There’s something inherently unsettling about teeth, and the addition of someone prodding at them with sharp instruments is especially invasive. On the other side of that coin, the negative association with dentistry can impact the professionals. Cult filmmaker Brian Yuzna (Return of the Living Dead III, Society) tapped into these fundamental fears with his 1996 direct-to-video film, The Dentist, and its 1998 sequel, The Dentist 2.
In fact, Yuzna knew he could sell the movie based on the title alone, so he solicited writers to pitch him on the concept. It was his old pals Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli — for whom Yuzna had produced Re-Animator and From Beyond — that cracked the script. Charles Finch (who went on to executive produce David Cronenberg’s Spider) was later brought in to punch it up.
Continuing the underlying social commentary Yuzna explored with Society, the film centers on hot-headed dentist Alan Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). After catching his wife (Linda Hoffman) going down on the pool boy on their anniversary of all days, the mad doctor experiences a mental break that sends him on a killing spree, all while continuing to work at his dental practice.
Low budget but high energy, The Dentist is often lumped into the slasher genre, but don’t expect a toothy Dr. Giggles rehash. Told from the killer’s point of view, the film shares more in common with American Psycho, Maniac, and The Stepfather. Bernsen delivers sanctimonious inner monologues as his mask of sanity slips, yet there’s a cartoony pull to the proceedings.
The idiosyncratic combination is interesting — a Yuzna production is nothing if not interesting — but it ultimately works to the film’s detriment. Since it’s unable to fully commit to either a psychological character study or an absurd slasher, the movie doesn’t quite succeed as either. That’s not to say The Dentist is without its merits; those lie in the casting and the practical effects.
Seeking a different kind of role after eight years on L.A. Law, Bernsen found just that with The Dentist. Much to his credit, he seems to be on the same wavelength as Yuzna, walking a tightrope between cerebral and over-the-top. His adversaries include Dawn of the Dead star Ken Foree as a detective on the case and The Terminator‘s Earl Boen as a corrupt IRS agent. Future Avenger Mark Ruffalo pops up as a beauty queen manager.
I can stomach all kinds of gore, but The Dentist‘s close-ups on teeth being drilled and extracted make my skin crawl. Although not quite as convincing under the scrutiny of high definition, the work by Kevin Yagher (Child’s Play, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2-4) remains effective. The special effects department also included artist Christopher Nelson (Halloween 2018, Suicide Squad) and future Sharknado director Anthony C. Ferrante as supervisor.
Yuzna and Bernsen re-teamed for The Dentist 2, this time working from a script by Richard Dana Smith (The Stepdaughter). It’s not as strong without a Gordon/Paoli foundation to build upon, ultimately delivering more of the same in a new location — and requiring even more suspension of disbelief — but, even with a smaller budget, the worthy successor displays a bit more scope.
After escaping from the mental institution via a blade hidden in his skin(!), Feinstone finds refuge in the idyllic small town of Paradise, Missouri, under the pseudonym Larry Caine. It’s not long before his predilection for dentistry lures him back in, with his affinity for murder in tow. Smith devises a number of outlandish scenarios for the doctor to collect more victims.
The Dentist 2 is more of a traditional slasher than its predecessor, yet it still doesn’t fit neatly into all of the subgenre’s conventions. Feinstone’s descent into madness is more gradual, with the doctor actively trying to fight against it, akin to Psycho 2. The material veers further into bonkers territory, and Bernsen embraces it wholeheartedly.
Hoffman reprises her role as Feinstone’s wife, now a mute due to her tongue being cut out, but Jillian McWhirter plays the part of the doctor’s new object of obsession. Jeff Doucette (Alien Nation) has a supporting role as a trusting local bank manager who introduces the two of them. What the sequel lacks in Foree it makes up for with Wendy Robie (Twin Peaks) and Clint Howard (Evilspeak).
The Dentist offers some inventive camerawork by cinematographer Levie Isaacks (Leprechaun, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation). The sequel, shot by Jürgen Baum (Slumber Party Massacre III), is less visually stimulating but still competent. Alan Howarth (Halloween 2-6) composed the electronic scores for both films.
The Dentist Collection collects both movies on Blu-ray together as part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series. Both features are presented in high definition with English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Although the transfer specs aren’t detailed, The Dentist features some minor flecks of dust and grain (perhaps sourced from a film print rather than an original negative), but nothing too distracting. Both films are accompanied by a mouthful of new extras.
The Dentist features a commentary by Yuzna and Ferrante (whose microphone is, unfortunately, at a significantly lower volume), in which Yuzna reveals that Chevy Chase and Bruce Campbell were both considered for the titular role. A second track features audio interviews with Isaacks and Howarth along with isolated score selections. Isaacks’ chat focuses on his background in horror before digging into The Dentist, while Howarth dissects his process (including sampling real dentist instruments) and how it has evolved over the years.
Bernsen discusses both films in a new, 16-minute interview, in which he describes himself as “whacked out” while making the first movie. He also shares a sentimental story about his late mother. Paoli explains his and Stuart’s original vision for the script and how/why Yuzna opted to take it in a different direction. Ferrante and makeup effects artist J.M. Logan (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation) break down several of the effects sequences. The trailer and a still gallery are included.
Yuzna and Ferrante also recorded a commentary for The Dentist 2, which Ferrante describes as the Empire Strikes Back of The Dentist franchise. They briefly confer about a potential third installment, among a variety of other topics. A second track features audio interviews with editor Christopher Roth (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Hatchet) and Howarth along with isolated score selections. Roth discusses working on both movies and the discipline required to cut film in the pre-digital days, while Howarth talks about his approach to sequels, something with which he has ample experience.
The Dentist 2 also features interviews with McWhirter, who reflects on the experience with an infectiously positive attitude, and producer Pierre David (Videodrome, Wishmaster), who lays out his hard stance on producing his vision rather than taking orders from the financier. A trailer and a still gallery are also included for each film.
Between the films, the talent involved, the presentations, the special features, and the low retail price, The Dentist Collection is well worth sinking your teeth into. Given the timeless concept — as Paoli notes in his interview, dentistry is one medical need that can’t be replaced by telehealth — I suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone makes an appointment for a remake.