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review added: 7/18/00



Switchblade Sisters
1974 (2000) - Rolling Thunder (Buena Vista)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Switchblade Sisters Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B-/B

Specs and Features

90 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered (extra layer for additional material), audio commentary by director Jack Hill and Quentin Tarantino, intro and outro by Tarantino about the film's history and impact, 7 theatrical trailers (for Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Swinging Cheerleaders, Spider Baby, The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, The Soceress), clips from Spider Baby and Pit Stop, reel of text reviews for Spider Baby, Hill's student film The Host, film themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

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 off! Ya dig? It's Jezebels, cop -- remember that name. We'll be back!"

Rolling Thunder's first DVD (second if you go alphabetically next to Mighty Peking Man) Switchblade Sisters, not only preserves a great B-grade film, it preserves an era in filmmaking - the exploitation film. Exploitation films serve only a few purposes. You can laugh at their serious attempts at drama, you can marvel at their gratuitous use of the female form, and you can earn big bucks making them. That's not to say there is anything wrong with exploitation films. Some of the best filmmakers in the industry got started making exploitation films. Consider this: Jonathan Demme started with Caged Heat, Martin Scorsese made Boxcar Bertha and Francis Ford Coppola made Dementia 13. All were great films, and all foreshadowed a new generation of filmmakers. Jack Hill wasn't lucky enough to actually get out of the exploitation niche, but he did make some of the best of the breed. Spider Baby, Foxy Brown and Switchblade Sisters all came from this talented filmmaker's lens. And if Quentin Tarantino has his way, you will appreciate this filmmaker just as much as he does.

Switchblade Sisters is fun, it's passionate and it's actually a damn good movie (in the good bad movie mode). It's the epic story of a gang of women who rise up and squash everyone in their path. The Silver Daggers are one of America's heaviest gangs. They rob, they pillage and they party. But behind every great gang is a greater gang of women. In this case, they are the Dagger Debs. Led by Lace, these femme fatals rob harder, pillage more frequently and they party way more heartily than their male counterparts. One day, these ladies bump into Maggie, and after they attempt to kill her, they realize she may be able to hold her own amongst them. She fortifies this when the Debs spend the night in a jail controlled by a tough lesbian guard who wants a piece of Maggie. After the Debs beat the hell out of the guard, they embrace Maggie as one of their own and a new family is born. Things aren't all good, as we find when Lace's boyfriend Dom wants to initiate Maggie into the fold personally. The new dynamic is threatened even further when Lace's right hand chick, Patch, starts to Otelletically whisper in Lace's ear about alliances both real and imagined. Things begin to spiral out of control. New questions emerge when Maggie changes the gang's name to the Jezebels and calls for an all out street war in the name of honor, truth and everything holy. Will Maggie and Lace stay friends? Will Bunny ever figure out she's being undersold? When did the Daggers beat the Sweathogs to take control?

All the things that normally turn a viewer off about a movie - incredibly bad acting, awful camera set-ups and a very badly cliché-ridden story - are exactly what sets this film up as one of the best of the breed. I really didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did. Tarantino says it best somewhere on this disc, when he explains the emotion behind the film. You really DO care about these characters. You become cemented in their story... as threadbare as it is. F.X. Maier's dialogue is also really good (again, in a good bad movie way) - there are some well written exchanges in here. Someone should really take the time and adapt this to theater, because it could work really well. And as funny as that sounds, I'm not kidding. Add all of that to the depth the story gains with the additional insight from Hill and Tarantino on the commentary track and you have a great film worth owning on DVD.

This film was digitally remastered and preserved on laserdisc a few years back, and sadly we get the same transfer on this DVD. It's a good-looking print, don't get me wrong. It's just not anamorphic and this film could really use that. That extra step would have put a final polish on the transfer. As it stands, no one is going to cry, because for a film this old (and of this level of filmmaking) it looks wonderful. The sound is also about par for a film like this. There's no distortion and the dialogue is centered well. There are some effects that come across pretty nicely, particularly in the disco massacre and the street fight towards the end. This isn't a movie that deserves 5.1, and you won't miss it.

This DVD is also a pretty sharp special edition, especially when held up to other live action Buena Vista releases. The above mentioned commentary is a bit laughable when you really pay attention. Tarantino is an insufferable fanboy, and about every other fact he spews is just wrong. Hill corrects half of what he says, and it's embarrassing. Tarantino's a trooper though, laughing his fallacies off and continuing to truck along onto the next correction. My favorite thing about the commentary is listening to Tarantino mispronounce EVERY SINGLE name, character and actor-wise. It's funnier than the movie, I swear. A few other gems do tumble forth from the commentary, so historically it's worth listening to as well. They include details on the set design, the art of being an actor in L.A. and even (gasp!) Shakespearean references in Hill's films. But surely listen in for the camp - you won't regret it.

The other additions to this disc are more interesting. You get an intro and outro (basically a video essay) from Tarantino about the film. Also included are clips and trailers for most of Hill's cannon of films, which (although they are rarely seen) do look interesting. You'll also find Hill's student film The Host, which plays out like a lost episode of the Twilight Zone (and as the liner notes comment, served as inspiration for Coppola's Apocalypse Now - Coppola and Hill went to film school together).

Here's to Rolling Thunder. I hope they retrofit more of their laserdiscs for DVD. They put some great stuff out. And even if he's a goof, Tarantino loves these movies enough to take real good care of them. That's all we want - our favorite films on DVD, presented with the love that we hold for them. I mean, how can you not like this movie? It knows it's bad... and yet it's entertaining as all get out. More movies should do that today. We'd have less real crap clogging up our theaters.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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