed the first time around. But when it comes to Chattery Teeth, I didn’t miss anything, I didn’t dismiss or misunderstand.  I got it perfectly, I understood clearly, and it didn’t help: this adaptation is a piece of crap and the reason it took so long to get to this review was because I was waiting until I found it streaming for free somewhere because I was not paying for the QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY dvd.  No way, no how.  My patience paid off and I finally found a very terribly-pixelated version on YouTube (and no, I didn’t misinterpret the goings-on because it was such a poor quality transfer, this is STILL the story of a pair of chattery teeth dragging a body into the desert).  Now it’s out of the way and I can move on to the next title, which I hopefully will not hate as much as this one.

Looking back, I realize you may think I just hated this adaptation because I hated the story it came from, so let me disavow you of that right now.  It’s not JUST the story I don’t like: Mick Garris makes pathetic television-safe horror and every time he attaches his name to something that came from the man who wrote CARRIE, THE SHINING, THE DARK TOWER, IT, PET SEMETARY, CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF and THE TALISMAN, he’s sullying both reputations.  And let’s be real, King also wrote THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON and ROSE MADDER, he doesn’t need help sullying his good name.  But even MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is a movie I can take more seriously as a piece of horror cinema than I can ANYTHING Mick Garris has directed.

So my dislike of CHATTERY TEETH isn’t based solely on it being a dumb story, Mick Garris took a silly idea and dumbed it down even further, which you wouldn’t think would be possible, but he has somehow managed.  And THAT is why I can’t hang with this adaptation: Garris may love horror, but he is clearly trying to take horror and make it palatable to non-horror fans who have always been curious about this King fella but just don’t like being scared.  Mick Garris is assuring these people, “Oh trust me, you won’t be.”  And THAT is why I hate CHATTERY TEETH.

That, and it’s also a story about chattery teeth dragging a man into the desert.

King on Film

1976-1992 (Carrie to Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Ghosts (1997)

The Shining (1997 Mini-Series)

Carrie (2013)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

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