One of the great horror films of the 1980s, “Fright Night”, left the true identity of Chris Sarandon’s vampire a mystery until a long way into the film. Okay, you definitely suspected, but they could have pulled a switcheroo about him at the 1 hour mark and I wouldn’t have been too surprised. “Chastity Bites” seems to be aiming for the same target. Or a target near that target. Or maybe I need to work on my analogies.
If you know anything about Elizabeth Bathory, it’s that she killed a whole lot of young women and bathed in their blood. The latter is almost certainly an invention, first appearing in print over 100 years after her death; and there’s a dedicated group trying to get the former consigned to the “fiction” pile as well (although she probably did do it). Anyway, that’s not important, but the presence of Liz Batho in the small town of San Griento is. It’s a right wing, Fox News soundbite-spouting place, and the parents have hired Batho from the “Virginity Action Group” (VAG) to promote chastity among their children.
Leah (Allison Scagliotti, Warehouse 13) and Katharine are best friends, the outcasts at school who seem happy to be that way, full of radical politics and odd ideas. Paul, another left-wing outsider, has a crush on Leah, but their lives are complicated by the 4 evil girls (the children of the women who hired Batho). When a Virginity Action Group group is set up at the school, the speed with which the main characters apart from Leah fall under her spell is a little baffling…anyway, she’s got evil rituals to do, and needs a few virgins.
It’s quite a nice idea for a film, really. The problem comes when you think about it for more than a tenth of a second. I’m no history buff, but I knew who Elizabeth Bathory was, being a fairly famous part of most modern vampire “lore” – but we’re expected to swallow that not a single person at the school goes “hold on, you’ve got virtually the same name as one of history’s most famous serial killers, and are from the same country as her. What’s up with that? Also, why we’re at it, why have you got a perfect English accent if you’re Hungarian?” It takes Leah stumbling upon her name with a Google search before the thread starts to unravel.
Which brings me to one of my favourite bad film bugbears. Leah has a newspaper report that the last time Ms Batho showed up at a different school with VAG, five teenagers disappeared, the group’s website is mysteriously “under construction”, etc. Now, I’m slow to believe any conspiracy theory, but there’s definitely enough evidence uncovered to have people listen to her, not treat her like a mad person and ignore her. But because films would be a lot shorter if everyone behaved like sensible human beings, we have to go through the whole charade.
It seems that everyone is absolutely in love with Liz – the school principal, a middle aged woman with dozens of cats, offers herself up for sex at the drop of hat; and she’s also the catalyst for Katharine realising her own lesbianism. They did pick an extraordinarily beautiful woman, Louise Griffiths, for the part which makes that more believable. And there’s no nudity! After what feels like years of complaining, this is a film from a real feminist perspective. Abstinence-based sex education is seen as literally a killer, and the film both talks the talk of feminism and walks the walk – Leah is a great lead who has to rescue her boyfriend and needs no help from him to win the day. The men are pretty much window dressing in this film, which is so bloody refreshing I’d almost recommend it on that basis alone.
Re: Katharine, though, she develops a huge crush on Elizabeth Bathory (who wouldn’t?) but then as soon as the evil is vanquished she starts a relationship with her sort-of-kidnapped maidservant. Like, minutes later. I don’t think that’s how lesbians operate. Do they just find the nearest accommodating woman and imprint on them?
It doesn’t get round the main problem the film has, though, and that ties in with the “Fright Night” comparison. We know Elizabeth Bathory is the villain from the off, but the film wastes too much time pretending that she might not be – people being murdered by mysterious cloaked figures, etc. It just dragged down the pace of what should have been a light “classic” teen movie, with an added extra.
But I can forgive a lot – small budget, first time writer, first time director. It looks great, the cast is strong, and it’s got a decent sense of humour, with a nice mix of understated and wildly over the top performances as well.
Rating: thumbs in the middle