Sunday, July 20, 2014

Switchblade Sisters

Switchblade Sisters is among the finest films of the girl gang genre -- with brief detours into women in prison, blaxploitation, high school delinquency tales, class struggle, dystopian semi-future, Mean Girlsploitation and Shakespeare knockoff.
Switchblade Sisters is the work of exploitation maestro Jack Hill, who was also responsible (if you want to call it that) for Coffy, Spider Baby, The Swinging Cheerleaders and The Wasp Woman, among others. It was originally titled The Jezebels, but that apparently confused people. And, well, it is hard to find a more straightforward, descriptive title than Switchblade Sisters.

 So, we find ourselves in our urban mid-70s hellhole -- Hill claimed he envisioned Switchblade Sisters as a Clockwork Orange-style futuristic gang movie, hence the wack-future overtones.

We see one of our fair females, Lace, in her bedroom, sharpening her switchblade, dabbling on perfume and listening to some jackhole try to repossess her mom's TV.  Lace is played by Robbie Lee, whom you may recognize from Big Bad Mama. She looks like Linda Blair and sounds like a second-grader doing a Jimmy Cagney impression. Fun whitebread fact: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were her godparents and she went on to do voices for Rainbow Brite cartoons.
Lace is the leader of the Dagger Debs. We are introduced to the rest of the girl gang when they help Lace take back the cash from the repo man.

Incidentally, the one in the purple top is "Donut," played by Kitty Bruce, daughter of Lenny Bruce and burlesque queen Honey Harlow. Like all sociopathic teens, violence rouses their appetite for fast food, so they head for the local burger joint, where they encounter the Silver Daggers, the male gang for which they serve as a sort of ladies' auxiliary, despite the fact that they seem much tougher than the boys. The Silver Daggers seem to be a bunch of Adrian Zmed/Deney Terrio knockoffs who hang around the snack shack all day but can't even afford to pay for their own French fries...

But, wait, some new girl in school is sitting at the Debs' table in the cafeteria!
This is Maggie, played by Joanne Nail, who had been doing actual Shakespeare on Broadway when she  auditioned for Switchblade Sisters, and wound up acting in The Gumball Rally afterwards. Anyway, in a more overt version of what happens in lunch rooms all over the world every day, Patch's, Lace's second-in-command attempts to jump Maggie. It should be obvious which one is Patch and why she's Patch. In the role of Patch is Monica Gayle, who was better known as a softcore porn cutie, making her Iago/enforcer role a singular change of pace.

Regardless, Maggie remains impassive, then tears off her chain belt and proceeds to use it to whip some ass, impressing Lace. After said fracas, the girls wind up in lockdown, with the mandatory sexually harrassing dyke warden, Moms Smackley (played by Kate Murtaugh, who was "Mom" in Dr. Detroit, a film i will have to do here someday).

Maggie has shown sufficient class to be asked to join the Dagger Debs and here, ah here, the black seed of downfall is planted in the fertile soil of several flavors of  jealousy....
But, in the meantime, Lace sends Maggie to see her boyfriend Dominic at the Silver Daggers clubhouse and give him a message.The Silver Daggers are bitching about what they're going to do about the Crabs. Which are apparently another gang, although i cannot help but suspect that many of the Daggers do, indeed, have crabs. Anyway, egged on by the dad from That 70s Show, Dominic reads Lace's letter aloud to his broke-ass, badly dressed, lady-smacking, VD-ridden subnorm brethren. Sure, Lace's prison poetry is far inferior to that of Bonnie Parker, but, shit, i'm surprised these ass-clowns can even read.

Then Dominic adds injury to insult by raping Maggie. I am consoled by the fact that, in the movies, the guy named Dominic usually gets it. Maggie says nothing about it, not wanting to upset her new buddy, Lace. Next week at school, she acts like things are totally fine -- yes, all the gang kids still go to high school --
 -- but Patch senses that something is up....

... and Patch is furious at the idea of Maggie possibly replacing her as War Chief and Lace's bestie. So much so that she will fuck over Maggie and the Debs and even Lace just to make sure she stays #1 BFF. And so she begins working on Lace, telling her that Maggie's gonna steal Dominic. Because Dominic is such a fucking prize.

Regardless, Lace makes Maggie a full member of the Dagger Debs -- although Patch adds that Maggie has to "do a job," which consists of getting the head Crab guy's medallion, which is some sort of plastic swastika badge he got from a box of Göring-Ös. Seems like kind of a pointless errand, but the dumbasses came up with it, whaddya expect? For this assignment, Maggie puts on a girly dress -- Switchblade Sisters is cartoon-like in its insistence that all characters wear the same outfits at all times -- and bimbos him into submission.
 Also, to add to the confusion, Crabs seems to be the name of both the guy with the bad fashion sense and his loudly-shirted gang. And he seems to run some kind of community center here they clean guns and roll joints and type letters to The Man. But Crabs is most upset that his medallion has been taken and so does a drive-by on Dominic's brother and gang rapes his girlfriend. Because cheap shots and picking on women seem to be what makes a gangsta in this town. At least the Debs can actually kick ass and take on men, cops, wardens...

Lace and Dominic fight over a plot twist that will not be revealed here -- yes, for once, i'm keeping the spoliers. Deal. Regardless, the drive-by/rape triggers the most outrageous scene in Switchblade Sisters, the incredible roller rink massacre.


It seems someone set up the Daggers and their Debs, but who...?

So Dominic is dead and Lace is in the hospital. In the meantime, Maggie holds down the fort for the Dagger Debs. And, like women eventually do, she figures the boys have fucked things up long enough and it's time for someone with the ability to deduce, strategize and fight -- not to mention read two-syllable words and find her own ass with one hand -- to take over.

Maggie also changes the gang's name to "the Jezebels" -- fuck being the ladies auxillary!
But the ladies still need allies. So Maggie leads them across town to meet up with her old friend, Muff, played by Marlene Clark of Darktown Strutters. Muff is a militant radical, as you can tell by the posters of Angela Davis and Chairman Mao -- the the AK-47s wielded by her ladies' liberation army.
Yes, the women are not letting color or geography blind them to their common goal and their real enemy. The American people of 2014 have much to learn from Switchblade Sisters.
So, will the girls defeat Crabs? Will Lace and Maggie learn to share leadership? And who set everyone up at the roller rink... It all comes together in pair of climactic battles that owe something to Animal House and High Plains Drifter, Shakespeare and Spartacus.

This is a British VHS cover. As you can see, none of the art has a damned thing to do with the movie.

Switchblade Sisters was a bit of a flop in its time -- the change of name, some confusing marketing made what should have been a straightforward sell curiously confusing. However, the movie's status quietly built over the years and being championed by Quentin Tarantino has set Switchblade Sisters firmly in the grindhouse pantheon.
"Let me give you some advice, cop. You can beat us, chain us, lock us up,
but we're gonna be back. Understand? And when we do, cop,
you better keep your ass off our turf or we'll blow it off!.
Jezebels, cop. Remember that name!"

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