Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Switchblade Sisters


   Director Jack Hill said that a realistic portrayal of teenage gang issues wouldn't have worked if all the girls were pretty and wearing hot pants. So, instead, he opted to make the movie as a fast, lurid, fantasy. The movie is melodramatic and more than a bit absurd, but it's all in good fun with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Despite coming out in 1975, Switchblade Sisters feels like a stylized parable about gang violence in the 50's. It's easy to spot gang members, because obviously they all wear all-black and leather jackets. That's just the kind of movie this is, love it or don't.

   Hill is exploitation genre royalty, and it's precisely movies like Switchblade Sisters that paved his way. In fact, this one was rather late in the game for Hill. He'd already made Spider Baby, Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage. I'm kinda disappointed then that familiar faces like Sid Haig and Pam Grier didn't at least make small appearances in this flick. Not that the movie needed it, it's crazy enough as is. I was continually taken aback by the insistence of the movie that all these characters are high school kids. Like... bro. No. Most of the cast looks like they're in their late 20's. Some even look like they're in their early 30's. High school? Come on.

   It contributes to the surreal and absurd flavor of the movie. Like Hill said, it's a fantasy. Might as well be a fairy tale for as much authenticity it has about it's subject material. That's okay though, because the movie is consistently entertaining. I like how a lot of modern reviewers don't seem to get that Hill knew what he was doing. They keep insisting that the movie is campy only to modern audiences because the movie is old. Ha! The movie was campy back then too. People do the same damn thing when talking about the 1960's Batman TV show, as if the makers didn't know it was silly as hell. The thing was nominated for an Emmy in the best comedy show category. Filmmakers of yesteryear weren't magically oblivious to the tone of their own movies/shows.

   Despite not featuring any overly familiar icons of the genre like Haig or Grier, the cast that is here does a commendable job with the material. The gorgeous Joanne Nail plays Maggie, a newcomer to the 'Dagger Debs', a gang of girls who're girlfriends to the 'Daggers'. They all pride themselves on being tough as nails and such- hence the leather jackets and switchblades. The leader of the Dagger Debs is Robbie Lee as Lace. She's introduced into the movie as the protagonist more or less, which is surprising when it turns out that she's really not. Maggie is. I mean, it seems rather obvious in retrospect, but I was tired when I watched this and I got seriously engrossed in it.

   Maggie and Lace would probably have been BFFs if it wasn't for the guy that came between them. Only, he didn't. The plot of the movie revolves around a non-love triangle as Lace is paranoid that 'her man', Dominic, the leader of the Daggers is sweet on Maggie, who she thinks is going behind her back. Maggie of course is oblivious to all of this, and just thinks that her and Lace are good pals. This story is milked for the utmost melodramatic effect. Characters stomp around, slap each other, yell, pull knives, scheme and generally act like immature idiots.

   Which makes for entertaining cinema. I also found it funny how the movie throws in these ridiculous little diversions. In one scene, a Dagger is pimping his girlfriend out for pocket cash in the High School bathroom. No big deal. In another scene, another Dagger is taking bets on which girl is going to get burned first by the cigarette they're holding, his girlfriend or some other girl. Like, wow. The movie is full of little ridiculously insane bits like this. It was almost too much for me at first, until I embraced the wholesale absurdity of it all. None of it is serious, despite being played completely straightfaced.

   Switchblade Sisters is an exploitation classic and deservedly so. From it's hip and stylish opening credits to it's incredibly memorable final moments, it entertains with razor sharp efficiency. If you're looking for ridiculous and lurid thrills, this movie should be on your list.

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