"Everybody's Gotta Be In A Gang!"
R. Grubb | Minneapolis, MN USA | 01/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this gem way back before Quentin Tarrantino rereleased it on Rolling Thunder Pictures, and I dug the hell out of it. Not trying to prove how old school I am with that, but it's odd how this film was universally reviled before, and now is considered a cult classic. It's still the same movie it was before Tarrantino put this DVD out. I just wanna make it known that this is one person who always liked it.
First of all, this is not meant to be a realistic portrayal of what life is like for girls in gangs, nor a cautionary tale of the future. It's meant to be trashy fun. Jack Hill actually did research about gang life before he made this movie, but then threw it all out, because he didn't think stark realism would work well with chicks in hot pants. It's set in the near future, or possibly an alternate present, but it is in no way meant to be taken seriously.
Believe it or not, Switchblade Sisters is a neo-futuristic retelling of Shakespeare's "Othello." And it is so much cooler than the Josh Hartnett vehicle, "O." The movie opens with a girl gang called The Dagger Debs, the counterparts to the male gang, The Silver Daggers. The Debs' leader, Lace, (the "Othello" character, for those of you paying attention) is brilliantly played with much gusto by Robbie Lee. Her boyfriend is the leader of the Silver Daggers, Dominic.
The Daggers and their Debs are chillin' in a fast food joint when they notice a blond babe who won't leave "their" table. They hassle her, but to their surprise, she impressively defends herself. Her name is Maggie, and after they do a little jail time together, she and Lace forge a fast friendship.
Lace isn't the only one Maggie has impressed, however. Lace's boyfriend Dom is after her. Maggie admits that she has feelings for Dom, but would never betray Lace. This is just enough for Patch (aka Yago) to use to manipulate Lace into believing that Maggie is her enemy.
One great scene is when Maggie must prove her loyalty to the Dagger Debs by retreiving the medallion worn by Crabs, the leader of the rival gang. It's hilarious to see her manipulating him by playing the bad stereotype of a ditzy woman in order to hide her intelligence and skill. "Um...I'm trying to get into the Dagger Debs? And I'm supposed to deliver a message. I don't know what it means!" And of course this girl comes right out and tells the creepy looking Crabs that she's from a rival gang, and yet he believes that she wants to fool around with him, rather than steal his medallion! I'm not knocking that as an unbelievable plot point, cuz we all know that's how it is with guys like him.
From a feminist perspective, it's hard to overlook the rape scene between Maggie and Dominic. First of all, I've seen lots of exploitation movies, and lots of rape scenes that were far more offensive than this. Many of these rape scenes are shot so that the audience becomes voyeur, and the woman is exhibited for the audience in the same way she is exhibited for her attackers. These rape scenes are meant to be titilating, but usually leave me feeling disgusted, and guilty for watching women being exploited. But in this scene, Maggie is not being exposed, and most of what happens is in the dark, or on the other side of her door. What we see is not excessive, but it also doesn't look censored. And at the end of it, I'm feeling pissed off, but for the right reasons.
It may seem offensive, or just strange, that after this happens, Maggie is still on speaking terms with Dom. But the point of this is not to say that what Dom did was acceptable. He's a gigantic pig, and not good enough for either Lace or Maggie. Yet, any time he does anything to reveal what a low life he actually is, both girls turn a blind, codependent eye, and convince themselves that it isn't really his fault. Of course this is wrong, but it's the tragic flaw that tears their otherwise loyal friendship apart.
We can see it's gotten too far when Lace conspires with a rival gang to have Maggie killed. Luckily, it backfires, and our heroine lives to see another day, but with disasterous consequences. "I had to do it! He was treating me like a little gutter cat!" At this point, Lace actually believes that Maggie's presence is causing Dom to be a jerk, rather than Dom himself.
There are some real zingers in here as far as dialog is concerned, and many of them are punctuated with the actors' enthusiastic delivery, particularly in the case of Robbie Lee as Lace. However, one of the most notoriously bad lines, "If you leave, it's all gonna turn out bad!" sounds ok to me. Lace is pleading with Dom to stay with her, and in a moment of scattered desperation, it sounds like something a girl her age would really say. Lace really believes she can't be happy without Dom. I guess it got such a big laugh from audiences because the rest of the dialog ("My old man, God rest his ass!" or "Hey, Crippledick, everyone knows your crank could hook a tuna!") is so wild and unexpected that this line sounds silly by comparison.
Another one of my favorite scenes is when Maggie decides that the Dagger Debs will no longer be defined only by their male counterparts ("We're nobody's Debs anymore!") and decides to change the gang name to The Jezebels.
I wasn't too fond of the audio commentary track with Jack Hill, the director, and Quentin Tarrantino, the Guy Who Really Likes This Movie. I was hoping Tarrantino would be interviewing Hill, and encouraging him to say more about his experience making the movie. Hill is very soft spoken, and unfortunately, Tarrantino keeps interrupting him throughout. I want to hear about Jack Hill's experience making the movie, not a bunch of stuff Tarrantino once read about it, or worse, what his famous friends thought about the movie when he showed it to them.
I've seen a lot of exploitation movies that claim to be all about female empowerment by having a female lead. But this film is one shining example of feminist exploitation cinema. I don't know if such a term exists, but if it doesn't it should be created just for this classic. I never thought I'd say this, but I agree 100% with Tarrantino when he says, "You start out laughing at this movie, but about halfway through you realize that you actually care about these people." If he can do that with trashy exploitation, Jack Hill is one of the most underappreciated directors of our time."
A great film, but not why you'd think
Alexis Turner | Portland, OR | 08/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I must disagree with many of the other reviewers - this film is not cheese at all. In the strictest sense of the word, it's not a sexploitation flick, either, although many may argue this point.This film was written as a modern-day, female version of 'Othello,' not a gang/bike/trash story at all! Basic rundown - The Dagger Debs gang, led by Lace, takes on a new member named Maggie. She is fiercely loyal to Lace, but gang member Patch is jealous and manages to turn Lace against Maggie through a series of well laid out machinations. Meanwhile, Lace's boyfriend Dominick is making the moves on Maggie. Much madness and mayhem ensues. So, yes, there are lots of cat-fights, tough chicks, and chain fights, not to mention more than one tight top to be seen and maybe a breast here or there. But don't let these be the only thing you see when watching this film! With the exception of the actress playing Donut, the acting in this film is perfectly good (Donut is Lenny Bruce's daughter, and she got the part on name merit alone). Additionally, character development is high, the plot moves well, action is great. And, durn, it's based on Shakespeare!....sort of.There are a variety of reasons to watch 'Switchblade Sisters,' whether you are a fan of sexploitation flicks, B-movies, Jack Hill, or the cult genre in general. There's even a bonus for those interested in finding a 'diamond in the rough' or other hidden cinematic gems - this is one well-made film. You really cannot go wrong with this movie.A note on different versions of this film: The Quentin Tarantino/Rolling Thunder version is terrible. As usual, Tarantino places himself both at the beginning and end of the film, rambling incoherently and redundantly about the merits of the work. It is a real distraction and he has absolutely -nothing- interesting to say. If you are able to purchase the Johnny Legend release instead, I would suggest you do so. It includes some interesting interviews at the end of the tape with Jack Hill and the two main actresses."
A perfect flick for the b-movie fan.
Alexis Turner | 09/30/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Robbie lee gives a perfect depiction of a troubled teen on the edge, showing a feminine side to her ghetto land up bringing. Not to mention her co-star (maggie) in that hot little mini skirt."
Great exploitation film
Sebastian Haselbeck | Germany | 08/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures video collection is something for true fans.
From the arthouse masterpiece Chungking Express (also available) to the blaxploitationfilm Detroit 9000 (also available), this series delivers a small collection of different genre classics.Switchblade sisters even offers exclusive Jack Hill special features including his first film!"