Les Dents Noires (filmed 1970, released 1971)
Director: Auguste Des Jardins
Producer: Jens Dardis
Writer: Auguste Des Jardins & Jens Dardis
Cast:
Emile – Sid Jendras
Marie – Jess-Sindt Gaudreau
Music: Georges Delerue
Editing: Auguste Des Jardins
Distributor: Union Générale Cinématographique
Running time: 13:32

Synopsis:
The short is one, long unbroken shot, initially starting at the street, looking across the yard toward the small house, finished in a maroon paint that is fading to pink. The narration begins as we see Emile and Marie arriving to look at the house, but their arrival also clarifies something: they are not the focus of the short, and the camera is slowly moving inwards, toward the house–specifically toward a half-window into the basement.

Emile and Marie continue talking, and their conversation is banal. Taxes, moving expenses, Emile’s new job. We eventually learn, through guided imagery from Marie, that she has recently suffered a miscarriage. Around this time, we begin to notice, as the camera draws closer to that basement window, that there is a figure in it. Due to the lighting, at first we can see nothing more than that.

But soon, it becomes clear that it is a small form, childlike. We also begin to resolve that it is grinning widely, and its teeth are framed perfectly by Des Jardins’ lighting. They, and the lips around them, are dead, midnight black. It doesn’t seem possible, especially in 1970, for this to be so without visible makeup, but there is no time to consider this, as the audience: Emile and Marie are entering the house.

They continue their conversation, sometimes becoming heated, as the camera settles on the midnight lips and teeth, framing them in the center of the frame as they pulse and tremble with each breath. This is not the darkness of any human skin, but something altogether alien and sinister. The couple repeatedly beings moving toward the basement, and at this sign the breathing intensifies, the rictus grin grows wider, only to return to its previous state when they move away.

In this way, the tension has been built up to an almost unbearable level by the time the basement door actually opens. We see a flash of light across the being’s face, enough to convince us that every part of it is as dark and dead-looking as the mouth upon which we have been fixated for so long. As Emile begins walking into the basement, arguing loudly with Marie, the thing’s breathing crescendos and it moves out of our view. Nothing takes its place but the back wall of the basement, lit by late-afternoon sunshine.

We hear footsteps slapping on concrete, a surprised noise from Emile, followed by a savage, feral sound and a bloodcurdling scream. The sounds of struggle follow, and the noise continues for a moment before dying away in a death rattle.

More footsteps and we see the teeth and grin return. This time, they are freshly bloodied, dappled with crimson. We hear nothing, and for a moment all is as it was before, but for the addition of blood. Then we hear footsteps approaching, tentative footsteps, and realize that we have no idea what happened to Marie. The creature, whatever it is, turns slightly to face someone or something, and speaks its single line in a surprisingly normal child’s voice:

Maman.

A voice answers. “Mon bébé.” It is impossible to tell if Marie is speaking, or if it is another creature entirely.

We then see a pair of hands, adult-sized but midnight as the child, reaching over to caress it. Some blood is gently wiped from its lips as the screen fades to darkness itself.

Notes:
Despite being completed and filmed during breaks for Les Trois Juliets, Les Dents Noires was not released until the following year, as a double feature with a French dub of Willard. Short subjects were, of course, a totally dead genre by the early 70s aside from experimental or student films, and Des Jardins’ production was considered risky at the time.

The short was a cult hit, and many moviegoers reportedly left the theaters before the main program to see it again. But it also fell afoul of some religious viewers and critics, and several theaters refused to screen it during its 1971 release and 1973 re-release. Prints also tended to be snipped from Willard, making them rather rare today.

Notably, there is no credited actor for the “dark child” and no credited makeup artist. Des Jardins later claimed that union rules and labor laws forced him to pay under the table. He also repeatedly refused to clarify the film’s narrative in the years before his death: “I do not care what I have said, I only care what you have heard.”

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