Sunday, June 12, 2011


Mark Hartley, 2010
Starring: Roger Corman, John Landis, Sid Haig, Eddie Romero, Joe Dante

Written and directed by Mark Hartley, Machete Maidens Unleashed is the sophomore effort from the man who brought us the Aussie exploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood. Though I haven't seen that film, I am looking forward to renting it and very much enjoyed Machete Maidens Unleashed. It was fun, fast, full of interviews with directors and actors involved in the U.S.-Filipino exploitation scene in the '70s, and is chock full of entertaining clips.

As a fan of the genre, there wasn't a whole lot of information new to me, but it would be great for someone just getting into exploitation. Hartley's documentary explains how director/producer/entrepreneur/extraordinaire Roger Corman began financing U.S. exploitation films that were shot in the Philippines. The production costs were much cheaper, had a pre-existing exotic locale, and generally attracted directors and actors who were up for anything and anxious to get work. A few key films are featured -- The Big Bird House, White Mama Black Mama, TNT Jackson, Savage, and For Y'ur Height Only -- and they represent the best of the bunch. The focus is mainly on women-in-prison and jungle blaxploitation films, though there is a brief segment about Weng Weng, a Filipino midget who had a stint as an exploitation action star. There is also an inexplicable final segment about Coppola's Apocalypse Now. This was the only part of the film I found useless, mainly because Coppola's masterpiece is not an exploitation film and this information is covered in much more detail in other places.

The most interesting part of the documentary, for me anyway, was the involvement of the Filipino dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife, the notorious Imelda Marcos. Marcos guaranteed the American producers that with a little financial grease, they would be guaranteed full military access for fight scenes and helicopters, unlimited extras, as well as stuntmen untrained but willing to do anything. It seems impossible to believe this could happen anywhere now. There were no health or safety measures taken, whether for the Filipino extras or the American actors and crew.

Most of the interviewees are positive and diplomatic about this period of filmmaking, but John Landis is extremely candid and rounds out the documentary nicely. There are interviews with some of my favorite exploitation personalities like Corman, Sid Haig, Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry, Joe Dante, and Allan Arkush, as well as my two favorites, Jack Hill and Eddie Romero.

It definitely comes recommended and though it is a new documentary, still touring the festival circuit, I'm sure it will be available on DVD in a few months. For now I'd suggest following them on Facebook or visiting their webpage.

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