Reviewbr> "The truth is exploitation implies lower budget" - John Landis
Mark Hartley with Machete Maidens does for the Filipino exploitation scene of the 1970s and 1980s what Not Quite Hollywood did for the Ozploitation era. We get full exposure to the movies, movie makers, and actors that dominated one of the weirder cinematic sub-genres. We're talking papier-mache monsters, karate kicking midgets, and lots of babes with no tops on. Add in violence for violence sack, and you have a recipe for a Drive-In cinema industry. The surprising thing here is of course that Filipino Dictator Marcos was right across the concept.
[Editor's Note: Welcome to the 250th movie review on ScaryMinds. Naturally we have been holding back something special, in this case Machete Maidens Unleashed, take it away Enz!]
I was all over Not Quite Hollywood, a requirement for scaryminds reviewers, and dug every single moment of the fillum. So when the option of checking out Hartley's follow up was on offer I pushed people out of the way to get the DVD, oh hell yeah! Actually I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into as to be honest I'm not a devotee of the Filipino exploitation scene. Thinking about it I probably haven't seen any of the movies the documentary covers. So to a certain extent I found Machete Maidens dragged the chain as various people discussed their experiences and various movie trailers were thrown onto the screen. The saving grace was the high calibre of boobs on display, more on this later, yes slightly misogynist, build a bridge over your outrage Princess.
Hartley allows various people to tell their own stories to camera while building a structure that pretty much covers the subject matter. I gotta say I was impressed by the people Hartley managed to rope into the documentary. Besides dark genre luminaries Roger Corman and Joe Dante, we get heroes of the "B" grade grindhouse Sid Haig and R Lee Emery. Add in a whole bunch of former "starlets" and you have an interesting mix of views on the movies being made. I'm going to give Hartley a standing applause for also including Filipino Film makers.
The movies covered ranged from women's prison romps, through really bad horror flicks that make those big bug 1950s Hollywood lot outings look like Oscar material, to the bizarre concept of Weng Weng, a midget that does the whole James Bond schlock. The overriding battle cry for the movie markers involved was, "blood, breasts, and beasts". Low to no budget schlock was being pumped out to meet the demands of the U.S drive-ins. Surprisingly it did culminate in a decent movie being made, Francis Ford Coppola's anti-war movie Apocalypse Now, that pretty much spelled the end of a strange era of movie making. I guess the feeling was, who's not going to go catch a film featuring topless lesbians weilding machetes.
Well cover me with fish sauce and throw me in the pit of the lesbians
Hartley captures the whole sordid tale, but to be honest without any investment in the actual movies I found the documentary sluggish and not overly interesting. There's only so many talking heads you can deal with before things become stale. I did like the yarn however of some chick eating her salad with giant cockroaches climbing out of it, harsh conditions, betcha arse they were.
As stated above there are plenty of boobs on display, exploitation walks hand in hand with low budget it would seem. Hartley may have one of those recurrent themes happening here, in both Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens various chicks claim they were at the time helping out the feminist movement by displaying their boobs on camera. Not quite sure of the logic there, guess it's a breaking of social taboos or something, but at least we get our perv on. Hartley is safe in the knowledge here that he is simply reporting on the situation, via numerous gratuitous boob shoots, rather than layering on the exploitation via his documentary. Okay it's a small difference but vital to Hartley being viewed as a serious documentary maker. Apparently the unwritten law was you could show as much T&A as the Censors would allow you to get away with, as long as it didn't involve any full frontals. I'm sure any Feminists who might strangely be reading this will immediately have some Filipino exploitation ready to go at the next meeting of the Sisterhood.
What was awesome, and Hartley is all over this, was the ability of Movie Makers to call in help from the Filipino military. Need a chopper attack, see Turkey Shoot, then it's only a phone call away. Clearly Marcos saw the need for a local film industry, but didn't bother watching any of the actual movies being made. What this does mean of course is some pretty epic scenes being shot that far outweigh the budget being used.
As stated I found Machete Maidens slightly boring, the movies being discussed aren't that interesting to me - though I'm sure there's a site out there covering them in the same way we cover Downunder flicks, and the actual conditions weren't that new to anyone who has immersed themselves in low budget film making. To be honest I found the documentary a real disappointment, though I guess I'm glad I got to watch it finally. It won't put me off Mark Hartley's next outing, fingers crossed he hits either the Spanish scene or the Mexican one, so I guess no damage done. I would really only recommend Machete Maidens to film historians, fans of the whole Filipino fandango, or perhaps to those with an interest in movie making beyond the false plastic being pumped out of the Hollywood system.
The region four DVD release of the film, big props to Umbrella, includes more extras than you can throw a midget at, and a second disc with the movie The Muthers included. Now that's like total value for money kids!