Critics' Corner

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "Makes sublime, exploitive camp."

Richard Harrington - Style section, "The acting is so bad that apparently none of the performers ever got another job."


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'Switchblade Sisters'

The story is about an auxiliary girl gang finding its identity in a male-dominated culture. Two rival male gangs are so busy fighting over control of their high school's student patrols (to run drug and prostitution rings) that they don't notice what's happening with the Dagger Debs, led by tough-as-fingernails Lace and her second in command, the one-eyed Patch.

When newcomer Maggie joins the gang, it sets off a power struggle that provokes double and triple crosses. -- Richard Harrington
Rated R


Director: Jack Hill
Cast: Robbie Lee; Joanne Nail; Monica Gayle; Janice Karman; Kitty Bruce; Marlene Clark






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Campy 'Blade' Runners

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 21, 1996


With its tough-talking sluts who wield knives, fight over creepy boyfriends and plot gang rumbles, "Switchblade Sisters" makes sublime, exploitative camp. The 1975 film, directed by Jack Hill (who also made "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown"), has been brought back into distribution by hipster Quentin Tarantino, who in his video store jockey days would recommend this cult flick to anyone who stopped by.

These female punks, known as the Dagger Debs, are the female auxiliaries to an all-male gang called the Silver Daggers. The Debs are led by Lace (Robbie Lee), a rather improbable gangster with a squeaky voice. She's going out with Dominic (Asher Bauner), leader of the Silver Daggers and, quite possibly, the dorkiest "stud" ever seen on screen. Also figuring in the movie: Patch (Monica Gale), who sports a leather patch over one eye and who (in this movie's crude reworking of "Othello") turns out to be a scheming Iago; and Donut, an overweight Deb who's constantly stuffing her face with food -- and being mercilessly taunted for doing so.

The story gets underway when a loner called Maggie (Joanne Nail) sits in the holy-of-holies -- the gang's favorite booth at the local hamburger stand. Maggie's refusal to be intimidated impresses Lace, who soon inducts her into the Debs. But the newcomer is bad news. A sort of female Lancelot, she starts, ever so gradually, to steal Lace's boyfriend and leadership from right under her nose.

The movie establishes its exploitative credentials with campy abandon. Blithely unaware that they're being treated like second-class molls by their male counterparts, the Debs swagger around with all the bad-girl menace of Barbie dolls in leather. When they're run into jail for harassing a bill collector, they're placed in the hands-on care of lesbian prison matron Mom (Kate Murtagh).

"I know how to cool down chippies like you," she tells Maggie.

Lace is devoted to Dominic, a narcissistic creep who makes fun of her love letters behind her back. "I'd kill for that guy," she purrs fondly. When Dominic impulsively rapes Maggie, the newcomer's upset -- but only for a while.

The movie takes a tour through all the known vices, including prostitution, drug dealing and protection hustling. There's also a multi-gang melee, featuring a soul-sister outfit strongly into Chairman Mao, rifles and tanks. But the real high point is the inevitable mano a mano between Lace and Maggie. Now there's a catfight you won't want to miss.

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (R) -- Contains sexual situations, profanity and violence. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont 5.

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'Girl-Gang Redux'


By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 21, 1996


Credit the art house revival of "Switchblade Sisters" to Quentin Tarantino's old video store compulsions: Jack Hill's awful but hilarious 1975 girl-gang epic was a frequent Tarantino recommendation, and now that he's got clout, it's out again in big-screen Eastmancolor glory.

Originally released as "The Jezebels," the film quickly slipped off the bottom of B-movie double bills and into deserved oblivion. Time has not improved it: The acting is so bad that apparently none of the performers ever got another job in the movies, and the costumes in "Ben Hur" seem less dated that those on display here. Ahh, but the script by F.X. Maier -- it's daffy, nonsensical and absurd, though not intentionally so.

The story is about an auxiliary girl gang finding its identity in a male-dominated culture. Two rival male gangs are so busy fighting over control of their high school's student patrols (to run drug and prostitution rings) that they don't notice what's happening with the Dagger Debs, led by tough-as-fingernails Lace (Robbie Lee) and her second in command, the one-eyed Patch (Monica Gayle).

When newcomer Maggie (Joanne Nail) joins the gang, it sets off a power struggle that provokes double and triple crosses, "Peyton Place"-style betrayals, a roller rink massacre and a gun-powered alliance with a gang of Maoism-spouting black feminist guerrillas that provides not one but two grand finales. The film, which kicks off with one of the most awful theme songs ever and then borrows liberally from blaxploitation music, is also populated by assorted Officer Krupkes, corrupt parents and weaselly high school teachers. Still, the value of a good education is proved when Maggie decides to rename the gang: "You girls know what a Jezebel is? I found it the other day in the dictionary."

Some of the acting here is campy, particularly butch Warden Smackley (Kate Murtaugh), who can't wait to discipline the girls. Unfortunately, the major role, Lace, fell to Lee, who looks like a prepubescent Linda Blair and seldom does more than whine through clenched teeth.

Any film that pits Jezebels named Doughnut and Bunny against punks named Dominic, Crabs and Mr. Fingers, uses "shut up" as its most frequent conversation starter and lets its lead actress warn that "if you go, it's going to turn out baaaad!" -- well, it can't be all bad.

Switchblade Sisters, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5, is rated R.

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