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Switchblade Sisters

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Posted 5th April 2009 at 07:26 PM by Sam@Cult Labs

Switchblade Sisters, like the best of US exploitation movies, exists in it's own strange universe. It's a world where the harsh realities of teenage gang membership are put through a surreal filter, creating a bizarre urban fantasy that jars the viewer as it's flits back and forth between the unintentional comedy of the performances and the sadistic nastiness inherent in the subject matter. In that regard it could be seen as a companion piece to The Warriors, another film that shines gangland reality through a comic book prism.

The Switchblade Sisters in Jack Hill's (Spider Baby, The Big Doll House) masterpiece of early 70s trashola are the Dagger Debs, a feral group of tough molls who service the needs of a gang of local hoods. Lace is the sassy leader of the mob. She's played by Robbie Lee, an actress who seems incapable of separating her teeth when she speaks, a fact that gives her work a whiney, nail-down-a-blackboard intensity that worms it's way into the brain. Her acting is awful but the performance is compelling. Robbie Lee never made it in the movies but she went on to provide voiceovers many well known 80s kiddy cartoons, such as Rainbow Brite and The Get Along Gang. It's quite a strange idea, that the sassy and spiteful leader of a marauding gang of teen bitches went on to do the voice behind some cute and moralizing woodland animal in a Saturday morning TV show.

Lace is in love with Dom, a monosyllabic bastard who deals drugs at the school and runs the local area. So powerful are the gang that the school's weasel of a principal is in their thrall and gives them the run of the building. But Lace has to deal with a rival when Maggie, a real tough cookie from outside the neighbourhood tries to muscle in on her turf and steal her man. There's a rumble coming and someone (or possibly the entire population of the area, once the machine guns come out) is going to get iced!

Director Jack Hill is something of a genius when it comes to putting out quality trash. While aficionados of dodgy movies will happily sit through even the most low rent offerings from no-hope hacks like Andy Milligan or the sometimes unwatchable dreck that Jess Franco has put his name to, it's can be tough trying to convince friends who don't understand the wonders of B-movies that all the bad acting, weird plotting and random, senseless happenings of a good exploitation flick can be more entertaining and worthwhile than say, the latest Spielberg film.

Well, Grindhouse evangelists everywhere, Switchblade Sisters is a solid gold, entry level slice of cinematic 42nd street wonder that will convert most people unless they happen to be a NeoConservative, a fundamentalist Christian or completely lacking in a sense of humour. Because Switchblade Sisters takes everything that's great about Hill's movies are stirs them up in a glorious trashy stew. The movie has girl fights, sassy talk and gang violence but also has a great sequence in Juvenile Hall, giving the director the chance to include a monstrous Bull Dyke warder who seems to have wandered in from one of his Women-In-Prison movies. She's a beast of a women with a yen for young girls and comes armed with rubber gloves in order to carry on "intimate" searches. The squeamish among you shouldn't fret however, because despite the over the top nature of proceedings, most of the worst excesses take place off screen or are shot in such a way as to imply the nastiness, rather than staining the viewers eyeballs with filth.

Some may be disappointed that the film doesn't hit the extreme exploitation buttons of beyond the pail classics like They Call Her One Eye or Last House on Dead End Street, but the piece works on sheer energy and fast paced excitement, combined with a breathtakingly delirious streak of weirdness, creating a film that will leave jaws almost permanently attached to living room floors whenever the DVD played. The lack of sheer bloody horror or truly graphic sexual violence found in other movies of its stripe again makes this ideal for the uninitiated.

Hill adds further levels of oddity with the inclusion of the unfortunately named Crabs, the leader of a rival gang of drug dealing scumbags who front their operation with a community centre and outreach programme! Like most of the actors in the movie, he's playing a high school kid but looks like he's in his early 30s. Par for the course in most 70s horror and Grindhouse films.

Real criminals must watch this movie and long to live in Hill's hyperreal universe, where the street kids can ride armoured cars into pitched battles and unleash hell with Molotov cocktails and automatic weaponry. The spiraling levels of madness and bad behaviour on display are almost epic in their outrageousness. When the girls are locked up, they rough up the guards and are back on the mean streets within minutes.

Hill then throws in a little Blaxploitation goodness with the inclusion of a tooled up group of Maoist Black Sistas, who team up with the renamed Jezebels in order to crush Crabs outfit. They spout then fashionable rebel politics and name check Angela Davis while training the girls in armed combat in an abandoned Police station.

Switchblade Sisters is a cornerstone of movie trash and it transcends it's genre, combining a checklist of trash film essentials with skilled direction and a endless stream of mean talking quotable dialogue. I defy anyone not to get a kick out this fantastically wayward movie.

The Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder label have done a fine job with the film, releasing a great looking print that does this classic justice. Hill and Tarantino provide a great commentary and a worthwhile trailer real offers spots for more movies by the director, including the aforementioned Spider Baby and The Big Doll house, as well as an hilarious ad for his early 80s Swords 'n' Sandals epic, The Sorceress, a brilliant cash-in on the mania for Conan-styled adventure that swept the bottom shelves of video stores in the early 80s. Other clips include Hill's student film The Host and spots for his blaxploitation classics, Coffy and Foxy Brown. Fans of B-picture weirdness will be in their oils!

Don't miss Switchblade Sisters, it's the perfect antidote to modern Hollywood's endless bland array of remakes, Rom-Coms and CGI fueled "event" movies.
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