Friday, December 9, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Documentarian Mark Hartley has made a name for himself chronicling cinematic histories that nobody else seems to want to touch. With his first film, Not Quite Hollywood, he explored the creative energy and weird anything goes vibe of the Australian exploitation movie scene. Along with countless trashy ones, some genuinely good films came out of that genre, such as George Miller's classic Mad Max, and Richard Franklin's demented horror film Patrick (which Hartley is now set to remake).

Now comes Hartley's second film, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, about the cinematic revolution in The Philippines through the 60's, 70's, and 80's, spurred on by schlock producer Roger Corman. Like the Ozsploitation scene, this is a lesser known piece of cinematic history that still deserves to be told.

The Philippines offered many resources for Corman to exploit: extremely cheap non-union labor, real life jungle sets, and stunt men willing to do anything for a buck. Corman made his movies there one after another, cheap and fast, utilizing many of the same actors and directors. He explored and exploited many genres there, including many Women in Prison films, some blaxploitation, martial arts, and horror. Most of these movies were, of course, terrible, but some of them do have their moments. Actors Pam Grier and Sid Haig cut their teeth making movies in The Philippines, and The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme got his start writing them. The fact that the movies were so trashy allowed him to sneak in some subversive political subtext in places where nobody would look.

Hartley's documentary is told in a series of interviews, with, among others, Corman himself, Grier and Haig, his trailer cutters Alan Arkush and Joe Dante, and director John Landis. The interviews are intercut with scenes from the movies themselves. There are a lot of interesting stories told. A particularly funny one is Arkush and Dante's story about the exploding helicopter, and how it found its way into many of the trailers they cut.

The history of Americans shooting their films in The Philippines ultimately culminates in Francis Ford Coppola bringing his infamous production of Apocalypse Now to the country. Since there's already an entire movie about how that went down, they just spend a few minutes on it, but it's still some of the most interesting stuff in the movie.

After Apocalypse Now, The Philippines started exporting their own products. We're introduced to Weng Weng, a dwarf action star who starred in James Bond spoofs such as "For Your Height Only". He was their first homegrown success story in the international scene.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an extremely interesting, often outrageous story. I love this kind of thing, I find the oddballs working on the fringe of the mainstream so much more interesting. I hope Mark Hartley keeps on making these documentaries and exposing the world to the stories behind all these weird grindhouse gems. Next up, he's telling the story of Cannon Films, the Israeli production company that produced the hilariously bad disco musical The Apple (WATCH IT, EVERYONE!), Breakin', its sequel, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, and Masters of the Universe. Can't wait!

Machete Maidens Unleashed! and Not Quite Hollywood are available on Netflix Instant if you want to see them.