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Machete Maidens Unleashed [Import]
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Buxom beauties! Bizarre creatures! Gratuitous violence!
To the exploitation filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s there was no stunt too risky, no story too ridiculous, and no clothing that could not be removed in the name of mass entertainment. The name of the game was to move fast and cheap and to producers big and small the Philippines was the Promised Land, the Wild East of filmmaking where American producers were welcomed with open arms by an otherwise oppressive government and safety regulations were but a distant rumor from far off lands.
With MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED acclaimed filmmaker Mark Hartley (NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD) dives head first into the hidden history of the American backed Filipino production boom. Filled with outrageous footage from this lost era and firsthand accounts from Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Jack Hill and a host of others who experienced the madness live and in person MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED is a delirious ride through one of the most exhilarating periods of film history.
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The iconic Roger Corman serves as the starting point for these films, as many of them were made under his New World imprint. Corman brings his usual dry sense of humor and bottom line/all about the money efficiency. John Landis is hilarious and serves as the perfect hyperactive foil to Corman's coolly detached straight man. Joe Dante comes in and out with how the trailers for these films were cut--because with sleazy cinema like this, it's all about how you sell it to the audience. Getting butts into the drive-in stalls and grindhouses for beasts, breasts, and blood was the name of the game.
A lot of actors, directors and writers are here, giving their take on what it was like to be part of these wacky films. Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Dick Miller, Jack Hill, R. Lee Ermey, and many more tell their stories. They all acknowledge that with the exception of Grier, no one became a major star and her stardom came in part because she had been freshly discovered by Hill. But they seem okay with that and were essentially happy coming along for the ride. No one is jaded or nursing old wounds. Everyone is in good spirits and quick to point out the absurdity of the movies. No one was under any illusions that what they did was high art. Such self-awareness makes for enjoyable viewing.
The true highlight of the film is listening to the Filipino directors who headed many of these films. Eddie Romero, Cirio Santiago, and others give unique perspective into their sincerity for giving A-list effort to otherwise B and C, Y and Z-list movies. Their earnestness is charming and allows you to appreciate their work, no matter how cheesy.
The doc is edited to move fast, much like the movies it highlights. While that makes for good watching, it doesn't always allow for much insight. Topics, such as how little money/regard was given to Filipino stunt actors and the living nightmare that was the making of Coppola's Apocalypse Now sort of get a quick brushing over. It would have been nice to learn more about those topics.
All in all, Machete Maidens Unleashed is a very good primer to anyone interested in film history and b-movies in general.
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.