Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Machete Maidens Unleashed!


Reviewed by: David Graham

Machete Maidens Unleashed! offers an enthusiastic overview of the explosion in exploitation film-making that Filipino culture made possible between the Sixties and Eighties. The makers of the warm and enlightening Not Quite Hollywood work a similar kind of magic with their chosen subject here, the array of talking heads keen to share their experience of a unique period in genre film-making. Mark Hartley's previous documentary served as a convenient primer for Ozploitation, a genre with a few genuine classics too long neglected, even in their homeland. This new doc is more of a smorgasboard of 'so bad, it's good' kitsch, films that cannot by any pretense be considered art and were probably just as cheesy in their day as they are now. As such, Hartley covers a wider variety of films in a little less detail, but still manages to paint every one of them - and each of their stars and directors - as a disreputably lovable rogue in cinematic history.

It's great to see such cult faves as Sid Haig and R Lee Ermey waxing lyrical about the extended holiday these films represented for them, and a whole host of sadly forgotten babes are more than happy to serve up their memories, as well as their feelings looking back on it all now. While the frenetic editing between speakers could give viewers with short attention spans whiplash, the contributions are always worthwhile and surprisingly balanced. This isn't just rose-tinted recounting for the sake of nostalgia; the importance of women and race in these films is also contested, with some of the participants seeing the movement as ground-breaking and liberating to an extent, while detractors (such as John Landis, not one to mince his words) debunk the artistic and intellectual merit that has been retrospectively attributed to many of the individual movies.

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Elsewhere, the film admirably delves into the social and political climate that made these grindhouse classics possible. The role of the infamous Marcos family in the industry is investigated, with some harrowing allegations and revelations that show the whole enterprise wasn't just Yankee fun in the jungle. Imelda Marcos in particular looms like a disturbing thundercloud over all beneath her, her obsession with showbiz and desire to be within its inner circle tragically engulfing her citizens, literally in the case of the horrifying construction of her own private Parthenon. Hartley offers a sobering reminder of the sacrifice that so many made to contribute to these less-than-stellar productions, forcing the audience to ponder - was it really worth it?

While at some points the breakneck pace of clips can make it feel like you're watching a trailer reel, if the film doesn't make you hungry for a taste of these debauched delicacies then you should probably seek a sense-of-humour transplant. There's everything from papier-mache monsters to whole films built around women in cages, while kung fu masters of every size, sex and colour fight for audience's affections with all-girl jungle revolutionaries. Hartley examines films in chronological order of the director responsible, giving each ouevre equal respect and exposure. What becomes clear is that the film-makers - especially those of Filipino origin - weren't just churnin' 'em out to make a cheap buck (although that certainly figured in their priorities), they were also trying to put as much love and care into them as their budgets and resources allowed, in an honourable bid to reach and entertain as wide an audience as possible. There's a sense of optimism and even innocence amidst their shameless devil-may-care antics.

While the documentary doesn't shy away from some of the more unscrupulous practices - local stuntmen were worked until they were hospitalised, and the local military was called away from its rebel-incinerating day-job for some cheap shots of machinery that made the films look more expensive than they could ever hope to be - it works as a love letter to a period where all bets were off and anything could happen.

The film is put together with such energy and style - frequently cutting to campy captions and lurid tints - that it becomes more than just a novelty fairground attraction, galvanising its different elements (stock footage, promotional artwork, interviews, clips) into something of a rollercoaster ride, albeit a bumpy one. Everyone from Roger Corman to Francis Ford Coppola is shown to have benefited greatly from that unique Filipino hospitality, and generations of viewers will hopefully find they can too if they give this hugely enjoyable documentary and the films it lovingly chronicles a chance. My Amazon shopping basket has just got a whole lot bigger anyway.

Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2011
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A documentary celebrating the Filipino exploitation films of the Seventies and Eighties, where lax health and safety regulations led to remarkable thrills.
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Director: Mark Hartley

Writer: Mark Hartley

Starring: Carmen Argenziano, Allan Arkush, John Ashley, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Pam Grier, John Landis

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Australia


Glasgow 2011

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