Thankfully, feminist horror films and sex-positive cinema are becoming more and more commonplace of late. And we owe a debt of gratitude for the shifting paradigm to movements like Me Too and Time’s Up. But sex-positive filmic efforts celebrating women were not nearly so commonplace in 2013 when Chastity Bites was initially released. It was (and still is) a film ahead of its time. Husband and wife filmmaking team Lotti Pharriss-Knowles and John Knowles are trailblazers and deserve a bit of credit for deliberately subverting expectations and questioning genre tropes while still demonstrating a knowledge of and love for the horror genre.
Lotti Pharriss-Knowles penned the screenplay for Chastity Bites. As a relative newcomer to moviemaking (at the time of the film’s creation), I was pleasantly surprised by how clever and well-written Ms. Knowles’ script is. It’s full of wit and contains enough twists and turns to keep the viewer on their toes. It takes an overtly pro-feminist stance, which was somewhat unusual for a horror film in 2013.
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Leah (Allison Scagliotti), the film’s protagonist finds herself in a race against time to lose her virginity before she is used in a ritualistic sacrifice. The film takes horror conventions and turns them on their head. It sends the message that a girl having sex doesn’t make her damaged goods and it doesn’t mean that she should be punished for embracing her sexuality. As much fun as the old horror movie tropes are, Chastity Bites brings a fresh perspective to the genre and takes a refreshing stance on sexuality. Ms. Knowles’ script is full of jokes that poke fun at the right wing ideals that marginalize women and the LGBTQ community and its unabashed willingness to advocate for the marginalized.
Further supporting the film’s feminist message, there is absolutely no nudity within its runtime. And I commend that. It can be tricky to gain distribution for an independent horror film with no exposed boobies; but pandering to the male gaze would have been in conflict with the picture’s anti-patriarchal thematic elements.
Director John Knowles does a commendable job of maintaining the appropriate balance between horror, comedy, and subtext. The viewer is never slapped in the face with the film’s agenda. But at the same time, one would have to be fairly oblivious to miss the message lurking directly beneath the surface.
Knowles was working with a largely green cast of characters but in spite of that, the film serves up some memorable performances. Allison Scagliotti’s turn as Leah really impressed me. The actress was a great choice for the lead and she nailed every aspect of it. Scagliotti perfectly embodies the role of a young feminist and displays solid comedic timing that makes her one-liners even funnier than they should be.
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Chastity Bites starts off a little rocky, with some ups and downs in both the pacing and the performances from some of the supporting cast. But before long, the film finds its footing and stays on track for the remainder of its runtime. Chastity Bites is absolutely worth checking out. If you haven’t had the occasion to do so, please give it a watch.
Director(s): John Knowles
Writer(s): Lotti Pharriss-Knowles
Stars: Allison Scagliotti, Francia Raisa
Studio/ Production Co: Weirdsmobile Productions
Length: 95 Minutes