"Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains" (1982)
Occupying a spot on the intersection between bad girl gang and band movie, more recently exemplified pretty well by Kristen Stewart's "The Runaways," 'Stains' centers around Corinne "Third Degree" Burns, played by a very young Diane Lane, and an equally young Marin Kanter and Laura Dern (who sued for emancipation to take the role) who together are The Stains, an all-girl band who make up for their lack of musical skill with attitude. In an effort to get out of their nowhere-nothing town, they talk their way onto a tour with aging glam rockers, The Metal Corpses, and their punk opening band, The Looters (played by Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, Paul Simonon from The Clash, with Ray Winstone as their singer). The Stains inspire girls everywhere, who copy their look and sayings, but their quick rise to fame has an equally quick descent. Despite its punk attitude, the movie has an overall bitter tone to it, with director Lou Adler making fun of everyone in sight, from the dimwitted media and the aging self-obsessed rockers, to the fair-weather audiences and yes-man managers. The film had a limited theatrical run on release, but found fans on late night cable, and the sole remaining print of the film has been kept in circulation. A cult classic for sure, it found a wider audience via its DVD release in 2008, and remains one of the best all-girl band movies with original tunes to match, unlike most music movies. "Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains" has been credited as the missing link between punk rock and riot grrrl, but one thing's for sure: its hard to not to be inspired by Burns. She's a sight to behold with skunk mullet, red and black eye make up, equal parts bitch and pout, and is endlessly quotable if you can find the right opportunity to say: "I'm perfect, but no one in this shit hole gets me, because I don't put out." [B]
Marking the directorial debut of Adrian Lyne (who would go on to make such steamy classics as "Flashdance" "Fatal Attraction" "9 ½ Weeks" and, um, "Jacob's Ladder"), "Foxes" tells the story of four female outcasts (Kandice Stroh, Marilyn Kagan, Cherie Currie and Jodie Foster) who bond over their generally shitty lives while living in the San Fernando valley in the late '70s. (Although released in 1980 this is a totally '70s movie, complete with a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack – even the movie's theme song was a jazzy instrumental version of Donna Summer's "On the Radio.") The trailer for "Foxes" is kind of sleazy and exploitative, with the narrator leeringly saying that they're "not exactly the girls next door," but the movie takes some dramatic turns (*SPOILER* one of them dies) and tackles some big issues, like abusive parents and illicit substances. It's unfortunate that the film is saddled with such a sexist title (it's based on an Angel song they play in the movie), considering how feminist the movie's ideals and imagery really are. Or maybe that makes it even more subversive? [B+]
“Death Proof” (2007)
Quentin Tarantino’s half of the “Grindhouse” double-bill itself plays out in two parts, the second so infinitely superior to the first that it almost feels like a comment on all the ways the first gets it wrong. Almost. Sleazy Stuntman Mike (a reptilian Kurt Russell) gets off on using his phallic stunt car to surprise, stun, and demolish beautiful women in the cold night air, escaping with wolfish glee. Little does he know, however, that he’s about to crash right into a group of beautiful daredevils fresh off a film shoot, headed by a stuntwoman (Zoe Bell) who doesn’t know when too fast is too fast. Tarantino’s breakneck road movie lulls you with quiet dialogue scenes and moments of meta-irony as it evolves from disreputable, misogynist genre fare into more modern, corrective retribution, with the trio (Bell, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms) taking Stuntman Mike from behind, delivering a dismantling that calls to mind the history of exploitation films, with cold hard men and the beautiful women who serve as their listless prey. But while the second part of the the film is definitely worthy of rehabilitation and would on its own merit a high grade, most of us (except Gabe perhaps) can't find it in our hearts to forgive the awfulness of the first hour or so, and thus, the rating is dragged down to a mediocre [B-/C+].
“Sucker Punch” (2011)
How much do we hate this “original” Zack Snyder joint? Let us count the ways: 1. My God, stop with the excessive slow motion already!
2. Worst. Soundtrack. Ever. Some awful “Where is My Mind” cover while a character is brought to an insane asylum, are you fucking kidding me?
3. Speed ramping, noooooo!
4. Ugly, garish and flat visuals that never look good. Sure, you may think it looks cool, but you’d be wrong.
5. Why is Carla Gugino doing a Russian accent?
6. Its silly, convoluted fantasy structure is boring, because there’s nothing at stake, so why should we give a shit what happens? Too late, we don’t.
7. No matter how many passionate defenses of the movie we come across (they are out there, believe it or not), we’ve never been convinced it’s anything other than an unintentionally hilarious, hackneyed vision of geek director indulgence. For better or worse (definitely worse), this is what unfiltered Snyder looks and sounds like.
8. Awkward, laughable transitions from “reality” to “fantasy” are as smooth as sandpaper.
9. Ludicrous script.
10. It has the gall to think it's a smart, feminist take on geek culture/tropes, but it fails miserably on almost every count, taking everything potentially empowering about the concept of the girl gang and putting it in service of a stupid man-child-geek fantasy. [D-]
"She-Devils on Wheels" (1968)
That the tagline for this late-'60s sexploitation flick is "See! Female Hellcats Ruling Their Men With Tire-Irons As Their Instruments Of Passion!" should maybe tell you all you need to know about the film. But there is quite some camp (maybe stoned-off-your-face) pleasure to be found now in the terrible acting and laughable plotting of this rival-bike-gang movie. And even with all its hokey creakiness (at times it's hard to hear the dialogue over the ambient wind or motorbike engines -- possibly a good thing for fans of people-talking-like-human-beings) there is still more genuine subversion here than in probably the rest of the list put together, with the titular She-Devils (actually a gang called the Man-Eaters) not just proving their superiority to their male counterparts in racing terms, but also during the bewildering orgy-style antics that go on afterward. And the moral, when one of them has to choose between a potential male lover and the spiky embrace of her girl gang, and goes for the latter, is actually surprisingly warm and progressive, setting it possibly above slicker, more recent fare than "Sucker Punch" for example. Still, approach, if at all, with irony gland fully functional. [C-]
There are a good few we know of that we've missed, notably Angelina Jolie vehicle "Foxfire" in which she forms a bond with other teenage girls after they take revenge on a sexually abusive teacher, and the Allison Anders movie "Mi Vida Loca" about the evolution of a hispanic girl gang in a poor urban neighborhood. Kristen Stewart's recent Joan Jett biopic "The Runaways" would qualify too, as would 1984 curio "Desperate Teenage Lovedolls," which chronicles the rise and fall of an all-girl punk band in a barely-above-home-movie style. In the exploitation vein, Troma weighed in with "Chopper Chicks in Zombietown," which we're not sure we need more than the title to understand, while nasty Britflick "Sket" focuses on girl gangs in London and aspires to Noel Clarke-style gritty urban realism but falls short. At the opposite end of the spectrum we find "D.E.B.S." which is such high-concept idiocy (a gang of plaid-skirt-wearing hottie schoolgirls including Jordana Brewster are recruited by the CIA) that we can't believe not one Playlister has seen it, but if they have, they're not owning up. And documentary "Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl" sounds like it might be an interesting factual accompaniment, even if the title kind of makes us want to cry.
And there are some films we skipped simply because the bad girl gangs they feature don't form a pivotal enough part of the overall story, like "13 Going On 30" (in which case the Six Chicks are very similar to the myriad school cliques we have mentioned) and Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah vehicle (!) "Taxi," which features a gang of Brazilian supermodel bank robbers (led by Gisele Bundchen). Feel free to point out any more, but be warned, we've our switchblades tucked in our denims, our sisters've got our backs and we're feeling... empowered. --Gabe Toro, Erik McClanahan, Katie Walsh, Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez, Sam Chater, Kieran McMahon, Jessica Kiang, Diana Drumm