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Switchblade Sisters
Still from "Switchblade Sisters"via tmdb.org

The most badass girl gangs on film

From the Skate Witches to The Craft’s occult foursome, we look at the rebel-rousing women who knew their way around a switchblade

Today sees the release of Girlhood, a film that has been snatching accolades across the globe since it screened at Cannes last spring. It centres around Marième, a black teenager growing up in the projects around Paris. When the lure of a gang beckons, she quickly changes her name to Vic (short for “Victory”) and gives way to the temptations of the streets.

One beautifully honest scene features the girls treating themselves to a night in a hotel using stolen funds. It’s peppered with sincerity as they dance and sing wildly to Rihanna’s "Diamonds" with a spirit that is contagious. We all want to shine bright like diamonds, and when you’re young, fitting in is as important as breathing. Girlhood gives these young ladies a voice and is captured with a thoughtful understanding of their struggles. The bond between girls (and women) is something special and complex. In honour, let’s revisit the best girl gangs in film.

MI VIDA LOCA (1993)

Before LA's Echo Park was chock full of vegan restaurants and coffee shops, it was known to some as Echo Parque. Mi Vida Loca is a beautiful little indie about a group of Latina women caught up in the turmoil of gang life in East LA. Sad Girl and Mousie are two girls growing up in the eye of the storm and are introduced to gang life as a way to fit in. They’re best friends that share everything: secrets, clothing, the ever present gang girl lipstick, that time of the month, hair gel, and even end up having a child with the same vato, a drug dealer named Ernesto. Mi Vida Loca straddles the line between poignant docu-drama and Lifetime movie of the week and I am not ashamed to say that it does so perfectly. Bonus points for being a film directed by a woman and small cameos from Salma Hayek, Spike Jonze, Jason Lee, Danny Trejo, and Los Lobos.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 8/10

You could probably pack a pistol in the teased tower of hair that they called bangs, so that’s pretty clutch.

JUBILEE (1978)

Derek Jarman’s Jubilee is a mixed bag of time travel, punk sensibility and arthouse themes. There is many a dramatic soliloquy, about “this generation”, “society” and “history” and if you’re bored by these sorts of things, this movie might not be for you. The more interesting parts involve a girl gang consisting of a time traveling Queen Elizabeth I (whose punk persona is a power bitch named Bod), a human red panda named Mad, and a girl with the unfortunate moniker of Crabs. She’s the promiscuous one, so that nickname is no accident. The three girls go on a mini murder spree killing one of Crab’s conquests and a musician. So what’s next? Record a punk album à la Pussy Riot, carve things into each other, and attempt to castrate a cop. Ya know, girl stuff. Keep an eye out for a young Adam Ant and a cameo from Siouxsie and the Banshees.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 8/10

Being an accomplice to murder could be the ultimate act of bonding. It will also get you a lengthy jail sentence.

BAISE-MOI (2000)

Gavin Rossdale once crooned “There’s no sex in your violence.” But this was years before the conception of Baise-Moi, a controversial movie that some 15 years later is still not an easy film to watch. Lots of graphic unsimulated sex scenes and excessive violence have presumably earned this is a spot on one Gaspar Noe’s top ten lists somewhere. Manu is a professional slacker, drifting from loafing around with her drug addict friends to small scale money-making schemes. Nadine is a part time hooker, with a joie de vivre and a hair trigger temper. They come together after a rape and murder, respectively, and form a pansexual Thelma & Louise driving around and going H.A.M. in the underbelly of Southern France. This ain't Amélie’s Paris. Baise-Moi is a modern take on the ubiquitous rape-revenge exploitation genre of the 70s. Society took from them and now no fucks are given. Since we expect girls to feel things, Baise-Moi is an interesting look at challenging gender roles, even if it feels very empty at times.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 10/10

These two are nothing short of terrifying. If you see them at the club do not engage. Buying that round of tequila shots could cost you your life.

SKATE WITCHES (1986) 

Danny Plotnick squished so much (faux) angst into two perfect minutes of Super 8 film. This bite-sized clip introduces us to the Skate Witches, three girls who “don’t take NO crap from NO one”, and are not afraid to take your skateboard from you and then awkwardly skate away. Women are notably absent in the professional skateboarding world. If you give it a quick Google, the Wiki page for female pros holds a paltry 15 names while the male side is in the hundreds. The Skate Witches are ready to ollie through this glass ceiling, bro! The beauty of this clip is how the bad acting transcends into amazingness thanks to its leads and a juvenile script. Its all about faking it till you make it when you’re young, and the shit-talking is hilarious. Also membership into this gang requires that you own a pet rat, so there’s that.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 4/10

“You know the type, loud as a motor bike, but wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight”. I’m not convinced that these so called witches aren’t a bunch of posers who read glossy young adult novels under a blanket fort at night and hang with their granny on Sundays. That being said, I still like them.

THE WARRIORS (1979) 

The Warriors is a like a cinematic version of a convention for all of the costumed gangs of New York. Call it Comic Con with switchblades and rollerskates. Most are men, not afraid to embrace a satin waistcoat, fitted overall, or a straw fedora. Its funny what fashion missteps are bred from peer pressure (R.I.P. Nike Air Rift, may your toe-separating idealism remain forever in our hearts). Of all of the testosterone filled gangs in The Warriors, a group of girls stand out from the pack. The Lizzies are the girls you would meet at a bar in Williamsburg, an outfit with a little flavour for everyone. A Benetton ad with bite. Yet the Lizzies aren’t just a bunch of pretty faces, they are crafty, using one of the most dangerous weapons known to man: the art of seducing a horny bro. Luckily for the Warriors they haven’t mastered their hand-eye coordination when it comes to fighting but for one perfect moment they had the boys just where they wanted them.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 6/10

The Lizzies are the kind of gang I would want to join. There’s no set uniform, and they seem fun and tough at the same time. We could take a Beyoncé dance class or fight some construction worker catcallers that are giving us shit. Sounds likes a pretty chill Saturday night.

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975)

“I’d kill for that guy, know what I mean?” says Lace, the Shirley Temple faced part-time leader of the Jezebels, née The Dagger Debs. And that simple statement is a window into the mind of a teenage girl in love. This group of high school girls turn every encounter into a melodramatic Sweet Valley High novel. I see Switchblade Sisters as a movie that guys watch and wring their hands to saying, “This is why women can’t be president man, they just have so many feelings!” And we do. So get the fuck over it. Nevermind that half of the characters in this movie look like they are in their 30s. Is this a high school or a community college?. This Tarantino approved gem is not all after school special sweetness. Choice moments include one of the girls getting revenge via a toothy blowjob, a tough conversation about abortion, and gang rape, something that seems far too common in 70s cinema. What the hell was going on back then?!

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 6/10

I wish my high school had gangs, it was more like a choice between sports, being artsy, a nerd, or a stoner.

SIN CITY (2005)

Do you remember the first time you saw Frank Miller’s Sin City? Its visuals were pretty damn life-affirming. How did they make this comic book look so good?! It's filled with old school tropes: the men are cold and the women are sexy damsels in distress. Not so fast says the Girls of Olde Town! This group of prostitutes are not to be messed with, oozing sex appeal in the form of strategically placed leather panels and brandishing weapons they aren’t afraid to use. Men think the act of buying sex gives them power but these women were the ones calling the shot, shot, shots. If there was a movie girl gang that would have Rihanna as a member I think this is the one.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 8/10

Each woman has a weapon of choice as this is key to being successful in a girl gang. What do you bring to the table? Knife skills? A sharp shooting eye? A good queso recipe? A Bluray copy of Heathers? These are all important gang survival skills. You’ll thank me later.

THE CRAFT (1996)

Some 19 years later I still suffer from incurable FOMO over the fact that I wasn’t a member of the group of teen witches in The Craft. I was somewhere doodling to Björk or sewing flower patches on to my JNCOs when I could have been making people levitate or exacting revenge through alopecia. Life is full of missed opportunities! The Craft stands up due to its performances and really captures how much it sucks to be the new girl in high school. Neve Campbell, in her pre-Scream breakout role is serving ingenue realness. She’s got a sad backstory and a body covered in burn scars. Womp Womp. Enter four perfect human beings (alleged human beings) led by Fairuza Balk, badass babe of our dreams. She’s just the right amount of scary sexy. What ensues is high school drama with a supernatural twist, a fun soundtrack, and teen dreamboat Skeet Ulrich. Have you started rewatching it yet? What are you waiting for?

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 8/10

Women can be treacherous enough but giving them superpowers?! You’re pretty much dead.

GIRL GANG (1954)

Girl Gang is silly fun praying on the fear-mongering of the 50s. An evil man with a menacingly thin moustache convinces a group of girls to do his bidding by getting them hooked on heroin. Parents at the time were probably losing their shit. “This could happen to Debbie! Let’s buy a house in the suburbs, now! Leave everything!” By today’s standards it's very light, but it's hard to imagine watching this how-to guide to shooting up on the big screen back then. The biggest crime of this movie is that it makes heroin look boring in contrast to the euphoric hell ride that I’ve seen in many an episode of Intervention. Girl Gang is an early entry into the girl gang scape, it just sucks that they're being controlled by a man.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 3/10

These chicks are a snooze. Next gang!

DUNE (1984)

You could almost say that witches are the OG illuminati girl gang. They predate the biker chicks, the cholas, and the banshee teen girls you may encounter on a late night subway ride. The Bene Gesserit are a sisterhood of some follically challenged women who are only loyal to their woes and the all powerful Reverend Mother. Of all of the many colorful characters in Dune, these women will be forever ingrained in my mind. Revealing that much forehead and going the Whoopi no brow route is a confident look to pull off. Add their all-knowing nature, strict training guidelines and the ability to inhabit a demonic vocal range and we’re talking about some scary situations. David Lynch, I’mma let you finish but Alejandro Jodorowsky had the best concept for Dune of all time. Yes, it probably would have been a beautiful mess but I would have loved to see his treatment of the Bene Gesserit squad.

On a scale from three female celebrities taking a selfie together to a female prison gang with matching neck tattoos: 8/10

Committing to this group's look could be intense but being able to control people’s minds might be worth putting that SPF on your dome.

Girlhood is out in cinemas today