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  Switchblade Sisters Woah - Girlfight!
Year: 1975
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Monica Gayle, Asher Brauner, Chase Newhart, Marlene Clark, Kitty Bruce, Janice Karman, Don Stark, Don Marino, Helene Nelson, Bill Adler, Paul Lichtman, J.S. Johnson, Kate Murtagh, Bob Minor, Clint Young, Jerii Woods
Genre: Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lace (Robbie Lee) is the leader of the Dagger Debs, the girl gang who operate as the female complement to the Daggers, an all-male gang, but if anything the girls are even more formidable. They deliberately look for trouble, thinking nothing of intimidating all those around them with their carefully maintained switchblades, so when they show up at a fast food joint to scare off the other patrons, Lace is most annoyed to see one girl is staying right where she is. This is Maggie (Joanne Nail), and she's new in town, so when she is confronted a scuffle breaks out and she is the victor - at least until the police arrive and escort the gang, and Maggie, off to a detention centre... again!

Now, Jack Hill knows his way around exploitation films as this girl gang thriller proved, even throwing in a bit of Women-in-Prison movie and High School movie for good measure for a plot which was positively Shakespearean, though the overripe dialogue assuredly wasn't. But then, who needed it to be? The ladies themselves were suitably tough and contemptuous of authority, and pretty rough-looking, to be honest (although Maggie looks like Susan Dey if you half close your eyes), with a danger about them which could very well lapse into camp: that may have partly been the idea of how Hill strove to make this entertaining. For Switchblade Sisters' fans, he undoubtedly succeeded.

The Dagger Debs suffer through a calibre of melodrama that Douglas Sirk himself might have thought "a bit much", what with rampant jealousy, knife fights, unplanned pregnancy, rapes, dead boyfriends and so on all contributing to a tone that practically quivers with tensions that erupt with alarming regularity, as if the characters have no use for the niceties of civilised society. There may not be an expressly stated reason of why they have reached this stage, or more pertinently never progressed past it, but the surrounding of urban decay and squalor make it plain: this lot never had a chance and are going to be lucky to reach much further than their twenties. Actually, judging by the looks of the cast, some of them have made it to their thirties, in spite of attending high school.

The tale related the graduation of the Debs, not from school or college but from their status as the hangers on to the Daggers to a fully fledged gang in their own right, striking a dubious blow for feminism to illustrate the girls can be just as vicious and conniving as their male counterparts, if not more so. That's if you took this seriously as a statement on female equality, as it could just as well be a parody of the concerns of the era in connection to the debates raging in the media; here there's no doubt these sisters can take care of themselves. The turning point comes when the Daggers clash with a rival group led by the obviously overage Crabs (Chase Newhart) who in a cynical ploy run a youth training club complete with free meals, but in reality couldn't care less who they help.

This leads to a great street shootout involving a girl gang of Black Militants recruited by the increasingly powerful Maggie, after changing the Debs to the Jezebels in a sprucing up of their image; the revolutionaries (led by Marlene Clark as the oddly named Muff) quote Chairman Mao and drive an armoured car, all this after another shootout in a roller rink for good measure. The trashy dialogue is good for a laugh, too - particularly memorable is Robbie Lee's seething delivery of her lines, but almost every cast member with dialogue gets something good to speak. It's better than She Devils on Wheels, but a couple of motorbikes wouldn't have gone amiss. You don't see men wearing medallions anymore, do you? Also of note: Kitty Bruce (as Donut, the token fat one) is Lenny Bruce's daughter. I'd like to think he would have been proud of her. The sad thing was Hill never completed another movie after this, a real loss - his eighties fantasy epic was taken out of his hands, and his chances deserted him after that, even after his nineties rediscovery. Music by Les Baxter and Medusa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Jack Hill  (1933 - )

American writer and director, an expert at exploitation movies. He worked for Roger Corman (Hill was one of the directors of The Terror) before making his own films, beginning with Spider Baby. Come the seventies, he tried "women in prison" (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage), blaxploitation (Coffy, Foxy Brown) and others (The Swinging Cheerleaders, Switchblade Sisters), but unfortunately his credits petered out in the eighties. He also "discovered" cult favourites Pam Grier and Sid Haig.

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