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Monday, February 10, 2014

DVD Review: Chastity Bites

I’ve long been fascinated by the Elizabeth Bathory story. Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian countess who lived at the same time as William Shakespeare. Depending on which report you believe, she killed between two hundred and eight hundred young girls. She believed that bathing in virgins’ blood would keep her young. When it failed to work, she started going after blue blood, and that’s when she got into trouble. There have been several films about Bathory, including Countess Dracula (1971), Daughters Of Darkness (1971) and the more recent Julie Delpy film The Countess (2009). The newest Bathory film, Chastity Bites, has a wonderful new approach to the character.

Chastity Bites takes place in a twisted fictitious suburb somewhere in southwestern United States.  It stars Allison Scagliotti as Leah and Francia Raisa as Katharine, two high school students who are somewhat outside the social norm and are teased by the four most popular girls in the school. Leah’s main interests are feminism and journalism, and near the beginning of the film Katharine tells her, “Maybe your article exposing the seedy underbelly of the prom committee wasn’t the smartest choice for a social standing at this school.” That’s a great example of the type of humor this film has. Leah, by hiding in a bathroom stall, overhears the four girls talking of their plan to lose their virginity together, and decides it will make an excellent story. Yes, that does seem a bit beneath Leah, who first comes across as someone interested in legitimate journalism. But it does establish, for those who know the Bathory story, that the girls are, for now, prime candidates for death.

The film opens with a young couple making out in a convertible. The girl, Nicole, says they’re not ready to go all the way. The boy, George, says he’s ready. But Nicole gets all religious on him, saying that sex without marriage “may lead the fornicators to be punished by having retarded bastard babies or burning in the eternal fires of damnation.” George, of course, looks like he is ready to call an end to this relationship. But he’s saved the trouble by someone who shows up to slit that virgin’s throat. And that’s the opening sequence. It’s wonderful in that it takes the horror cliché of the couple out having sex and turns it on its head. After all, it’s usually sex which leads teenagers to being slaughtered in slasher films. Here it’s the girl’s very lack of sex that causes her demise.

The adults in this town are just as nutty as the teenagers. At a PTA meeting, Jillian Thorne (Laura Niemi) announces that the things they hold dear “are under constant attack from socialists and the liberal homosexual agenda.” The solution? “I have proposed an overhauled abstinence education program for our young people in the high school.” Jillian says she has found the perfect person to lead this program. And so enters Liz Batho (Louise Griffiths), who has worked tirelessly for the abstinence cause. Again, it does help if the viewer is already aware of the Bathory story. I think for some people this film might be a lot funnier the second time around.

Liz Batho recruits high school girls for her local chapter of Virginity Action Group, and the four popular girls sign up as chastity-leaders-in-training (and yes, the film does explain why they join). Leah is upset because this might signal the end of her proposed newspaper story. She becomes more concerned when her only real friend, Katharine, joins.

The cast is pretty strong. Louise Griffiths is wonderful as the confident Liz Batho, and Allison Scagliotti is excellent as Leah. I also enjoyed Eddy Rioseco’s performance as Paul, the one guy in school who might make a good partner for Leah. In fact, some of my favorite moments in the film are those between Leah and Paul. The film is full of creepy characters, like the large guy who works for Batho, and Prudence the cat lady. (The scene with Prudence at home with her cats is great.)

There are some weak elements. Like, somehow in this dull suburb, Liz Batho managed to find and rent a creepy castle-looking home. And when the film does present the information on Bathory, it does so by having Leah look her up online – I really don’t like scenes of people typing on computers. (By the way, in that scene, the film adds its own angle to the Bathory story by introducing specific witchcraft-related requirements.) And there is a moment where suddenly Katharine is tied up, and it’s unclear just why (it feels like a scene might have been deleted before that).

But those are relatively minor points. What I really appreciate about this film is its sense of humor. There are some truly funny lines, like when Leah says to Paul, “And if bad shit’s going down, you should probably call 9-1-1 because I’m sure they’ve got my number on some list of people to let die.” But it’s in the film’s overall perspective where most of the humor lies. It’s not perfect, but I kind of love this movie. It is totally enjoyable. It has a clear point of view. It has something to say, and says it with comedy and blood.

Special Features

The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes feature, which is approximately thirteen minutes. It includes interviews with director John V. Knowles, writer/producer Lotti Pharriss Knowles, and cast members Allison Scagliotti, Louise Griffiths, Francia Raisa, Eddy Rioseco and Stuart Gordon. The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.

Chastity Bites was directed by John V. Knowles, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on February 11, 2014 through Grand Entertainment Group.

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