Switchblade Sisters (1975)
By: Mr Intolerance on May 10, 2010  | 
Rolling Thunder | Region 1, NTSC | 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic) | English DD 2.0 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jack Hill
Starring: Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Asher Brauner, Kitty Bruce, Janice Karman, Marlene Clark, Monica Gayle
Screenplay: FX Maier
Country: USA
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The girl gang film is not a genre that I find highly represented on my shelves, not being a keen fan of the JD film. But I would nevertheless have to say that WIP stalwart Jack Hill's totally loopy Switchblade Sisters is quite possibly the Queen of the pack. Sure, I like Russ Meyer's girl-gang opus Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Herschell Gordon Lewis' She-Devils On Wheels, but there's just so much oddness, kitsch and such a kitchen sink mentality at work here (entertain at all costs – throw in everything AND the kitchen sink!), that I reckon Switchblade Sisters emerges at the top of the girl-gang heap.

The Dagger Debs are the slatternly female affiliates of the Silver Daggers, a bunch of ruff-tuff-creampuffs dealing dope at the local high school and generally getting up to no good. Ruling the roost is queen-bee Deb Lace (who, like the rest of our "teenage" gang, looks as much like a high school student as I do, and I'm 38), with her second in command Patch (who very obviously has a completely lesbonic crush on her boss). However, new girl on the block Maggie turns up, gets into a fight with Patch almost immediately, gets thrown into the local hoose-gow with the rest of the Debs (mainly due to the fact that Lace and her crew roughed up a repo man in the opening scene), resists molestation at the grubby mitts of the predatory bull-dyke warden, is raped by Lace's boyfriend Dom (leader of the Silver Daggers), is befriended by Lace (who doesn't know about the rape), is plotted against by the jealous Patch, and becomes one of the Debs herself, almost orally castrating Dom's main rival in the process – all within the first 40 minutes. This film does not stop moving, which works in Hill's favour (not to mention the audience's). If you don't let the audience think, they can't question the logic of the film, or any of what a mainstream audience would think of as flaws (some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious – when Patch is getting frisked by an over-zealous copper, she bawls out at the point he gets near her boobs, "Hands off the fruit, faggot!").

Crabs, Dom's schoolyard dope-pushing rival, having narrowly avoided having his cock bitten off by Maggie, decides to try to show the Silver Daggers who's boss by orchestrating the drive-by shooting of Dom's brother Guido, and the drive-by gang-rape of Guido's girlfriend. Having passed her initiation into the Debs, and with Patch trying to make Lace as jealous of her as possible, Maggie helps orchestrate the Daggers' revenge on Crabs – at the local roller rink! This film could not be any more 1970s if it tried. I mean, the amazingly pimp threads were one thing, the haircuts were another, but having your action occur at a roller rink – now that's pure 70s gold. I'll certainly never look at roller-skating the same way ever again; when the Daggers turn up to the rink, it seems somebody has sold them out, as Crabs' folks are ready and waiting and armed to the teeth: cue the roller-skating gun fight. Dom gets shot, and Lace is kicked in the guts by Crabs – just after we've found out that she's pregnant with Dom's child (his reaction to finding out this news is somewhat less than sympathetic, to say the least – I'll leave that as a little surprise for you), and it's not long before we find out exactly who's responsible for the ambush, and just exactly who it was who's been double-crossed.

The Debs throw the remaining Silver Daggers out of their hang-out, calling them cowards (and more memorably high school prostitute Bunny, who sells her arse from the men's room, calling her pimp Hook, "Cripple-dick") and decide to take charge, with Maggie as the boss – and her first order of business is to change the name of the gang to the Jezebels. Patch is unsupportive to say the least at this point, and Lace, now starting to become unstable bordering on the unhinged since Dom's death, is still in hospital.

Maggie, Bunny and Donut (played by the daughter of comedian Lenny Bruce) head across town to meet some old friends of Maggie's to help in their war against Crabs – an all girl Maoist black power group, whose leader is the unfortunately named Muff. It seems that Muff and her girls have had some run-ins with Crabs and his people before (he's responsible for getting young kids hooked on smack), and they want in on any revenge that's going down. So the Jezebels and their new allies get ready for revenge, just as Lace gets out of hospital. And then it's time for fighting in the streets, folks, and that's where I'll leave you, because really, you ought to see the final act for yourself – believe me, it's as memorably outrageous as you could hope for.

Like Hill's other early 70s films, and with a particular reference to Coffy and The Big Bird Cage, Switchblade Sisters has moments of nastiness, but it's all tempered through a highly cartoonish visual style. We see some pretty horrible things happen, but the sheer camp over-the-top delivery (not to mention the ineptitude of some of the actors with their occasionally ludicrous dialogue) renders some of the action impossible to take seriously. Sure, there is some sadistic stuff happening on screen, but it's simply too cheap-looking and larger-than-life at the same time to buy. This is Jack Hill's recipe for making movies fun – above all else, entertain the audience, don't give 'em time to think and who gives a damn if it looks authentic? And I have no problem with that.

A word about this edition of the film: a lot of film geek internet warriors (keyboard commandos, as I like to think of them) like to stick the knife into Quentin Tarantino and give it a good twist. I have never understood this mentality. Why would you attack your own kind? More to the point, why would you knock a director who has drawn so much positive attention to the wonderful world of 70s exploitation film, and indeed brought it to the eyes of the mainstream? I mean, if a mate of yours at the pub told you to check out The Mighty Peking Man (another Rolling Thunder release), would you tip your beer over his head or call him a cunt? Of course you wouldn't, that'd be stupid – you'd thank him for reminding you about a great fuckin' movie – so I don't see why people feel the need to do it anonymously via the internet, apart from jealousy, of course. I'd like to think that there are people who've sat through a QT film and then thought, "Hey, I better go have a look at Vanishing Point (referenced in Death Proof)/Shogun Assassin (Kill Bill)/Inglorious Bastards (Inglourious Basterds)/City On Fire (Reservoir Dogs)/The Streetfighter (True Romance – yes, I realise Tony Scott directed it, but QT wrote it) – if this guy who just entertained me digs it maybe it'll be good." Let's face facts – he's done more for the genre than any of the whiny fools who diss him. And with his Rolling Thunder label, there's the opportunity for him to bring goodness like Switchblade Sisters to the public's eye, too. Keep on truckin', QT.
The picture quality is good. But considering the boss of the company who made it is even more of a film nerd than me, that was a given. It looks unmistakably 70s (which is a good thing), but is artefact-free and as clear as you could hope for.
The audio has that distinctive hollow sound of all low budget early 70s exploitation flicks (no ADR for you!), but is otherwise just fine. The 2.0 mono track certainly gives it the ring of authenticity, although I couldn't help wondering what a surround track might add to the proceedings…
Extra Features
It's a good thing that Quentin Tarantino is such a film fan-boi, because it gives us, the viewer, such a rich package of Extras. Not only do we get a highly entertaining and informative feature-length commentary with Jack Hill and QT, as well as an intro and an outro to the film (in which QT makes the assertion that the film moves with the same rhythm as Shakespeare's Othello – I get the whole Patch as Iago bit, but I still think he's drawing a bit of a long bow with that one), but we also get trailers for some of Jack Hill's other films of awesomeness such as Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, The Swinging Cheerleaders, Switchblade Sisters and Sorceress. There are also clips from Pit Stop, a trailer, reviews (nothing too expansive, just text grabs over the chase scene towards the end of the film) and clips from Spider Baby, and a student film of Hill's, The Host.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
In a word: outrageous. This film just keeps on giving: gang war, catfights, high school prostitution, drugs, a black power revolution, teen pregnancy, roller skating gunfights, and every fuckin' thing! Essential exploitation folks in an excellent package – Switchblade Sisters is practically a "how to" for making an exploitation film. Sit back and enjoy the wild ride.

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