Blood! Breasts! Beasts! A brutal orgy of ghastly terror! Busty babes, mutated monsters and midget secret agents, the Filipino genre films of the 70s and 80s had it all. Saturating drive-ins around the world, the Philippines became a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers with cheap labour, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations! The all-too often overlooked world of Filipino exploitation flicks gets the Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, MIFF 08) treatment in Machete Maidens Unleashed! Featuring interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Eddie Romero and a host of filmmakers, actors and critics, each with a story about a genre with no scruples, no scripts, no boundaries and – more often than not – no clothes. (MIFF)
(Based on screening at the Boston Underground Film Festival on March 25, 2011)
At the height of the drive-in theater boom during the 1960s and '70s, many American distributors looked outside of the country to churn out cheap exploitation fare for a quick profit. Plot, substance and expensive production values played second fiddle to excessive amounts of T&A and over-the-top blood and gore. If sets and actors could be recycled to spit out a handful of disposable features then so much the better, as long as a dollar was to be gained. One popular region that allowed filmmakers to "shoot first, ask questions later" was the Philippines, the subject of director Mark Hartley's newest documentary.
Hartley follows up his critically acclaimed 2008 film Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation with Machete Maidens Unleashed, a down and dirty look at the unique history of Filipino exploitation films. Similar in style to NQH, Hartley uses flashy colors, music and montages to complement the countless clips, trailers, taglines and interviews. Participants include a number of Filipino cinematic legends, as well as American directors Joe Dante, Jack Hill and John Landis, and actors Sid Haig, Pam Grier and R Lee Ermey.
In terms of genres, MMU leaves no stone unturned. It showcases the industry in its infancy with Eddie Romero's Blood Island trilogy (Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Brides of Blood, and Beast of Blood) in the late 1960s, with most of these productions portraying poorly made creatures chasing and eating scantily clad women. Other monster movies, such as The Twilight People, are variations of The Island of Dr. Moreau, featuring a mad scientist and his half-man, half-animal creations.
The focus soon shifts over to prolific New World Pictures producer Roger Corman's women-in-prison efforts including The Big Doll House, Women In Cages, and The Hot Box. What these movies lacked in story they more than made up for with abundant nudity (shower scenes were quite plentiful), torture and sleazy wardens. Actresses such as Judy Brown and Andrea Cagan share their experiences about the challenging weather, lack of safety precautions and debate as to whether these films unfairly exploited women or actually promoted feminism.
Rounding out the other notable topics are blaxploitation femme fatales (TNT Jackson, The Muthers), kung fu films (Cleopatra Wong) and spy parodies (For Your Height Only, Agent 00) starring the late Weng Weng, who due to his short stature remains one of the Philippinesí most recognizable movie icons.
Hartley manages to strike a wonderful balance between being humorous and educational. Brutally honest interviewees such as Landis and Dante provide hilarious commentary while Filipino actors such as Franco Guerrero (The One Armed Executioner) and Eddie Garcia (The Woman Hunt) share anecdotes about their careers in the industry. Reoccurring themes throughout the documentary include the notion that most Filipino crews were paid meager wages and wouldnít hesitate to perform life-threatening stunts (often resulting in serious injury, and in one instance, even death). Considerable attention is also paid to the turbulent social and political climate of the time, and how events such as the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 affected the content and distribution of film in the region.
Fans of NQH should thoroughly enjoy MMU, although those hoping for a more horror-related focus may be slightly disappointed and will have to look elsewhere for vampires, werewolves, zombies and supernatural boogeymen. Also, some information covered in its brisk 85-minute runtime could be repetitive for anyone who has already watched interviews featured on Shout Factory's superb Roger Corman Cult Classics or the infamous Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness, but this still shouldn't detract anyone from checking it out.
There are rumors that Hartley's next subject will be devoted to Cannon Films during the '70s and '80s (Exterminator 2, Invasion U.S.A., Death Wish 3). If this is indeed true, then fans of grindhouse cinema can rejoice in anticipation for the same labor of love to be given to the library of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies too. Anyone fortunate enough to check out NQH or MMU will walk away with a wealth of information and a true appreciation for the genre. If Hartley keeps his streak alive, he'll have given audiences an entertaining and informative trilogy of films that span across the vast exploitation landscape, and that's something we can all be thankful for.
Reviewed by Shaun Boutwell - March 29, 2011