Switchblade Sisters (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1975 (April 27, 2021)
Studio(s)Centaur Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
After several hits with Roger Corman and American International Pictures, director Jack Hill moved over to Centaur Pictures for his next couple of projects, The Swinging Cheerleaders and Switchblade Sisters. The latter wasn’t much of a success initially, but grew through re-releases by other companies, and of course, home video. A long-time favorite of the likes of Quentin Tarantino, this female-driven exploitation classic offered a bit more than what was on the page than usual. Most of the perfunctory elements are in play, including sexy, badass ladies, firearms, and knife fights, but the unexpected comes in the form of additional layers to the characters. Moments involving rape and abortion were certainly in your average genre film from this period, but rarely did they have an impact on the characters in a meaningful way. It helps that all of the actors give strong performances, even in the face of ludicrous dialogue and set pieces. By the time the guns make an appearance, it’s full-on, gonzo territory. As such, Switchblade Sisters has something for everyone, especially the women in the audience who are criminally (and to some degree, still are) underutilized in these types of films.
Ruling the streets are factions of gangs made up of both men and women. New in town is Maggie (Joanne Nail), who finds herself face to face with the Dagger Debs, lead by Lace (Robbie Lee). After an altercation that lands them all in juvenile detention, Maggie is brought into the fold by Lace, which doesn’t sit well with Lace’s right hand, Patch (Monica Gayle). One of the male gangs, the Silver Daggers, is lead by Dominic (Asher Brauner), who is involved with Lace. Admitting to him that she’s pregnant, Dominic orders her to get an abortion, later losing the baby in a gang fight at the local rollerskating rink. While she recovers, Maggie takes over, changing the name of the gang to The Jezebels. Learning of this and believing that Maggie has stolen Dominic from her, Lace retaliates. As such, the loyalties of the other Jezebels, including Patch, are called into question, even as the police close in on them.
Switchblade Sisters comes to Blu-ray for the first in the US via Arrow Video with a master supplied by Subkultur Entertainment (also used for the German Blu-ray release) which, according to the accompanying booklet, is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 “from the best available archival elements.” It’s a good-looking presentation with moderate grain and strong levels of detail. The color palette offers a nice variety of hues on costumes, cars, and graffiti from the period. Skin tones also appear natural. Blacks are deep with a touch of crush to them, but the overall presentation shows good contrast. It’s also stable and clean outside of random speckling.
The audio is included in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a healthy soundtrack that’s predictably narrow, but features clear dialogue delivery and ample support for the score. It could use a bit of a treble boost and there are a few random clicks here and there, but clarity is otherwise never an issue. There are no leftover instances of hiss, crackle, or dropouts to speak of either.
The following extras package is also included:
- Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
- We’re the Jezebels!: The Making of Switchblade Sisters (HD – 39:19)
- Gangland: The Locations of Switchblade Sisters (HD – 6:54)
- Q&A with Jack Hill and Joanne Nail (HD and Upsampled SD – 9:24)
- Q&A with Jack Hill, Robbie Lee, and Joanne Nail (HD & Upsampled SD – 7:48)
- Switchblade Sisters Trailer (HD – 3:07)
- The Jezebels Trailer (HD – 3:03)
- Spider Baby Trailer (HD – 1:04)
- Pit Stop Trailer (HD – 2:02)
- Coffy Trailer (HD – 1:56)
- Foxy Brown Trailer (HD – 2:01)
- The Swinging Cheerleaders Trailer (HD – 2:37)
- Behind the Scenes Gallery (HD – 5 in all – 1:00)
- Promo Stills Gallery (HD – 23 in all – 4:00)
- Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 27 in all – 4:40)
- Posters Gallery (HD – 6 in all – 1:10)
- Home Video Gallery (HD – 7 in all – 1:20)
In the new audio commentary with authors and critics Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, they avidly discuss their love and appreciation for the film, male-driven films and female-empowered cinema at that time, teenage delinquency in film and how it relates to women in the real world, women in prison films, director Jack Hill’s progressive filmmaking style, the delicacies of and layers to rape in the film, backgrounds on the cast, unintended lesbian undertones and political allusions, rarely-discussed layers to the exploitation genre, how the film deals with women realistically, the violence in the rollerskating scene, the off-beat dialogue, male writers who don’t understand the film, and the ending. Elijah Drenner’s We’re the Jezebels documentary about the making of the film features interviews with Jack Hill, producer John Prizer, casting director Geno Havens, actors Joanne Nail, Asher Brauner, Chase Newhart, stunt coordinator Bob Minor, and production designer B.B. Neel. In Gangland, Jack Hill and Elijah Drenner search for the film’s shooting locations. Next is a Q&A with Jack Hill and Joanne Nail at the Grindhouse Film Festival from 2007 after a screening of the film. There’s also another vintage Q&A with Jack Hill, Robbie Lee, and Joanne Nail sourced from a VHS recording after a different screening of the film, though the date is not provided. Closing out the video-based extras is a string of trailers—two for the film (including one under the original title, The Jezebels) and the rest for other exploitation films released by Arrow Video—and five still galleries containing a total of 68 stills of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional stills, lobby cards, posters, home video artwork, and soundtrack artwork.
Also included is a 32-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, Operation Butterfly Eyepatch: An Interview with Jack Hill and On Maggie’s Rape by Alexandra Heller-Nicolas, You Can’t Stop the Children of the Revolution by Heather Drain, and transfer information. Everything comes housed in a clear amaray case with double-sided artwork, the original US artwork on one side and new artwork on the other by The Twins of Evil. It’s worth nothing that there are a number of extras from other releases that haven’t carried over. The US Miramax DVD includes an audio commentary with Jack Hill and Quentin Tarantino; Jack Hill’s The Host short film from 1962; and an intro and outro by Tarantino. The German Subkultur Blu-ray release includes a German version of the film; a German audio commentary with Marcus Stiglegger and Kai Naumann; and a German promo for the film with an intro by Jack Hill.
Switchblade Sisters is a classic slice of exploitation goodness that’s actually got a little more going for it than usual. Arrow’s disc may not be definitive as far as the extras are concerned, but the presentation is certainly an improvement over its US DVD counterpart.
- Tim Salmons
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