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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Switchblade Sisters (1975) review


Robbie Lee (Lace), Joanne Nail (Maggie), Monica Gayle (Patch), Asher Brauner (Dominic), Chase Newhart (Crabs), Marlene Clark (Muff), Kitty Bruce (Donut), Janice Karman (Bunny), Don Stark (Hook), Don Marino (Guido), Bob Minor (Parker)

Directed by Jack Hill

The Short Version: Awesome and super sleazy girl gang exploitation picture with soap opera overtones wedged between glaring stage play tragedy theatrics. Jack Hill made many a lean, mean movie dealing with the most malevolent and unsavory characters imaginable. This is Hill's outrageous 70's redux of such juicy juvenile delinquent filth as HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (both 1958).

The Dagger Debs are an all girl gang working with the Silver Daggers, a male gang that controls a tumultuous and rundown school expediting sex and drugs to the student body. Another gang led by the sadistic Crabs feels the Daggers are intruding on their turf and decide to go to war. Meanwhile, a tough broad named Maggie shows she's no pushover and quickly joins the Debs. With this sexy new member trouble arises between the Debs and the Daggers while the Crabs wait in the wings to strike.

If one were to compile a list of classic exploitation movies from the 1970's, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS would be on there somewhere along with several other Jack Hill pictures. A master of making movies with zero fat on them, this slimeball soap opera, ghetto girl gang gutbuster represents what made trash cinema so immersive. Despite all the violence and squalor showcased during the movies breezy 90 minutes, the narrative is Shakespearean in its depiction of these sad, sometimes irritating, yet eventually tragic characters.

Robbie Lee, who played Polly McClatchie in BIG BAD MAMA (1974)--shedding her clothes in several questionable sex scenes (she looked all of 13 years old)--looks too young to be spearheading a violent all girl gang, but she makes it work over the course of the film. For the most part, she's an annoyance as the whiny, but lovelorn Lace, who, with the help of Patch, knows she's slowly losing her man when Maggie gets initiated as a Dagger Deb member.

Lace likes to humiliate those who piss her off including her own girls, Donut being one. She makes her oink like a pig during a scene at the beginning when she wants to buy a double cheeseburger. Later in the film, Maggie picks up some of these characteristics by walking over Hook making him say he's a "big fat yellow chicken" while she holds a knife at his throat. These two become fast friends for a time before things begin to fall apart about halfway through. The script is successful in making the audience feel sympathy for some of the characters even though the bulk of them are the lowest form of barrel scum. These individuals inhabit a grossly exaggerated dystopian world where brute force and sudden death are the order of the day.

Joanne Nail is the super sexy and resourceful female fighter who shows up the Debs when they try to intimidate her in a small eatery at the beginning of the movie. Lace's boyfriend, Dominic instantly shows a good deal of interest in her from the beginning. So much so that he ultimately rapes her. What makes this scene so surprising is that Maggie resists at first, but then begins getting off on the experience. Maggie eventually takes over the Dagger Debs while Lace is in the hospital. She also changes the name of the gang to 'The Jezebels'. It's also around this time that the gang is broken up from within as treachery and deceit splits the gang apart. Everything goes to hell during the final confrontation between the Jezebel gang members when the truth comes out and Lace attempts to take back her gang.

Hill's trash epic has a little bit of everything brewing in this toxic soup. There's tough gangs, lesbian wardens, misogyny, a machine gun battle in a roller rink, black revolutionaries and a wildly over the top war in the streets with an armor plated battle car that foreshadows the post apocalyptic actioners of the early 1980's. There's also political subtext with gangs following the words of Mao Tse Tung and Crabs wears a German cross with a swastika in the center. The movie also takes a grim, yet wildly over the top view of violence in the school system and youth in general. These punks run prostitute rackets in the bathrooms and sell drugs outside in plain sight. Look for television and exploitation personality Marlene Clark as the leader of the black revolutionaries and the esteemed Bob Minor, an accomplished stunt coordinator and supporting actor from dozens of movies playing a cop.

The dialog is voraciously witty and memorable. Often the actors' delivery is hammy in the extreme. Most of them shout their lines with the utmost seriousness and proclivity. It's this supercilious societal defiance of the characters married to the guttertrash dialog that makes the whole movie a supreme slice of sleazy scintillation. It's the 'R' equivalent of all those 'Youth Gone Wild' flicks of the 50's and 60's only this one rubs your face in skanky squalor, kicks you while you're down and it's in color. Don't miss this unwholesomely fun low budget gem.

This review is representative of the Miramax DVD


Armando H. said...

the restaurant in Switchblade Sisters is now a Mexican roasted chicken joint.

venoms5 said...

The burger joint at the beginning? Where is it located?

dfordoom said...

I love this movie. Othello with girl juvenile delinquents. And as Hill points out in the commentary track it's structured like a piece of music (deliberately so since Hill was a composer as well). In that respect it's reminiscent of Jess Franco's work in being driven by a musical rhythm.

venoms5 said...

I didn't listen to the commentary yet, D. Did you happen to watch the 30 minute B/W short film of Hill's? It's the first role of Sid Haig. It's like a horror western mixed with the short story 'The Lottery'.

dfordoom said...

The commentary is worth listening to, if only as a demonstration of Tarantino's lack of understanding of what makes the movies he loves so great.

Armando H. said...

Burger Joint is in Pomona, CA.

venoms5 said...

Hey, thanks, raculfright!

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