Starring Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, Cirio H. Santiago, Joe Dante, John Landis, Andrea Cagan
Directed by Mark Hartley
Going into Machete Maidens Unleashed!, I was straining to recall even a handful of Filipino exploitation flicks. No stranger to video store shelves throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, I was familiar with director Cirio H. Santiago’s low-budget Platoon wannabes like Eye of the Eagle and The Expendables (22 years before Stallone), along with his woman vigilante cop thrillers Silk 1 & 2 and the greatest I Spit on Your Grave rip-off of all time, Naked Vengeance. But nothing else was springing to mind. So how was writer/director Mark Hartley going to have enough material to warrant a feature-length documentary on the Filipino grindhouse?
Hartley, of course, is the man responsible for the definitive chronicle of ozploitation, Not Quite Hollywood. A thorough examination of exploitation in the Australian film industry throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the breadth of Hartley’s work was far-reaching, entertaining and outstanding. He applies a similar approach to the topic of low-budget Filipino movies, assembling a treasure trove of talent to reflect upon their participation in what can only be described as one of the genre’s most shameless periods. Anecdotes fly fast and furious, and Hartley assembles the information so it’s consistently enjoyable, informative and never dull.
One of the best things about Machete Maidens Unleashed! is the sheer volume of contributors. Roger Corman is front and center, recalling the lure of the Philippines and why it was beneficial for New World Pictures to bunker down and produce there (here’s a hint, it was cheap). Joe Dante and Allan Arkush (director of Caddyshack II – a far shoddier movie than any discussed here) offer their own hilarious musings on things, citing New World’s Filipino foray as the primary inspiration for their own cult classic, Hollywood Boulevard. Even Dick Miller recounts an amazing chronicle about how Corman once tapped him to re-write a script after he complained about the story’s shortcomings. There’s no shortage of fun to be had here, and the interviewees are so candid that it often feels like the viewer is a participant in these hysterical conversations.
Maidens isn’t all about the anecdotes though. Harltey explores shifting political climate of the early 1970s when Ferdinand Marcos declared the Philippines a dictatorship, and explains exactly how it affected the film industry (seemingly, it didn’t). It’s also great that we get to hear from the Filipino producers and directors themselves. Guys like Eddie Romero and the aforementioned Cirio H. Santiago discuss their work as frankly as one could want, and they’ve maintained an air of pride while suffering no illusions.
Hartley strives for his work to be as comprehensive as possible, and Machete Maidens Unleashed! is no exception. In addition to the creative minds behind this Filipino madness, we’re treated to the expansive recollections of numerous cast members – each with their own story to tell. Hear about women’s dressing rooms doubling as men’s latrines, about how directors encouraged actors to beat the hell out of stuntmen for the sake of realism and, most horrifyingly, about how the utter absence of safety regulations resulted in the death of at least one stuntman. No one’s holding back here and the inclusion of these stories helps paint a portrait of what it was like to work under the most questionable filming conditions imaginable.
Digesting this subject matter is a veritable breeze, although Hartley doesn’t quite achieve the same level of success encountered in his previous outing. That’s because Machete Maidens Unleashed! has less scope to tackle. Not Quite Hollywood was divided into three segments of equal depth: sexploitation, action and horror, but Maidens doesn’t have the luxury of being so succinct. It begins by dissecting the handful of creature features produced throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s before segueing into the endless stream of ‘women in prison’ movies that dominated the market in the 1970s. That sort of morphs into a section on the kung fu/blaxploitation/war films before finishing up with an odd vignette on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. It’s there because Apocalypse was the biggest production ever to hit the Philippines, although its inclusion in a documentary about exploitation is a bit questionable.
It also could’ve gone a bit further. Hartley’s film concludes by offering a sprinkle of the earliest in ‘80s exploitation, but it seems odd to ignore a subgenre that might’ve succeeded the documentary a little more diversity. The ‘80s saw the Philippines exploitation paradigm shift to war and action movies modeled after Hollywood’s Vietnam offerings and it would’ve been nice to showcase a handful of this stuff as well. But Maidens ultimately works because it’s vested in the material. One need not spend countless hours wallowing through the mire that’s showcased here (although why wouldn’t you want to?) to gleam an appreciation for the subject. This is the cliff’s notes, an informative crash course in Filipino filmmaking that often finds itself right on target. You’re going to learn a little and laugh a lot. Mission accomplished from where I stand.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a hilarious and informative excavation of exploitation’s most forgotten realm. A must-see not only for all genre fans, but for anyone fascinated by the run-and-gun approach to low-budget filmmaking as well. Word on the street is that Mark Hartley is setting his sights the infamous Cannon Group as the subject of his next documentary tell-all. One that would likely encompass all the dance flicks, musicals, Vietnam epics, Charles Bronson vehicles, ninja massacres and, of course, horror movies that rolled out of the 1980s courtesy of partners Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus. My only question? Who do I have to sleep with to make that an immediate reality?
4 out of 5
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