I never feel as though I can truly explain the appeal b-movies have for me. I usually end up mumbling something about how unpredictable they CAN be (although sadly, not often enough), or that, in the midst of an otherwise unbearable film, there may be one crystalline moment that is so good in relation to the surrounding badness that it has an extra pop that rarely happens in mainstream films. Whatever; even re-reading what I just wrote sounds like pure justification for guilty pleasures, gratuitous nudity, and mondo extreme filmmaking.
Luckily, as films like American Grindhouse, Not Quite Hollywood, and Machete Maidens prove (along with several others I haven't had a chance to see yet), I'm not the only one who has an appreciation for these flicks. Like the other two I mentioned, this one also concentrates on the underground/ b-movie industry of a particular country rather than a specific genre, in this case the Philippines. So we get clips from early 60's to late 70's horror, blaxploitation, war films, women's prison films, and, strangely, spy/kung fu/midget movies. Meanwhile, those actors and filmmakers who are still around comment on their roles in the industry, and there is usually some film critic to put the output in context.
The formula for these documentaries is fairly simply; if you've seen one, you'll know what to expect from the others. That isn't a knock against them - I don't know anything else that would be more effective. In Machete Maidens, we hear from stars Pam Grier and Sid Haig, and filmmakers Roger Corman and John Landis to name a few that might be more recognizable, plus some of the Filipino directors such as Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago.
Another reason this film may seem familiar in its structure is because director Mark Hartley also directed Not Quite Hollywood, which examines the b-movie output of Australia, and had previously made a career out of 'behind the scenes' documentaries of films that one usually finds in the special features section of DVD releases. Now, if that sort of minutiae about b-movie film and fringe filmmaking is in any way interesting to you, you are going to like Machete Maidens. Even if not, they are still entertaining - most of the best, strangest, and most humorous parts of the films are shown in short, easily digestible clips. My wife, who usually rolls her eyes when I reach for my stack of as-yet-unwatched DVDs, enjoyed Not Quite Hollywood, and would have probably like this one as well. If I had anything bad to say about the film, it would be the absence of an interview with the great stalwart Filipino actor Vic Diaz. We see him in a few clips, but his name is never even mentioned in passing, which makes me wonder if there wasn't some sort of legal reason for the snub. As far as I know, Diaz is still alive, although supposedly in ill health; it's too bad he couldn't have been a part of this. He played in so many of these films, it would be interesting to hear what he thought of them.
Recommended for film enthusiasts of all kinds, and for anyone who would like to be exposed in a minor way to some strange and often outlandish films.
Trust the Chief.