A Review of Switchblade Sisters (aka The Jezebels)

Films like Switchblade Sisters are the sort of films that I would like to highlight on this site. I am not sure what to make of it. It is a grindhouse film, and in that tradition, it makes many mistakes. The acting is terrible, the story nonsensical, and the script poorly written. Normally, such a film would be condemned by me for obvious reasons.

But the film is also some sort of proto-feminist classic. You see, while the rest of the world still cast women in the roles of housewives, Switchblade Sisters treated them as equals to the male action stars. The women were multi-faceted, intelligent, and physically capable of taking care of themselves. The men in this movie were pathetic dopes, only capable of thinking about sex and violence (usually in that order, and usually with the same person in mind). They treat the female characters like objects and think that punching is the only way to communicate. For once, women were allowed to join the world of men. It was a vicious, cruel world, but it was still one where the female gang was equal to the male counterpart.

See what I mean? I do think that Switchblade Sisters is a very entertaining film. But is it something that manages to transcend its rather questionable origins and become a true classic? The only thing I can do is point you in the film’s direction and say decide for yourself.

Switchblade Sisters is about a gang known as the “Dagger Debs,” a group of high school girls that are lead by a fiery woman named Lace (Robbie Lee). She is the girlfriend of Dom (Asher Brauner) who is the leader of a gang known as the Silver Daggers. While at a fast food restaurant, the gang meets a girl named Maggie (Joanne Nail) who is able to challenge the sisters. They recruit her, but Lace becomes jealous of Maggie after she suspects an affair between her and Dom, and this affects her performance as the Dagger Debs start to fight a rival gang lead by Crabs (Chase Newhart).

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The film really must be split into those categories I described above – thematic examination versus technical skill. The latter category is far easier to describe. And indeed, on the film’s rerelease (which was orchestrated by Quentin Tarantino), the film was lambasted by critics (it has a 53% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It is easy to see why. The film did not, at first glance, appear to need any mention and represents a regretful time in which films only need have plenty of violence and shots of tits to be successful. Thankfully we have grown beyond such times (haven’t we, Mr. Bruckheimer?).

Let’s start with the most obvious flaw – the acting. Oh, the acting. I have seen grade school theatrical productions that were more subtle than this. Each of the characters only seem capable of showing one emotion (usually it’s anger) and spout their lines with zero conviction. We have no idea who they are, where they come from, or why they might, as teenagers, want to join a gang. We barely even can identify the relationships between the characters. A woman named Patch appears to have the strongest relationship with Lace…but we never find out about their history and their friendship appears to be, not organic, but a requirement of the story. Performances are usually based around those connections – that is why actors stereotypically ask “what’s my motivation” at every turn. It’s so the characters gain depth. I have a feeling that most of the actors involved here only asked “when am I getting paid?”

Additionally, the film’s script is a conglomeration of every single b-movie of the 1970s, and does not Instead of trying to transcend its low budget, Switchblade Sisters is content to use every single trick used by grindhouse films in order to lure in audiences. There is a rape scene, gratuitous nudity, unrealistic violence (carrying military grade weapons around in the streets is not something that goes unnoticed) and clearly descends from the worst of poverty row. I don’t get why a director like Jack Hill, who definitely knows better (see his earlier film Coffy for proof) would rely on such a thing here.

Are you still with me at this point? If you are not, then the film is not for you. Be content, although do know that many of the summer blockbusters of the modern era do the same things as this film here. So while you are sitting in the theater watching Fast Five, don’t feel too superior.

For the rest still reading, I will reveal the biggest thing about the film – I still think that everyone should see it. It actually does a lot to comment on the then current women’s liberation movement, and seems to wish to genuinely destroy the typical female image found in media. One girl is seen wearing pig tails, until another takes the ribbons out of her hair, insisting that “she needs to look good.” There are many scenes in which women manage to physically over power men. There are also very few scenes in which the women dress in a stereotypically sexy way, unless it is called for to achieve their goals. The Switchblade Sisters were independent women who were more than capable of taking care of themselves. Yes, they do resort to many cheap tactics, but what of it? It was still quite a revolutionary step.

And yes, the film is very entertaining in a way that few action films are. I am not sure why; maybe it is of the sheer ridiculousness of the gun violence and the action scenes. Or maybe it is the scenes in which the walls seem to move whenever an actor leans on them (MST-ies will appreciate those moments). Yes, it is cheesy, but if films are primarily made to entertain, then this one delivers the goods.

There were much better pieces of entertainment dealing with women as action stars. Kill Bill probably perfected it, but Switchblade Sisters still feels like an important stepping stone in cinematic history. Without this film, there may not have been Charlie’s Angels, or Kill Bill. If you think that is an important contribution, then seek this film out.

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