Episode 17 - Switchblade Sisters (1975)
Jack Hill, the Director of Switchblade Sisters, was an accomplished filmmaker who chose to work outside of the studio system. He got his start working with Francis Ford Coppola on Roger Corman films. While one of those careers spun off to win Academy Awards and great accolade, the other focused on creating movies for an audiences that the mainstream studios despised.
Hill chose to keep working outside the typical studio system:
“I had the freedom to improvise. I feel quite fortunate that I worked in the low-budget sector because it meant I did not have to deal with committees who wanted to impose their ideas and prejudices on my material. I had a free hand -- much more so than I would have had if I was working for the studios. As long as you put the elements in there that producers like Corman [Roger Corman] knew they could sell, such as sex and violence, you could raise the picture a little higher than expected and give the audience something intelligent to chew on.” - Jack Hill
He started out making horror films such as: Blood Bath (1966), Mondo Keyhole (1966) and eventually: Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) - which was a big early hit for Hill.
It was in 1971 with his film The Big Doll House that he found his leading lady Pam Grier. Hill went on to use Grier in his next three films: The Big Bird Cage (1972), Coffy (1973), and Foxy Brown (1974). The later two are regarded as some of the best films in the Blaxploitation genre in which Hill was a pioneer.
[on making 1970s 'blaxplotation' films] “You were working on pictures that the industry had nothing but contempt for. There was a lot of racism in the industry, a lot of it was under the surface, but it was here. And the executives at the studios really had contempt for the audience they were making movies for. It was an uphill struggle to try to do anything really good.” - Jack Hill
His last three movies strayed very far from his traditional fare. The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) is a film that subverts the typical sexploitation film by having a reporter go undercover to infiltrate the secret world of Cheerleaders. His last film credited to himself was 1975’s Switchblade Sisters. Hill only directed one more film in his career 1982’s Sorceress (which he removed his name from).
Switchblade Sisters is one of my favorite movies of all time and it seems unfair that it was the nail in the coffin of arguably the greatest exploitation filmmaker to ever live. The film was special to Hill and it was received poorly by audiences and critics. It bombed in the box office and was the main reason that Hill retired from filmmaking.
In recent years the film was has been re-examined and received newfound adoration as a film that goes beyond its exploitive premise. It’s a deep and interesting film that contains great dramatic turns and amazing characterization. It’s a truly great film that is trapped within the walls the of drive-in setting.
Everything about this movie is amazing and I truly hope you find the time to watch the film for yourself It’s a wonderful example of independent filmmaking and the work a truly misunderstood artist.
“I always wanted people to feel positive at the end of my films. I was always careful to try and juxtapose humor with the violence and tragedy. I think I accomplished that, and perhaps that is why a generation or two later my films are still popular and in-demand while many of the mainstream movies I was up against at the time, and truth be known, I was quite envious of, are now forgotten.” - Jack Hill
Next Week's Film - Request from our friend: David Pietersen
Directed by: Ernest Pintoff
Stars: Pamela Jean Bryant, Rosanne Katon, Candy Moore