Monday, March 14, 2011

Switchblade Sisters (1975)

The year was 1975: The Hippies had lost. Nixon had resigned. Rock and Roll was still a pretty big deal. In the midst of this tumult, Jack Hill, director of Coffy and Foxy Brown, released The Jezebels (also known as Switchblade Sisters), a story about a girl gang and its conflict with society and each other. A story about attractive white people who form violence gangs.

We begin our story in a run-down apartment on the wrong side of town, as Lace, leader of the Dagger Debs, gets ready for her day. She observes her mother paying a collection agent, and somehow gets to the elevator before the man. He flirts with her in a crude way, then the rest of the Debs get on the elevator at the next floor and promptly beat and rob him. We're very briefly introduced to the main girls, including Donut, the slightly overweight member of the group who gets picked on mercilessly by Lace (and everyone else).

If she does this to her friends, imagine what she'll do to people she doesn't like!

With their newfound wealth, the Debs head over to the local burger place, following well-known gang customs (see also: Black Belt Jones). They meet with their affiliate male gang, the Silver Daggers, but before they can spend Lace's mother's money, Patch, an eye-patched member of their gang, gets in a fight with new girl Maggie and gets pummeled by the newcomer. Before the gang can settle things with Maggie, they get arrested, and Maggie gets arrested for... being a girl, I guess.

Maggie's kung fu is pretty strong.

The girls are sent to juvie, where they have to put up with an old militant lesbian who runs the place. Maggie gets singled out as a new girl, but Lace and the others save her. Maggie eventually gets released when it turns out she had nothing to do with anything, and gives a message to Dominic, leader of the Daggers. Dominic likes what he sees, because he goes to Maggie's place and forces himself on her. That was not very empowering of him.

Later the rest of the Debs are released and we learn about the ongoing feud between the Daggers and Crabs, a local politician/gang leader. Maggie is tasked with getting a ridiculous necklace from him, so she goes undercover to meet him. He looks like Quentin Tarantino and is clearly on drugs: no wonder QT loves this movie. She manages to nab the necklace, but Crabs' gang responds by shooting a member of the Silver Daggers and dragging a Deb into the back of a van full of gang members. Okay that was not empowering either.

They even have the same haircut.

The Dagger gangs plan a counter-attack at the roller disco, but unfortunately Patch has grown jealous of Maggie and Lace's friendship and betrays the group, resulting in a disaster that gets Dominic killed. In the meantime, Lace has revealed she's pregnant with Dominic's baby, but Crabs punts her in the stomach at the roller rink after murdering her baby daddy.

Shootout at the roller disco!

In the final act, Maggie steps up the gang's presence and forms the Jezebels as an independent girl gang, while Lace is cast as an incredibly annoying Othello to Patch's Iago. Will dissension destroy the gang? Will any of them pass Mr. Clutch's final?! You'll have to watch and see!

The adorable face of evil.

I like this movie as a sort of spiritual prequel to the camp classic The Warriors. That movie was more clearly a comic book come to life, but both featured over the top theme gangs full of white people. Jezebels doesn't take itself too seriously when Lace isn't crying over her lost fetus, and it has plenty of good action and good looking women. Jack Hill does a fine job blending in other exploitation genres: the girls get help from a goofy Black Panther type group, and the scenes in juvie wouldn't be out of place in a women in prison movie.

Jezebel: an evil, scheming, or shameless woman!

The performances tend to vary pretty hugely in quality. Some of them are good, although most of the cast looks about a decade too old to be in high school. And then there's Lace, the incredibly irritating lead. Her greatest and only fame came from playing high-pitched characters on Rainbow Brite, and sounds like she belongs in a magical land of fantasy when she's not screeching. On the other hand, Joanne Nail as Maggie really nails (pun intended) her performance: she's hot, she's dangerous, she looks like a trashy Charlie's Angel. Monica Gayle, a B-movie veteran, plays against type as Patch, a wispy, good-looking girl who is incredibly evil... and has an eye patch. The Kill Bill character with an eye patch is taken entirely from this. Also, Don Stark, a.k.a. Donna's dad from That '70s Show shows up, looking pretty much exactly the same.

Donna's dad is not amused.

It's camp exploitation fun, maybe not on the level of The Warriors, but it at least belongs on the DVD shelf nearby.

Memorable Quotes:

Lace: Everybody's gotta be in a gang.

Maggie: Get your hands off me you fat pig dyke!

Lace: Everything was great before Maggie! She ruined everything!
Dominic: Everything was lousy! You were lousy! The whole ****-ing gang was LOUSY!

Lace: If you go, it's gonna turn out baaaaaaad!
(Dominic leaves.)

Cop: Let me give you some advice-
Maggie: No! 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 UP. Jezebels, cop: Remember that name!

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