Switchblade Sisters (1975)
aka The Jezebels
Directed by Jack Hill
Written by Jack Hill, F.X. Maier, & John Prizer

Jack Hill's girl-gang MacBeth gained a higher profile when Quentin Tarantino re-released it through his short-lived Rolling Thunder imprint, and while it's hard to imagine that all the frat-boy doofuses who got off on Pulp Fiction got much out of it, the film is one of the few cult movies that probably deserves the wider audience.

In many respects, it's one of countless exploitation films that are catalogued extensively in the cult-movie world, but Hill's peculiar directorial stamp separates it from the chaff. Many similar movies are fun to watch, but mainly in a "No one else is watching this!" sort of way … Switchblade Sisters has so much more going for it than simple exploitation that it stands up to repeat viewings like few from this genre.

The story concerns a girl gang called "The Dagger Debs," female counterpart to the macho "Silver Daggers," who rival "The Crabs" for control of the town. Though none of these gangs is notably more scary than, say, Sha-Na-Na, they commmand enough clout that when the high school principal has a problem, he goes to the Daggers for advice.

When tough-as-nails Maggie blows into town, she shakes things up for the gang members, especially Lace, who is the main squeeze of Silver Dagger Dominic (a mean, intimidating Stallone type … Frank Stallone, that is), who immediately sets his sights on Maggie.

But Maggie isn't interested in simply being the leather-clad old lady to the leader of a boy-gang – she wants to see the girls stake their own claim to ruling the territory. So, despite the gratuitous women's prison scenes, body-shaming, and rape, Switchblade Sisters is, uh, feminist.

Whatever it is, it's chock full of odd, draggy scenes, dialogue too demented to be bad-funny, and performances so over-the-top that even James Woods would have to wince. Yet, as a coked-up Tarantino points out in his, er, infectious introduction, you strangely start to care about all these characters as the film goes along.

Robbie Lee is irritating yet appealling as Lace; the Sissy Spacek-like Monica Gayle is terrific as Patch (who, yeah, sports an eyepatch); Joanne Nail brings a proto-"Lifetime" appeal to Maggie. And watching it again recently, I noticed a young Don Stark (Donna's dad from "That 70s Show" as the second-banana Silver Dagger, who, in one memorable scene, pimps his girlfriend out at the high school … why wasn't my high school like that?).

It's not my favorite Jack Hill movie (Spider Baby and Foxy Brown still duke it out for that honor), but it's an essential part of his oevure … say, his Hudsucker Proxy instead of his Raising Arizona or Fargo. Hill wasn't an Ed Wood, exactly, but his vision was unlike anyone else's … and film for film, I much prefer him to Scorcese any day. You just have to recalibrate your brain as to what "great cinema"means.

Review by Demarcus Durnford