THE WILDEST GIRL GANG THAT EVER BLASTED THE STREETS!
From Jack Hill, legendary director of Spider Baby, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and The Swinging Cheerleaders comes another iconic cult classic, Switchblade Sisters!
Lace (Robbie Lee), the leader of inner city girl gang The Dagger Debs, meets her match when new girl Maggie (Joanne Nail) moves into the neighborhood. Mistrust and conflict turn to friendship as the girls end up in Juvenile Detention together at the mercy of abusive guards. Meanwhile, The Dagger Debs male counterparts The Silver Daggers have to contend with the arrival of a new gang, led by the villainous Crabs (Chase Newhart). But when the girls get back on the streets, a planned retaliation strike in tandem with The Silver Daggers backfires and puts Lace in hospital. Maggie assumes control, teaming up with Muff (Marlene Clark) and her gang of African-American militants from across town to declare all out war. But there s a traitor in their midst...
Filled with sharp, clever dialogue and tongue in cheek humor, this Shakespeare-influenced girl gang/women in prison/action movie medley is a stone cold grindhouse classic!
Jack Hill’s grindhouse classic Switchblade Sisters finally comes to Blu-ray in North America, courtesy of Arrow Video. Presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Arrow is using the same master Subkultur used for their 2016 German Blu-ray edition, which is encoded here at 1080p/24hz.
I'm going to venture a guess the master comes from an older high-def/2K restoration, but it's a rather sharp looking one. It’s clear that multiple sources have been used since the general quality can fluctuate at times, most notably during transitions, but it looks like the negative—or at least elements a generation or so removed from it—made up a majority of the initial scan. There’s a stunning amount of detail here, a crispness that I really wasn’t expecting, with a decent (if imperfect) handling of the film’s heavy-yet-fine grain structure. Colours end up coming off a bit more vibrant than I was expecting, with some reds and purples really popping, and black levels end up looking strong, allowing for finer shadow details, even during the film's darker moments. Those blacks, along with the distinct details, lead to some great looking textures on the leather jackets (and other leather accessories) that consistently pop up throughout the film.
While the restoration efforts have been fairly thorough, and the overall film is clean, not every nook and cranny has been touched: transitions can be littered with heavier scratches and marks (along with a dupier look), while minor bits of debris pop up here and there throughout the rest of the film. Despite those minor issues the disc still delivers a solid looking presentation, and not one I would have ever expected for the film.
Arrow includes a lossless 1.0 PCM soundtrack for the film. Like the picture the audio also ends up being a rather pleasant surprise: it’s crisp and clean with a decent amount of range and fidelity behind it. Action scenes get a bit louder, if a little edgy, but they are still stable and dynamic overall. Damage isn’t a concern, the restoration work cleaning up things nicely.
Arrow’s edition appears to mostly port features over from the German Blu-ray edition, though is does add one of their own exclusive features: a brand-new audio commentary by film historians and critics Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger. Though there is a bit of “geeking” out present due to their excitement around talking about this particular film (which apparently had an effect on both of them when they saw it at a young age through some bootleg), they keep things focused to the film, looking at it as a feminist film and how it compares to other women-centric exploitation films of the period, particularly the “women in prison” sub-genre because of the film's self-contained world (Deighan says the film, at the very least, is “adjacent” to that sub-genre). Throughout they do talk about a number of other similar films—including from Hill’s own filmography—and also talk a little about the actors, but the focus is primarily on the film, its progressive and subversive aspects (whether in comparison to mainstream films or other smaller exploitation efforts), sequences that are handled with more care than one would expect (like the rape scene) and just what they find so endearing about the film overall. It’s a passionate and enjoyable track, probably the strongest feature here.
And that's good because the rest of the content ends up coming off feeling fairly generic. There is a very extensive, 39-minute making-of from 2016, entitled We’re the Jezebels. It features interviews with various members of the cast and production, with director Jack Hill and producer John Prizer probably taking up the bulk of it as they cover the film’s inception all the way through to its lackluster release and eventual rediscovery. Casting director Geno Havans shares stories around casting, while production designer B.B. Neel and stunt coordinator Bob Minor talk (respectively) about the the film’s look and action sequences, with a focus on specific moments in the film. Actors Joanne Nail, Asher Brauner, and Chase Newhart (who first talks about how he used to tour with Claudette Colbert) then talk about how they came to the film, their first feature in most cases, the three coming from stage or television beforehand. I can’t say anything really all that surprising came out of this (other than I had no idea the film had been sold as a lesbian film for years, something even Hill didn’t know) but it’s an entertaining and in-depth look at the film’s production.
The rest of the material is short. There is a 7-minute featurette from 2012 around the film’s key locations, featuring Hill and filmmaker Elijah Drenner revisiting said locations to see how they’ve changed, either completely or not at all. In the case of the latter instance, during their visit of the Rollerway, Hill insists the only that’s changed is the choice of music (Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe” plays in the background), the carpet even appearing to be exactly the same. This is then followed by about 9-minutes’ worth of footage from a follow-up to a 2007 screening of the film at the Grindhouse Film Festival, where Hill and Nail appear to talk briefly about the film. There is then an 8-minute interview with Hill, Nail, and Robbie Lee (conducted by Johnny Legend), looking to have been recorded in the early-to-mid nineties. Throughout the features Hill mentions how the film was influenced by Shakespeare’s Othello, and when he brings that up here both Nail and Lee share their doubts, with Nail saying that, at best, the film is loosely based on the play.
Arrow’s disc then includes a trailer for the film and some of Hill’s other works. This is followed by a handful of small galleries around the film’s production and promotional materials (with one poster from one region selling the film as The Warriors II), along with home video art, including Voyager’s/Criterion’s/Rolling Thunder’s LaserDisc edition for the film.
And speaking of that LaserDisc edition, Arrow was sadly unable to port over the audio commentary from that disc featuring Jack Hill and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (the German Blu-ray does include the track). That’s disappointing mostly because I would have loved to hear Hill talk more about the film. At best, Ellinger does reference some of Hill's comments from that track in the commentary included on this disc.
Though it all ends up being fine, the video content isn’t anything I’d call special; it’s all just serviceable. At the very least, the release does come with one of Arrow’s exceptional booklets, which first features a couple of essays by Alexandria Heller-Nicholas, the first based around a discussion/interview she had had with Jack Hill, and the second focusing on the rape scene, which is addressed briefly by Hill in that first essay. Heather Drain then closes the booklet with a more general piece on the film itself. The booklet, along with commentary, end up being the strengths.
Hoped for more in the supplement department but the presentation ended up being a rather pleasant surprise, even if it's not all it could be.