Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)
By: Paul Ryan on August 15, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
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Director: Mark Hartley
Starring: Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, Judy Brown, R. Lee Ermey, Sid Haig
Screenplay: Mark Hartley
Country: Australia
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Having taken the audience through a rip-snorting potted history of Ozploitation with Not Quite Hollywood, director Mark Hartley now turns his attention to Filipinosploitation. More specifically, the countless sex-n'-violence epics produced in the Marcos-era Philippines, often under the aegis of New World Pictures or American International Pictures. Home to a not-inconsiderable local film industry (though prior to the late sixites, virtually none of its films were seen abroad), the favourable exchange rate, experienced - and cheap -crews and exotic locations made the Phillippines a popular place for American producers to churn out their B-grade (and below) opuses, which included the likes of The Big Doll House, Black Mama, White Mama, Up From The Depths and many, many more. It also gave rise to some uniquely demented home-grown product, such as the Bionic Boy films (kid martial artist vs firebreathing robot-dragon-thingy), The One-Armed Executioner (exactly what the title implies) and gotta-see-it-to-believe-it midget Bond rip-off, For Ur' Height Only. If there's one thing to be said about all of these productions, the folks involved never let things like story, production values, or occupational health and safety get in the way of turning a quick buck. Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an attempt to put this shambolic era of film production into some kind of context. Though messy in its approach, it is nonetheless hugely enjoyable.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is assembled in the same jolly style as Not Quite Hollywood, with colourful graphics, rapid-fire edits and often hilarious clips and interviews. Among the interviewees are Corman, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jack Hill, John Landis (whose caustic remarks are a highlight) and Brian Trenchard-Smith along with exploitationactors Sid Haig, Margaret Markov, Chris Mitchum, Darby Hinton and more. The local side is less well-represented, with the main contributing Filipino director being Eddie Romero (of the Blood Island trilogy, and such classics as Black Mama, White Mama and Beyond Atlantis), while the late Cirio H. Santiago (he of TNT Jackson and Vampire Hookers, among others) is represented by archive interviews. The most colourful of the directors profiled, Bobby A Suarez (of They Call Her Cleopatra Wong and the Bionic Boy films) is the one whose prescence is most missed here. A flamboyant (if not particularly talented) filmmaker who always got around on set with a loaded handgun in his belt, Suarez passed away just days before Hartley got to interview him.

Though never less than fascinating and entertaining, Machete Maidens Unleashed! does suffer from a lack of focus. Possibly due to a lack of available interviewees from the Filipino industry, the film feels unbalanced, with most of the anecdotes coming from the American participants. There are some insights into how the industry operated under the yoke of Ferdinand Marcos' reigime, but the excess of American commentators pulls the film into less relevant areas, such as the long digression into the production of Apocalypse Now. With the focus largely on the US-backed Corman productions, the native Filipino productions often feel like they've been covered as an afterthought. It's also a bit of a shame that there is no coverage of the various Cannon productions (such as the Missing In Action series) that were shot there in the 80s.

Unlike the pristine archive clips used in Not Quite Hollywood, the film excerpts featured here are of mostly poor quality, a combination of shoddy-to-non-existent Filipino filmarchiving (in a tropical climate, no less) and a lack of remastered material from the Corman archives. Despite these flaws, Machete Maidens Unleashed sheds a welcome light on a neglected corner of the film industry.
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