Switchblade Sisters

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Our rating: three lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Mothers, lock up your sons.
At first glance, Switchblade Sisters could be a 2-part episode of CHiPs. Ten minutes in, we discovered that it is, in fact, a gripping, realistic expose on the sordid world of juvenile crime. Ten seconds after that, we gave that line of thinking up and just started enjoying it.

Switchblade Sisters is the second film released by Quentin Tarantino's video company "Rolling Thunder." Rolling Thunder is an excuse for Tarantino to re-release his favorite bad movies and to ramble on incessantly before and after the films themselves. Our case in point is this film, originally titled The Jezabels. And believe us, Tarantino knows in excruciating detail the reasons for the title change.

But enough about Mr Twitchy. There are enough things to complain about within the movie itself. It seems to be a particularly outrageous example of a genre that was most prevalent in the 50's and 60's: exploitation in which teenagers go bad. Early examples of this include: I Accuse My Parents, The Violent Years, and Teenage Crimewave. Switchblade Sisters, however, came along in 1975 and suffers all of the fashion disasters that go along with that era. When you watch it, you'll see everything that made the 70's great. Orange satin, afros, open-chested shirts, lapels from which aircraft could lift off -- and all of it is heavily laced with machismo.

The story begins with a gang of teenage girls. They are the Dagger Debs, the female subset of the Silver Daggers. Led by Lace, the Dagger Debs do their best to cause trouble wherever they go. However, when they choose Maggie as a target, they learn that they are not invincible. Lace's fracas with Maggie lands all of the girls in the juvie hall, where they quickly learn to band together against the predatory lesbian warden and her henchwomen. This was by far our favorite scene in the film. If the movie had ended here, we would have been happy. But no, they gave us even more.

Maggie then becomes involved with the Dagger Debs, and unfortunately she also becomes involved with the leader of the Silver Daggers, Dominic. The problem with this is that Lace of the Debs has dibs on Dom of the Daggers. Although Maggie refuses Dom's advances, he gives her no choice in the matter. It is through these scenes that we learn of Dominic's power as leader of the Daggers.

"You know who that guy is?" says Maggie's landlord. "That's the president of the Silver Daggers. They could wreck my building."

Without giving too much away, we'll tell you that things progress from bad to worse. Although Maggie's initiation into the Debs goes well, events take place that not only cause the downfall of the Daggers, but of the Debs themselves. Although Switchblade Sisters retains its camp value throughout, there are some powerful scenes that will surprise viewers expecting the usual 70's goofball gang film.

In 60's and 70's exploitation films, you know the acting isn't going to be Oscar quality. In fact, when the acting is even of professional quality, you feel as if you've hit the jackpot. All of the actors in Switchblade Sisters at least seem to be trying to do their best.

The acting ranges from the effective Joanne Nail as Maggie to the unfortunately nick-named "Hook," played blandly by Don Stark. Unbelieveably, Stark went on to a relatively succesful career as a character actor. Perhaps the pinnacle of his character acting is his recent appearance in Star Trek: First Contact as the holodeck character "Nicky the Nose." This brings our bad-b-movie-actor-to-Star-Trek-success score to 2, as Stark follows Andy Robinson (from Trancers 3) on the back of the Great Bird of the Galaxy. Joanne Nail, on the other hand, starred in a handful of TV guest roles and bad b-movies before finally disappearing from the film scene in 1981. She did, however, wear a really great pair of hot pants with some wicked black thighboots, complete with studded kneepads.

Amongst the people who fall in between are Robbie Lee, Chase Newhart, and Monica Gayle. From her speech, we figured that Lee (as Lace) must have been performing heroically through a bad case of tetanus. Not since Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes has one actor gritted his teeth through so much dialogue.

Chase Newhart, who plays Crabs, the leader of the rival gang, is the guy who Tarantino grew up emulating. We swear, their acting styles are a perfect match. Also a perfect match are Crabs' medallion (a plot point in the film) and his open-chested orange-satin shirt. The ensemble was completed by his Romantic-period poet's jacket, which he removes before shooting his enemies.

Monica Gayle tends to lurk through most of the film, prodding the action forward. See Tarantino's comments after the film for more on her plot significance. Her acting, however, is pretty darn good for a woman wearing a silver metallic eye-patch emblazoned with a butterfly. In fact, we'd put her up against any other actor who has given a performance with such eyewear.

A final abominable-mention goes to Kitty Bruce, the daughter of Lenny Bruce, who plays Donut. Mmmmmmmm... Donut.

We are only scratching the surface here. Many, many cool scenes could be mentioned, such as the machine-gun shoot-out in the skating rink. Or the scene in which the Jezabels join forces with the local chapter of emasculating feminist Black Panthers to wipe out Crabs once and for all. Or the scene where Maggie beats her way through a wall with a chair after... well, we won't tell you what she did before that, but it was great, take our word for it.

In retrospect it would seem we've rambled on and on about a pretty stupid movie. In fact, Switchblade Sisters is a many-splendored film. We could call it the perfect date movie, but we'd be lying. Instead, we'll call it well worth a two-buck rental and award it three lava lamps.

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Review date: 2/28/97

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