There’s a decidedly retro quality to Miramax/Rolling Thunder’s “Switchblade Sisters,” and for good reason. This girl-gang yarn originally surfaced in 1975 as “The Jezebels” (and under the present title) and quickly went to the bottom half of double bills and on to footnote status in the history of ’70s exploitation fare. Its revival is unlikely to enhance an already limited reputation or to pump up the volume commercially; pic simply doesn’t have a keen enough action or satiric edge to hold its head above water in the current marketplace.
The serviceable script deals with how high school gangs run the show, bullying teachers and running drug and prostitution operations that cater to the student body.
The Debs are the distaff adjunct of the reigning Silver Blades. They’re led by Lace (Robbie Lee), a kewpie doll in leather with a somewhat childish, if adorable, whine.
Maggie (Joanne Nail) is the new girl and every bit as tough as the “sisters.” She passes her initiation and is taken into the fold. But Lace’s second-in-command, the one-eyed Patch (Monica Gayle), feels threatened by the newcomer and proceeds to poison her rep with the leader of the pack.
The unraveling involves a rival male group and an ambush that leaves the Blades decimated and Lace hospitalized.
That’s when Maggie kicks the guys out and rechristens the group the Jezebels. She then joins forces with a Maoist black girl gang to get some righteous revenge. It’s not until the bitter showdown that she discovers jealousy prompted Lace to betray everyone.
“Switchblade Sisters” provides a rear-view perspective on the anxiety and paranoia of the recent past. But F.X. Maier’s script more often than not enlists ’70s vogues for convenience, rather than any well-thought-out narrative or character development. The picture’s best moments are its droll commentary on the action genre; it hits rock bottom with an emphasis on realistic, bloody violence.
The central performers are a cut above the norm for the genre and period. Lee recalls Linda Blair gone bad, if that’s possible, and both Nail and Gayle bring credibility to essentially implausible parts.
The supporting cast ranges from passable to embarrassing, with Kate Murtagh’s butch prison warden an inspired piece of high camp.
Director Jack Hill does better than yeoman-like work in this bargain-basement exercise. The picture has a brisk pace, and he maintains the story thread through all its bizarre twists.
The second offering from Quentin Tarantino’s releasing label, “Switchblade Sisters” is a marked change from its premiere piece, “Chungking Express,” and, one fears, more in keeping with Rolling Thunder’s upcoming slate.
In current preservation-conscious times, it seems indulgent to be reviving marginal work while truly great films are neglected and decomposing.