What if you could stay young and beautiful forever? All it takes is a little virgin sacrifice. In this day of endless creams, concealers, botox, and surgery, it seems like there is almost no limit to the lengths people will go to protect their vanity. Back in 16th century Hungary, one noblewoman was accused of taking her obsession with youth and beauty to the extreme. Though no one has ever confirmed the number of victims, the woman who would become known in history as the “Blood Countess” was said to have slain young women, drained their blood, and bathed in it. Her name was Elizabeth Bathory, and in a new film, Chastity Bites, she is very much alive.
“She’s just a great villainess, and a lot of people know who she is, but a lot of people don’t,” explains Chastity Bites writer/producer Lotti Knowles. “Here she is, probably one of the worst serial killers in history, and she’s a woman, and all these social issues that spun out from that.”
I sat down recently with Lotti and her husband John (who is also the film’s director) to talk about their new movie, which is out on Video On Demand today. The two of them have been working on this labor of love for the better part of a decade. Lotti wrote the original script nine years ago, choosing first to option it to a studio, but when the one-two punch of the writers’ strike and economic downturn kept studios from developing new, smaller films, they decided it was time to make it themselves.
Surprisingly, despite the passage of time, and the political satire inherent in the film, it stayed relevant. Though we were now halfway through the Obama administration, reproductive rights was still a major issue, and lawmakers across the country were advocating abstinence rather than contraception. “I thought at some point it was going to become irrelevant, but it’s still here,” says Lotti. “And I thought, well what better way for Elizabeth Bathory, if she were still alive, to be finding her virgins than in Red State America, where these programs are popular? It was a lot to put into a movie. I did not set up an easy task for myself in terms of creating this horror, social satire, feminist concoction, but I will say that this was a movie that was definitely my baby – our baby – and I just decided to go for it.”
And so the horror-comedy of Chastity Bites was born. The film, which has been making the festival round this year, follows two women: Leah, a spunky, snarky high school student with a press pass and the cynicism to match, and Liz, a centuries old noblewoman who feeds on vanity and virgin blood. Oddly, though Liz, to some, might seem like the opposite of a feminist character (since she’s pretty much the most vain person in history), she and Leah play off each other like two sides of a very old coin. Liz represents the idea of sex as a weapon, while Leah runs the more traditional route of feminist ideology. Regardless of how you see them, both characters are what make the movie stand out, and the actresses who play them are what makes it such an enjoyable experience.
So, how do you go about making a centuries old villainess relevant to today’s audiences? Well, for Lotti, it was more about the way she reacted to the modern age. “Not a lot is really known about her in terms of personality,” explains Lotti. “So I just went with my take, which is that she is pure evil, completely selfish. It’s all about her, and it’s worked for her through these hundreds of years. She is this person who still has this very regal bearing. She still has this sense of entitlement that she would have had hundreds of years ago as a Countess. There’s a lot of stuff we had fun with with Louise Griffiths. She really got into it. She was able to give off this friendly, smiling demeanor, and to win everyone over with her charm, but at the same time underneath, she just despises these people.”
“There was a strong choice to not have her pick up any modern slang or colloquialism,” adds John. And he’s right. It’s not something you necessarily pick up on while watching the film, but the way Liz phrases her sentences, and the way she moves and interacts with people, is why you feel so very odd whenever the character is on screen (though the bathing in blood thing helps). She has this very strange air about her that makes you equal parts intrigued and uneasy. It’s no wonder Leah, played by Warehouse 13‘s Allison Sagliotti, is so quick to suspect her of something nefarious when she is brought in to start an abstinence program at Leah’s high school.
And what about Leah? She’s the obvious heroine from the start; a high school journalist who has managed to make an enemy out of just about everyone in their little hamlet. She butts heads with popular chicks, throws out feminist theory like she’s a walking Simone de Beauvoir quote book, and yet still manages to be just funny, intelligent, and vulnerable enough that you want to get to know her. “I just really wanted a strong, smart, snarky heroine – kind of in the vein of Buffy meets Daria,” says Lotti. “Just in the casting it was really important that we had someone that the audience was going to relate to and root for, because that’s the whole way into the movie. You have to want Leah to triumph at the end, and that’s where I feel like we got so lucky with Allison.”
The supporting cast and characters, though largely caricatures who embody the vanity of high society and high school royalty, are the perfect framework for a film about sexual liberation and female empowerment. The “popular girls” – lead by The Guild‘s Amy Okuda – add a layer of satire to the film evocative of Mean Girls, and offer a foil to Leah’s staunch feminism that is both hilarious and easily enticing for a character like Leah’s best friend, Katharine. In fact, I would go so far as to say the film is best described as Mean Girls meets Buffy (the original film more than the TV show), with a whole lot more blood. While filled with humor, and it’s fair share of camp, the film can easily go on your shelf next to such classics as Slither or Tremors.
And the film is seeing success to match my high marks. It’s making it’s way around the world, premiering in festivals here in the US, and most recently in Europe. They’ve even won an award just a week ago at an Orlando festival for “Best Independent Spirit” thanks to a creative bit of guerrilla marketing whereby they handed out condoms branded with the film’s logo, and told people not to “die a virgin.”
While the movie isn’t for everyone, it certainly has an audience among anyone who has ever wanted a fun, lady filled film with kick ass heroes, dark, dastardly villains, and a whole lot of virgin sacrifice.
Chastity Bites comes out on Video on Demand services across the internet and cable providers today. Look for it on iTunes and Amazon as well as on your cable box. We’ll post links as soon as they come in.