Review by Mike Finkelstein
In the pantheon of vampire legends, Elizabeth Bathory shares almost as large presences as the big man himself, Dracula. A noblewoman famous the brutal torture and murder of servant girls (some put her numbers up in the hundreds, with certain articles claiming she's one of the most prolific serial killers ever), her legends grew over the years to claim she killed young women so she could bathe in their blood. Although that detail is likely untrue it is also a key point of her legend and the part of her story most people remember.
While her fame as a vampiress is not in doubt, Bathory has decidedly less fame that Dracula when it comes to monster cinema. This may, in part be due to the fact that a drunken Irishman didn't write a best selling novel vaguely based on her, unlike with Vlad Dracula. There are plenty of movies about her life, but they aren't well known in Western cinema, not like the constant retellings of the Dracula story. Dracula shows up everywhere (Batman has fought him more than once, and Marvel had a long running series all about battling the vampire, Tomb of Dracula) but Bathory has never had that same kind of treatment.
Largely the vampiress has had to settle for low-budget, little-loved film produced on the cheap. That includes Chastity Bites, a film I doubt anyone is ever going to discuss outside the bounds of this article right now. Hell, I hadn't even heard of the movie before I stumbled across it in the dregs of the Internet-streaming wasteland, Tubi, but because it featured Bathory as a lead character, I felt like I had to check it out -- it's rare enough to find Bathory in a film at all, rarer still that she's in a decent movie. Perhaps this could be the rare movie featuring the vampiress that was actually good? Sadly it wasn't, not even close, although it did have its heart in the right place.
We open with Leah (Allison Scagliotti) and Katharine (Francia Raisa), two high school social outcasts living in a super-conservative Arizona town. Leah works as a journalist on the school paper, desperate to find the big story that will get her a scholarship to college so she can get out of the town. Katherine, meanwhile, is her quiet friend, always hanging around while her friend charges off into her next journalistic adventure. The cool girls in school all hate our heroines, but that's okay because they have each other.
Their friendship is put to the test soon, though. The parents of the town feel like all their teens are too oversexed so they decide to pay for a class on abstinence, and to teach the class they call in a expert in talking teen girls out of having sex, Liz Batho (Louise Griffiths), Batho, obviously, is really Elizabeth Bathory, the immortal vampiress who has clearly come to the town so she can play on the fears of the parents and feed on the virgin blood of the town's teens. She puts together a chastity youth group, starts ministering to the young women, and generally insinuates herself into the town. Katherine is even lured into the group, despite Leah's arguments against (although this is largely because Katherine is secretly gay and has a crush on Liz). Leah, though, smells something fishy and starts to suspect there's more going on. She'll have to act quick, though, before Liz kills Katherine, and the rest of the girls in town, all to feed her vampiric needs.
At it's core, Chastity Bites is a teen sex comedy, just one where all the teens aren't having sex. The deed itself is the first topic of conversation for basically ever character in the film which, frankly, isn't that inaccurate -- most teens (and, hell, for that matter most adults) think about sex a lot, and with hormones such as they are, the fact that the teens in this film talk about sex so much didn't seem silly. There's a lot about this film that is silly, mind you, but this at least felt somewhat accurate.
I also appreciated the fact that this film approaches the teen sex genre from the female side of the equation. While there are all films in the genre with female leads (Blockers, a recent entry in the genre, comes to mind), most of the time the movies focus on dudes (Animal House, Porky's, American Pie, Eurotrip and on and on). Women aren't as well represented in this genre so I appreciated the effort here. Plus, it does allow the film to tie in nicely with Elizabeth Bathory, a woman who (supposedly) bathed in the blood of virgin girls, and that's an inspired choice.
Like, from a certain angle I can kind of see what the filmmakers were going for, a kind of female-led, modern iteration on the teen-sex-monster films like Once Bitten and Fright Night. They clearly wanted that mix of goofy comedy and a touch of horror to sell the film. It's not a lack of idea that fail the movie, mind you, but the film's clearly tiny budget that obviously led to a number of compromises in the production.
For starters the film only has three good actors. Allison Scagliotti is great as the lead heroine Leah, spunky and headstrong with just enough heart that you care about her. Katherine, too, is solidly played by Francia Raisa; even though her character is underwritten, acting basically as a sidekick to Leah, Raisa makes her into a character you can care about. And Louise Griffiths's Liz is a delightful, scenery-chewing presence, a proper vampiric heavy to anchor the film. If the movie could have just had other actors at the level of these three leads, it might have worked.
Unfortunately that just didn't happen. Everyone else in the film, from all the parents to the cops in town, and even the school's mean girls, are all cartoonishly bad. They're comically written, but not in an intentionally funny way, and the performances from all the players are over-the-top bad. It's the kind of acting you expect from a low-budget soft-core porn film, with terrible line readings and people giving the wrong emotions for their scenes as if they don't really understand this whole "acting" thing (worth noting that there's no nudity in this film so all the soft-core vibes are left unfulfilled). When the leads aren't on screen, the film is nigh-unwatchable.
The film also hinges its story on a strange ceremony Liz has to perform every few years. To remain an immortal vampire, Liz has to bathe in the blood of five virgin girls. The reason for this isn't well explained, nor are the details such as how much blood is required, what commands her to perform this act, or just how she stumbled on this special ceremony. I spent a large part of the movie trying to figure out the reasoning for all this when, clearly, it was just a contrived plot device to carry the story of the film, and ended up annoyed by it when nothing was ever properly explained. I think the movie was just borrowing a page from Once Bitten (where the countess has to feed on three virgin men every year before Halloween), but it just didn't work for me.
It's pretty obvious why the film didn't do all that well and quickly fell into obscurity -- it's a bad movie carried along entirely on the strength of its three leads. It has some interesting ideas about blending female-led sex comedies and vampire films and, in better hands with a bigger budget, this kind of movie could work really well. Chastity Bites had neither the financing nor strength behind the camera to pull it off. The leads are more than willing but the film just wasn't there to support them at all.