ActionFest '11: Machete Maidens Unleashed Review

[Now screening at ActionFest, here is Todd's review of the latest cult-niche documentary from Mark Hartley]

In 2008 - armed with a deep love of cult film, a brace of insightful interviews with key figures, a mountain of skill at the editing board and a seemingly endless supply of jaw dropping B-movie clips to draw from - director Mark Hartley set out to take audiences on a guided tour of the wild world of Australian exploitation film in Not Quite Hollywood. The result was not just a wildly good time, deeply informative and a big hit on the international circuit but was also arguably a much more entertaining film than any of those it profiled. Even the good ones.

A couple years, later he's doing it again.

The subject this time is the explosion of exploitation film produced in the Philippines - dominantly by American companies - against the backdrop of the crushing Marcos regime. At a time when Filipino productions were severely limited and controlled the same crews manning those films were cranking out a seemingly endless supply of naked breasts, severed limbs and bizarre creatures under the watchful eye of cult king Roger Corman and others like him. It was a peculiar time that produced peculiar movies and Hartley dives in headlong with Machete Maidens Unleashed.

With the likes of Sid Haig, Joe Dante, Jack Hill, R Lee Ermey, Roger Corman and John Landis - whose head would likely explode if he smiled any more, the man was clearly having the time of his life - from the US side while Eddie Garcia, Efren Pinon and Eddie Romero lead a Filipino contingent, Hartley dives headlong into how this explosion of the perverse and bizarre came to be in the first place setting it all into context while also reveling in the sheer lunacy of the films he's putting on screen.

You like breasts? There are lots of them here, the large majority of them naked. Explosions? Lots of those, too, some also involving nudity. Malformed creatures, all female POW camps, and pint sized kung fu fighting secret agents? "It's what the audience wanted and we gave it to them!" declares Corman! Or, at least, he declares something similar on more than one occasion. Don't quote me on my quote.

On the interview side Landis seems to be having the most fun of the lot while Hill is the most willing to actually cast a critical eye on what they were doing and why. Corman - fresh off his lifetime achievement Oscar, remember - remains mostly reserved, with a sly grin held in reserve while Dante seems like he would be happy to just watch and giggle all day long. And who could blame him? These were ridiculous films made under ridiculous circumstances and all involved seem just plain surprised that they managed to get away with doing it for as long as they did.

Hartley dips into the serious side of things, too, don't get me wrong, but the director of this film seems abundantly aware that he needs to match the energy of those films if he is to have any chance of success and he does exactly that. This is one wild, wild ride.
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