Monday, July 26, 2010

MIFF 2010 Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Dir. Mark Hartley
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: TBC
Running Time: 85mins

Have you heard of these movies? The Big Bird House? The Hot Box? Cleopatra Wong? How about Ebony, Ivory & Jade, Cover Girl Models, Night of the Cobra Woman, Beyond Atlantis, Dynamite Johnson, TNT Jackson, Savage! or Black Mama, White Mama? If not then you are in for a treat with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, an unofficial sequel to Mark Hartley's brilliant 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood that charted the history of Aussie genre films of the 1970s and '80s. All of those titles listed above, and others like The One-Armed Executioner and the Beast of Blood franchise, spawned out of the Filipino film industry with the help of American filmmakers like Roger Corman and now rank as near unknown and forgotten cult niche titles for the amusement of stoned college students.

The same crew that worked on Not Quite Hollywood - the opening night film of MIFF 2008 and my #6 film of that year - have again been assembled to craft this ode to Filipino action movies. Snappily edited, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is simply 85 minutes of clips from movies about nubile young actress firing rifles, karate chopping and waving machetes around in between bouts of baring their breasts while mud wrestling in jungle prisons and causing political uprisings through the backwater swamps of he Philippines.

Interspersed throughout all of this pan and scan insanity (most of the films have never been remastered for DVD release) are interviews with well-known directors like John Landis, Brian Trenchard-Smith and Joe Dante as well as notable behind the scenes figures like George Corman, Eddie Romero, Jack Hill and an assortment of actors that made a presence for themselves in this sub-genre of film. Names like Gloria Hendry, Margaret Markov, Colleen Camp, Judy Brown and Marlene Clark may not be familiar names, but they should be after you've heard their fascinating anecdotes about working in the jungles of the Philippines. Higher profile names like R Lee Ermy, Sid Haig and Chris Mitchum are also there for their own hilarious stories, but unfortunately Pam Grier, surely the biggest name to arise out of the Filipino genre films - she made The Big Doll House, Women in Cages, Twilight People, The Big Bird Cage and Black Mama, White Mama before blaxploitation hits Coffy and Foxy Brown made her a star - refused to be interviewed. While everyone seems at least partially ashamed of their contributions to cinema here, they are all open and admit to being willing participants. It's a shame that Grier didn't see it the same way.

"Rated R for Ridiculous", as the poster says, sums up Mark Hartley's second documentary feature perfectly. I haven't even got into titles such as For Y'ur Height Only that starred Filipino dwarf superstar Weng Weng as a James Bond spoof or Up from the Depths, which was made to cash in on the success of Piranha one year earlier. If movies such as Machete Maidens Unleashed! achieve anything substantial then it's making someone like me really want to seek out movies like Cleopatra Wong (nuns with assault rifles) and Dynamite Johnson (some undecipherable plot that involves a robotic dragon). Hopefully these titles get some sort of DVD release after this movie gets seen by the right people like many of the Ozploitation films did after Not Quite Hollywood.

Sadly, Machete Maidens doesn't achieve the levels of success that director Hartley had with Not Quite Hollywood. Whereas that film spanned various genres from sex comedies to horror and science fiction, this one is far more limited to the films it covers. It is easy to mistake many of the movie clips featured within as being all from the one movie about a group of sexy and sassy American women being held captive in a prison deep within the jungle wherein they must use their sexual force to break out of. There's also a distinct lack of passion compared to its predecessor. Perhaps its the fact that these films are even more obscure than Patrick or Dead-End Drive In of the so-called "Ozploitation" movement, but there's no effort made to show how the effects of these Filipino genre films are still being felt today. Perhaps the Filipino film industry is as closed tight as Imelda Marcos' box of secrets and umbrellas, but Machete Maidens Unleashed doesn't have quite the same insight. Nevertheless, it is still a wild and hilariously entertaining hour and a half of absurd insanity. B

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