April 27th, 2021
MOVIE: SWITCHBLADE SISTERS- ARROW VIDEO BLU-RAY REVIEW
STARRING: ROBBIE LEE, JOANNE NAIL, MONICA GAYLE, ASHER BRAUNER
DIRECTED BY: JACK HILL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Had I watched a movie such as Switchblade Sisters when I was in college, I might have wondered what this junk was. After viewing it for the first time, I went back and took a look at Roger Ebert’s review, a standard tradition with any film I watch, and chuckled at the legendary film critics’ take on Jack Hill’s exploitation extravaganza. He awarded it one star, so I think he hated it, but he also acknowledged that watching a movie of this caliber is, “to condescend to it, to snicker at its badness.” Obviously Mr. Ebert couldn’t predict how much worse movies could get and what remains in a movie such as Switchblade Sisters is a film of texture. What I’m getting at is that as time goes by one can only be nostalgic for a movie this ridiculous. The acting is choppy, the sets are stagey, the violence is obscene, and it’s a product of its time. This week (April 27th in the US) Arrow Video is releasing the blu-ray of Switchblade Sisters, in a crisp high-definition, with special edition content, such as an archival documentary, interviews with director Jack Hill, and a revisit to the various Los Angeles set locations. It’s not an arthouse film, but it’s important to check out Switchblade Sisters, because it’s a valid part in the rich and varying history of cinema. These are the Jezebel’s and at the end of this movie, you will remember that name.
The plot of Switchblade Sisters is a hardcore 1970’s version of a William Shakespeare play, where a collection of gangs clash, in a battle over love, and a fight for turf supremecy. Lace (Robbie Lee) is the leader of the all-girl gang The Dagger Debs. These ladies sport big hair, eye-patches, foul mouths, and are quick to turn a knife on anyone in their way. On a trip to the local burger joint, Lace tries to push all the customers around, but newcomer Maggie (Joanne Nail) won’t stand for it, and strikes back. It leaves the ladies in juvenile detention, where the crew gangs up on the abusive guards, and a new bond is formed with Lace and Maggie. Meanwhile, the Debs’ male counterparts- The Silver Daggers- are fighting with another gang led by slimy villain Crabs (Chase Newhart). It’s the Daggers leader Dom (Asher Brauner) who mucks it all up, putting himself in between Maggie and Lace, causing a splintering reaction among everyone.
All of Jack Hill’s films are a golden collection of exploitation, including the introduction of Pam Grier in the classic Coffy and followed by Foxy Brown. It will be no surprise to anyone first discovering Switchblade Sisters, that it’s a piece of work that inspired the directing style of Quentin Tarantino. The entire look of it is a mixture of Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, the all lady stunt gang in Deathproof, and the twisted sense of humor in Pulp Fiction. Switchblade Sisters is the entire exploitation bag of tricks, with women being raped, men throwing their macho tendencies around, homophobic slurs, cops are called pigs, the local women’s Black Panther chapter is ready to help “fight the man”, guns are handed out like candy, and these hoodlums just run the streets. It’s all incredibly ridiculous. The biggest mistake that anyone watching Switchblade Sisters could do is take any of it seriously. Everything about it is a stereotype of the time, filled with all of the things that directors thought their movies needed: sex, drugs, and violence.
The later half of Switchblade Sisters turns into an all out war, with gunfire, violence, and retaliation. Seeing this kind of movie for the first time is unforgettable. There’s an obvious indication that it inspired the production company The Cannon Group and their ridiculously famous collection of movies. It’s impossible to not watch Switchblade Sisters without seeing the similar sets of action that would inspire movies such as Death Wish 3, Cyborg, or Avenging Force. The bottom line is that it’s an acquired taste of a film, something that could offend many, and it certainly shouldn’t be shown to anyone under the age of 18, but that also gives a movie this low-budget, this obscene, way too much credit. The only sticker that Switchblade Sisters needs on the front should have a definition of what an exploitation film is.
This is what’s fascinating about a kind of exploitation picture such as Switchblade Sisters. It creates a nostalgia for a discarded era of past cinema. Jack Hill’s style of filmmaking is soaked in the time it was made. With lead actors Joanne Nail becoming a legend for her character’s emphatic closing speech, Monica Gayle’s unforgettable as the one-eyed sidekick Patch, and Robbie Lee’s Lace being left in a bloody mess. The Vietnam war was coming to an end, and things were happening in America every day, from civil rights movements, hippie drug culture, and women’s liberation. Every kind of madness is thrown into Switchblade Sisters and for better or worse, they do not make movies like this anymore.
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW VIDEO APRIL 27TH
Written by: Leo Brady