Thursday, May 22, 2008

Switchblade Sisters

Jack Hill is an exploitation God. Frequently working with Pam Grier, Hill crafted films like Coffy, The Big Bird Cage, and Foxy Brown which all traveled around the drive-in circuits and played in double and triple features along with other exploitation films. While his Pam Grier vehicles are all pretty well known by now, all considered box office smashes and have been widely released on video and DVD. The same can't be said about the Grier-less Switchblade Sisters, which Hill directed in 1975. This one didn't make money. This one was barely seen. Until Quentin Tarantino brought this movie back to life by releasing it through his now-defunct Rolling Thunder Pictures company.

Like a lot of genre films from this time period, it had a few theatrical runs. If the picture wasn't performing to the producer's liking, they would yank it out of theatres, create a new, awesome looking poster, slap a new title on it, and release it again. There were times where you could go to the movies and find out that you've just paid to see the same movie twice.

This film had three theatrical runs under the names Playgirl Gang, The Jezebels, and its ultimate title, Switchblade Sisters. The movie is extremely clichéd but still quite enjoyable. It could be argued that the clichés make the movie.

This one's got it all. Sex, nudity, and violence are just the basic structures of which the rest of the film is built. Girl gangs (named the Dagger Debs), lesbian prison guards, rapes and murders, knife fights, a girl with an eye patch named "Patch," cake decorating, and really catchy lines like "Like my dad used to say, God rest his ass... " None of these clichés (minus the cake decorating) were new to genre pictures, not even new to Jack Hill's own movies but I don't think that makes them any less entertaining. While there seem to be a lot of similarities between this film and others of the time, it's how Hill uses the clichés that makes Switchblade really cool.

Any good gang movie's gonna have a shootout...any great gang movie's gonna have a rumble. This one has a shootout. BUT...before you give up on it, Switchblade's shootout takes place in a ROLLER SKATING RINK! As you can see in the picture above, there are pistols firing (and machine guns!) at the various roller skating gang members hobbling around on four-wheeled clunkers. I thought I had seen it all, shootouts in grocery stores, swamps, and numerous Chinese food restaurants. Then came the roller rink.

What's next, a shoot out in a Chuck-E-Cheese ballpit? I would watch that. Hell, I would participate in that. Did you know that not all Chuck-E-Cheeses have ball pits? That's awful. Off topic? Yes. Terrible? Even more so. Make sure your Chuck-E-Cheese has a ball pit before you plan your next birthday party...and make sure there's not going to be a gang fight scheduled for the same time. Although, I would bet that the roller rink was giving out discounts after the they cleaned up the bodies off the skating area. That's something to think about.

I once has a film professor that said she raised her daughter on Switchblade Sisters. At the time, I thought that was so cool. After watching it again, I'm not so sure. I don't know how a young child would be affected by watching movies featuring portly lesbian prison guards/rapists named "Mom." Maybe it would keep the kid on the straight and narrow, not wanting to be molested by a woman who looks like Patty and Selma meets Large Marge. That's enough to make me a law-abiding citizen.

Here's one of my favorite parts of the movie. The only actor I recognized from the cast was Don Stark who plays Bob Pinciotti on "That '70s Show." He's the boy gang's faithful number two, Hook, and he isn't half bad. This was his first role in a feature-length film that wasn't made for television. While I haven't seen it, I'm sure his first acting gig, a bit part character named Carl Dibble, in a TV movie with Robert Culp was really good too. I do. Hook tries to take over the gang at one point but is quickly dismissed by the ladies, who have formed a new gang, The Jezebels. This is where the cake decorating comes in.

[The cake kinda looks like Rice Krispie Treats with white paint on it.]

[I don't have much to say except that this guy has so much dental work that I hope he went on to have a lucrative acting career to pay for it all.]

[Robbie Lee as Lace (left) on her way to the film premiere. Completely unbeknownst to her, only two short years later, fellow party-goer George Lucas would steal her hairdo for some sci-fi thing he couldn't stop talking about.]

Here are some rad pictures from the film's climactic knife fight. The second half of the fight is done completely in shadows on the wall. It's not as stupid as it sounds. Like I said earlier, it's how Jack Hill uses the clichés that makes Switchblade Sisters really cool. Seeing the action in shadows brought me back to Film Noirs for the 1940s where some of the coolest scenes involve action happening off-screen, in the shadows, or like this movie shows it, through shadows on large wall-like canvases. This film has got a lot of things you've seen before but quite a few of them will be in ways you've never seen before.

The film ends with some of the Jezebels being loaded into a police truck. To give an example of the type of great dialogue you'll find through out the movie, here are the last lines:

Cop: Let me give you some advice...

Maggie: Let me give you some advice cop. You can beat us, chain us, lock us up but we’re gonna be back, understand? And when we do, cop, you better keep your ass off our turf or we’ll BLOW IT OFF, ya dig? We’re the Jezebels, cop. Remember that name. We’ll be back!

...aaaaaaand scene.

In closing, this film is readily availible so check it out. You won't regret it.

Thanks to everyone who voted on last week's poll question. Switchblade tied with Juice so maybe next week I'll do a post on that one. Also, thanks to everyone who left comments on the "Origins" post, that means a lot to me.

Keep you eyes open for another Top 5 list. That's actually what this week's poll question is going to be about. What should my next Top 5 list be on? If you have another idea which isn't an option to vote for then leave a comment here and let me know. Leave a comment anyway!

Until next week...