A decade long journey comes to a head as Chastity Bites is finally released on DVD, and to celebrate the spectacularly spooky news, we have an in-depth look into the mind of the writer and producer of the film, Lotti Pharriss Knowles.
This recently released horror-comedy puts a modern day spin on the historical tale surrounding Elizabeth Bathory, a devilish woman who bathed in the blood of virgins, believing that her murderous ways would help achieve eternal youth. How’s that pipe dream going for ya, Lizzy? Not so great, I would imagine. To the people who said that dedication is dead, you should have your throats slashed, well, metaphorically of course (we’re going to leave the sword-wielding and virgin offing to the filmmakers… and psycho serial killers). But mind you, ten, count ‘em TEN gruesome years have passed since Writer/Producer Lotti Pharriss Knowles first composed the draft of what can now respectively be referred to as a cult-classic.
This gory and often sarcastic story takes place with the George W. Bush Administration in mind and brilliantly pokes fun at abstinence programs throughout America. But enough with the commentary, from me, anyways, and let’s get to the good stuff. I chatted with Lotti about how to get an independent film off the ground, the cast, her favorite horror films, and so much more.
McKenzie Morrell: Can you talk a little bit about what drew you to Elizabeth Bathory’s story and what made you want to mold these worlds together?
Lotti Pharriss Knowles: Besides the fact that she’s this fascinating historical character and one of the world’s worst serial killers, plus a woman to boot, which is pretty rare. She’s also a character inspiration for some of my favorite horror movies. One of my favorite genres within horror is the lesbian vampire film, I’m sure you’re a fan as well and I love some of the Hammer movies, like Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers, there’s this beautiful film Daughters of Darkness that has just straight up Elizabeth Bathory in it but she’s a vampire. I am just so committed to strong female characters in film because there is so not enough. It certainly attracted me to not just a strong heroine but also how cool would that be to have that strong female heroine up against the female adversary. It was pretty exciting to me, and then the whole political angle. You know, I wrote the first draft of this script when it was still the George W. Bush Administration and I was just depressed with what was going on in the country and there was a lot of the Abstinence stuff going on at the time. Somehow it just clicked in my brain when I was always thinking about writing something Bathory, I was like oh my God she would totally just come here to red state America to find her virgins, now with this whole business going on. I kept thinking year after year, this is not going to be irrelevant, you know the night Obama got elected I was like oh this is great, the conservative movement is over, so oh well [laughs] yeah that didn’t happen. So, sad for the country, but good for the movie. That stuff still ended up being pretty relevant and so was with the war on women the last couple of years.
Let’s talk about the humor in this film, it’s so on point, I am definitely a snark and comedy junkie and I just thought the vibe of the movie was fantastic. With that said, are there any writers that influence you and the style in which you write?
My brain kind of shifts based on what I’m writing and I feel like I have had a chance to kind of develop my own writing voice through theatre, which is where I started. I always wanted to make horror movies and I actually wrote a horror script in High School that I shot a few scenes of before sort of giving up because it was the VHS Camcorder technology, which is disappointing to me. There’s definitely people who have influenced me and it’s funny because I wrote the script before Juno and Jennifer’s Body came out but I definitely feel like somebody like Diablo Cody is definitely a kindred spirit. I was very much influenced by the fact that Rita Mae Brown, the great feminist who wrote The Slumber Party Massacre in 80’s which was a feminist twist on the slasher movies, even then. I think that there’s a lot of strong female influences of even people I know, like the lead characters voice was partly mine, but partly a good friend of mine who is a journalist who’s really snarky, who was sort of my college roommate and I just always kind of loved how fast she was. It was a little bit of that feeling like she was kind of brittle on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside, which is kind of what I wanted to do with LEAH, and so that was a big inspiration for me with this good friend of mine from college as well and I would think a lot when I was writing LEAH is what would my friend say in this situation.
This was a low budge independent film, but I think the final product speaks the complete opposite… how did you get this project off the ground?
It’ll be ten years this summer since I wrote the first draft of this film, so this really has been a long journey, at the beginning, the first two years it was sort of like taking meetings, there was one producer that optioned it for a while and was going to help us make it and he actually changed the original title, which was Virgin Bloods Must Die, which I still kind of love, and he was like ‘okay we have got to tone it down a little,’ so we came up with Chastity Bites which I love too. But during that whole time, I was working on Producing short films and producing music videos and commercials and that kind of thing, my husband (John V. Knowles) and I had a production company where we were doing all that stuff and he was honing his directing so I guess around 2008 or 2009 is when the other producers option ran out and I said ‘hey do you think this is going to happen or can I have the rights back?’ I got them back, and then I spent two to three years really seriously working toward raising the budget. First we were hoping to do it for 3-5 million and then it was like 1-1.5 and finally at around the time we started shooting in 2011 our attorney’s said ‘hey you know what, right now the price point is half a million, these kind of things are being done for, can you take a risk on it, I know some great people.’ And we had already raised the independent equity through individual investors about maybe 300,000 dollars at that point so it seemed a little more attainable then if we were doing it for a million, you know to raise the rest. So we went for it, and it’s funny, now things have changed again where that’s like a high low budget movie now. If I were to make another horror movie for like one-hundred grand or less. But at the same time I love the way it turned out in terms of the fact that we did get, I think pretty high production values even for half a million. I’m thrilled and really the team we worked with, a crew out of Austin, Texas who had moved to LA and they really knew how to do stuff, quick, in terms of the cost but still making it look great and I owe so much to them for helping us get that done. So it’s just a long journey and definitely there’s people along the way where they’re like ‘oh we’re going to do this, we’re going to help you make it’ and then nothing happened. So it sat on the shelf for a little bit longer, I guess I just had something that I was just driven to make this movie, I had to do it one way or another. Even if six months to a year there was nothing going on I would pick it back up again and then carry it a little further and a little further, and hear we are.
Did you face any challenges while working with your husband, John V. Knowles, who was the Director of the film? Come on, give us those gory details.
[Laughs] You know overall we were good, I mean we’ve worked together for so long now, I mean the first short film we did together was probably in 2003 in Chicago before we moved to L.A. and then we’ve had this company together where we’ve done corporate video, and that sort of thing, but also got to do creative projects and short films and the music videos. So we kind of have our routine, in our roles, and with this one it was a much bigger project but we just set certain rules, for example if we have a disagreement, no fighting in front of the kids, you know. In front of the crew, because nobody likes that, it’s super uncomfortable. One of the things I had to do too, I’ve been living with this script in my head for so long, and if you want it to be just the way you want it in your head it’s actually never going to be real, at some point if you want to make something real, you have to let it become a little bit more of a communal baby that everyone is bringing to life, so I really just knew because I have super control freak tendencies, when we were on set I would like check in periodically or if he like needed me or somebody had a question I would come to where they were shooting but I kind of stayed away a lot because I just wanted to let him do his thing and not be micromanaging. And usually there was a lot stuff I needed to do as the producer anyway. So actually during the shoot itself we barely even saw each other because we’d have to take separate cars, get to the set different times, I might have to go to another location, so in reality we almost saw each other less than normal during the shoot and we were so tired even if we were home that it was just like passing out. We wrapped the night before Christmas Eve and that was like a year where there was no Christmas. I mean, Halloween is my favorite holiday anyway but we literally slept Christmas Eve through Christmas Day waking up to eat Chinese carry-out at some point and then going back to sleep on the couch. We actually did okay, I wish there was something juicy, like when I almost picked up a prop and like sliced his throat but [laughs] nope.
What was it like working with Sarah Stouffer (BRITNEY), I heard she’s a real diva! [Laughs.]
[Laughs] Right? Well you know, I love Sarah. I mean really and truly I feel like our whole cast is a gift from God. Allison (Scagliotti) was the only one who was involved before hand, she was involved for a good year and a half which is why she ended up as an Executive Producer, as well. But everyone else including Sarah came into audition for us. We had amazing casting directors who got the script. One thing I didn’t mention in the journey part is I heard a lot of negative notes along the ten year journey and a lot of people who didn’t get this and who said that it was too much hybrid, ‘what’s up with the political stuff,’ ‘you know this isn’t going to work.’ So to find people who get it or at least get our passion made is super important and the casting directors they read it and were so on board and they brought in these phenomenal people. Sarah came in, I think she was actually reading for KELLY originally, who was actually the girl who ends up giving it up in breaking the pact and she was cute, but there was something about her that had a little more attitude and I was like get her the lines for BRITNEY and let her work on those for a little while and bring her back in and it was a tough role because that character has to be such a dumb shit in a way and that’s like a willful idiot and it takes a smart actor to play dumb well. If you know what I mean, they have to sort of get it, because if they’re actually dumb it’s not going to work. They have to sort of get what they’re playing and hit the beats perfectly. She came in and I was like oh my God, this girl is it. She was cute, sweet, so good and she was great. All ‘The Hilton’s’ they totally bonded, I think they’re all still friends to this day, which is so lovely. We’re still friends with them too, we stayed friends with almost everybody we worked with on this because it was stressful of course, but also really, really fun. And everyone was really down for it which was great.
What would you say is the best horror film of all time? Worst?
Oh God. That is tough. Okay, can I give you my top two favorites that are tied? Because let me say this, it’s so hard because I love horror movies and I’ll watch pretty much anything and there are so many that are my favorite but, the top two that I think are the ones that are my favorites that’s I’m most influenced by including in this movie are John Carpenters Halloween and The Vampire Lovers, which have you seen that McKenzie?
It’s like super hot, right?
It is… really!
[Laughs] I’m trying to think of the worst, I love bad movies, so I think maybe what I’ll do is I’ll pick like the worst movie that I still recommend watching with a group of people. Which I guess would have to be Killdozer, which is about a bulldozer that gets possessed by an alien spirit and kills people, I don’t know how that happens, but [laughs] but let’s go with Killdozer as the worst, but to still watch it with your snarky friends.
Say the zombie apocalypse hits, what three actors would you want on your survival team?
Well I’ll go with Allison Scagliotti for sure, because she handles a spear really well, and then Zoë E. Bell, she’s such an ass kicker, and Danai Gurira, the woman from The Walking Dead. The thing is shooting a gun is all very well and good but when you’re going to get into the thick of it you’re going to need some people who are pretty good at that up close and personal stabbing. So those three I feel like would be pretty well equipped.
The question of the hour… will there be a second film, and will I be in it? [Laughs.]
[Laughs] If there is a sequel, girl you are so in it! Let me tell you, I already have a sequel worked out in my mind and I would love to, but of course it’s completely dependent on this movie. Do enough people care to want a second one? I just keep promoting this and at some point the universe has to just do it’s work and we’ll see if there’s enough people out there who get excited about these characters, then there’s that feedback from the world. But yes, there should be a second film. I mean, I do get asked this from people who have seen the movie and love it so now we just need to multiple these people times you know a million [laughs] or even a few hundred thousand or whatever and we’ll see if it can happen. So fingers crossed, and like I said, girl, you are, believe me you have done so much that I think it would be a travesty to not let you come and play with us some day!
You hear that people… watch, buy, and show the movie some love! I’d need to have bruises, and a sword or something. [Laughs]
What are some of your guilty pleasure TV shows?
I love Judge Judy. I watch Judge Judy pretty much religiously, I think there’s something about the fact that even though I’m snarky, I try to be pretty zen with dealing with all of the different human beings on the planet because I don’t want to put more bad energy out there and I love watching Judge Judy yell at stupid people, it’s like such a release, and I’ve learned a lot about the legal system as well. So it’s educational, but also cathartic! [Laughs.] Then there’s a lot of reality television I kind of enjoy. It’s like crack for me. I like Lifetime movies as well. I live tweeted the Flowers in the Attic movie with some friends. Those are probably my best guilty pleasures.
With the recent release of the DVD, tell us why we should buy Chastity Bites?
Ohh, okay. I would say because first of all, from a technical perspective if you like a little more behind the scenes stuff, which is not available on the digital download, then you want to get the DVD because there’s a cool behind the scenes featurette where we interview all the main cast. We have a peek on days of shooting, and it’s just kind of a fun extra for people. But also I think that a lot of times for horror fans it’s just fun to have the physical DVD. For me there are so many movies that I love and it’s sort of like I need them in my home with me. I know I can reach out and grab it at any time. And when people come over they see what I have and it sparks a fun conversation. I think if they’re into this kind of thing, and if it’s someone who supports a film with such strong female characters, and they aren’t just accessories, they’re not just there to support the boy characters, you know, then I would say ‘hey support the movie, own it, love it, keep it close to your heart, forever and ever.’ [Laughs.]
Chastity Bites is now available on DVD, you can purchase a copy by visiting Amazon. And be sure to gently stalk Lotti Pharriss Knowles, the mastermind behind the film on her personal Twitter and Chastity Bites Twitter.