By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — Wielding chains, switchblades and Molotov cocktails – the Dagger Debs are worse than the women your mother warned you about. Lace is the leather-clad leader of the femme delinquents, all of which are notoriously filtered throughout juvenile detention centres due to violent criminal behaviour. Growing accustomed to dominating civilians within their turf, Lace happens upon a mysterious blonde vixen that admirably holds her own against the one-eyed gangsterette, Patch. Impressed by her innate ability to rumble, Maggie, the mysterious blonde, quickly finds herself initiated by the Dagger Debs. Seemingly catching the eye of Lace’s man Dominic, head of the Debs’ male counterparts the Silver Daggers, tension arises between the two leading ladies, which capsizes into irreversible damage.
Preceding the soft rock of gang-oriented cult films, Grease (1978), by three years, Switchblade Sisters (1975) manages to cater to the anomalous tastes of trashy cinema lovers. Switchblades are wielded in massive brawls throughout the film, reminiscent of the rival gang love story West Side Story (1961), however made all the more unnerving by the uncommon driving force of female hostility. Aesthetically outrageous with the post punk appearance of the Dagger Debs, this style would later become a crucial element for gang profiling with films such as The Warriors (1979) and Class Nuke ‘Em High (1986) heavily emphasizing this.
Though it wouldn’t be out of place to compare the strong menacing aura of the Debs to that of the vigilante women in films such as Ms .45 (1981) or Savage Streets (1984), Switchblade Sisters is truly unique because the Debs are bad simply because they want to be. Within its 91-minute run time, the audience becomes aware of the harsh realities of abuse the women have forcibly faced. Subjected not only to prostitution for personal gain of their male counterparts and physical beatings justified by menial social mistakes, it too becomes known that many of the Debs have undergone sexual attacks from the juvenile detention centre’s wardens. This concept has appeared in films of the same exploitative nature, including Wanda, the Wicked Warden (1977) and Reform School Girls (1986).
Much like several other exploitation films of the 1970s, Switchblade Sisters left a lasting impact on alternative cinema heavyweight, Quentin Tarantino. Paralleling voluptuous, violent vixens has been a central plot point in several of his films, namely Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) with the character of Elle Driver seemingly heavily influenced by Switchblade’s Patch, and Death Proof (2007) in which a trio of resilient girls defeat a stalker. Undoubtedly noteworthy in this connection, it is not only limited to Tarantino’s work. A powerful resurgence of exploitation films is ruling the underground, demonstrated by the gore exploitative Father’s Day (2011) and the grotesque post-apocalyptic Turbo Kid (2015).
Regardless of how odd it may seem, another connection to be made is the similar plot progression with 2004’s Mean Girls. Both include the driving force of jealousy and the potential toxicity of pact mentalities. Mean Girls may not have excessive blood shedding, or assault rifle abuse, but that may very well been an example of societal changes over 30 years of progression in Western civilization. Unruly students having more authority over the staff of their schooling is another similarity, which also connects to another violent teen based cult film, Class of 1984 (1982).
Released more than 40 years ago, Switchblade Sisters continues to age gracefully and is still as shocking as ever. It deconstructs the definition of toughness and challenges gender-based stereotypes in the patriarchal world.
“You can beat us, chain us, lock us up. But we’re gonna be back, understand?”
Switchblade Sisters plays on 35mm on March 11 at the Globe Cinema at 11:55 p.m. General admission is $10 at the door.AB, Alberta, Globe Cinema, Night Terrors Film Society, Switchblade Sisters