Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Exploitation Double bill

The two best DVDs I got from America were the Candy Snatchers and Switchblade Sisters - both were filmed in the 1970s and feature various Really Mean Girls who would give the Mean Girls of the recent Lindsay Lohan film a run for their money. These Really Mean Girls don't bitch about you behind your back if you gain a few pounds or make a bad fashion choice. No, instead they'd cut your face up or stub out a cigarette in your navel. They don't make films like that any more. Together, both films make a fabulous exploitation double bill. As Quentin Tarantino says in his intro to Switchblade Sisters, the film starts off with audiences laughing at how bad it is, but then they get into it and laugh with the film, and by the end, they actually care about the characters. Which is always a mark of a superior film when it wins you over.

Switchblade Sisters is basically Othello if it was set in a ghettotastic, graffiti-riven 1970s rough girl gang. Topdog Lace is head of the Dagger Debs, an all-female gang who act as an adjunct to the male Silver Daggers. Lace's main squeeze is Dominick, the ultra-macho leader of the Silver Daggers - they're like the Prom King and Queen of Trash. Dominick's voice is so deep that it sounds like a 45rpm record played at 33rpm. On the other hand, Lace has a squeaky Minnie Mouse voice, although she snarls all her lines in order to sound tough. My favourite line of the movie is when she squeaks/snarls "If you GO! It's gonna turn out BAAAAAAD!" at Dominick. Sure enough, she is proven right (he is gunned down during an ambush at a roller-skating rink in the very next scene). The storyline involves the invasion of a rival gang on their turf, led by "Crab" (picture a very early Elton John without the comedy glasses, who is compensating for male pattern baldness by growing out a mullet and wearing braces with lurid trousers and garish checked shirts). There's also a new member to the Dagger Debs, the slightly-more-classy than the others, Maggie. Dominick decides he like Maggie (in his sensitive way he demonstrates this by raping her), although Lace gets jealous - Dominick's only allowed to rape her! (It's such a feminist film!) Another gang member, the scary Patch ("I lost an eye for this gang, remember!) who may or may not be coded as a lesbian, engineers an internal power struggle between Lace and Maggie. You know it's gonna turn out BAAAAAD.

Switchblade Sisters combines a number of exploitation genres into one single film - as well as it being a "gang" film, it's also a "women in prison" film (there's a particularly cheesy scene involving butch predatory lesbian prison warders (one who is clearly a stuntman in a frock), cavity searches and head-flushing), a "blaxspolitation" film, a "high school" film and an "afterschool special melodrama". My favourite character is Donut, a slightly portly member of the girl-gang who likes her cakes, and is regularly the butt of jokes and the subject of bullying from the others. There's funky 70s disco music played throughout and the dialogue is deliciously over the top. It's fun to see actors who were practically 30 trying to squeeze into classroom desks and convince us they're still at school (maybe they were kept back a lot). The police never seem to arrive until after all the action's happened (isn't it always the case), and about halfway through, Maggie says she's going to change the name of the gang to The Jezabels (having looked it up in the dictionary and discovering that "jezabel" means "impudent woman" - nice to know that gang leaders are so erudite). But Tarantino was right, the final scenes of denouement had me watching from behind my hands.

While the Switchblade Sisters have a certain kind of tawdry nobility about them, the same cannot be said for The Candy Snatchers, who are just bad, bad, bad. A trash trio, consisting of evil brother and sister, Alan and Jessie, and their lumpy friend Eddy decide to plan Candy, the 15 year daughter of a rich couple. They bury her alive, clad in her Catholic schoolgirl uniform, with an air-tube sticking out the ground and then let Daddy know that they want a ransom. However, imagine their surprise when they turn up at the assigned time and place, and Daddy hasn't bothered to show up. That's when the film starts to get really interesting. How far are they prepared to go to get the money? A series of twists and double-crosses follow, as the kidnappers start to lose the plot and turn on each other, and it all gets very nasty and grand guignol. There are two rapes, lots of screaming and slapping, and weirdest of all, while all this is going on there's a sublot involving a little mute austic boy with vile parents (played by the director's own son), who is the only one who knows about Candy and is really her only chance of survival. The ending is one of the creepiest of any film I've ever seen - it's unlikely it could be made now. While there's a sense of fun in Switchblade Sisters, the Candy Snatchers is a much darker, unrelenting movie that stays with you for long after the credits roll. The DVD has interviews with the actresses who played innocent Candy (Susan Sennett) and ice-cold Jessie (Tiffany Bolling). Both actresses have put the film completely behind them, it transpires that Bolling is now 'more right-wing than George Bush' (she goes on about how the Iraq War was justified), and Sennett is simply horrified that anyone would be interested in such a film, and confesses that she initially feared for the sanity of the people who wanted to interview her for the DVD release. Nice to see what happens to Scream Queens once the cameras stop rolling.

1 comment:

matty said...

Switchblade Sisters totally rule!

Did you ever see REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS? I am sure you have, but I love that movie and I always think of it when SWITCHBLADE SISTERS is mentioned. Not really sure why. But, I do.

LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH comes out on DVD here in the US next week!!! I am so excited!!!!