Machete Maidens Unleashed! Mark Hartley

Machete Maidens Unleashed! Mark Hartley
"Exploitation implies lower-budget and second-run. One of the things about low budget is you go where it's cheap to make a movie. And that's where the Philippines come in." So says director John Landis at the start of Machete Maidens Unleashed!, Mark Hartley's documentary about the history of Philippine exploitation cinema, with an emphasis on Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Not long after, Joe Dante and Corman reiterate that, first and foremost, the Philippines were inexpensive. This cold, hard truth hangs over much of the film. Machete Maidens Unleashed! follows the template of Not Quite Hollywood (2008), Hartley's wonderful documentary about trashy Australian genre movies: fast-paced, loaded with clips and packed with pithy talking-head interviews, including Pam Grier, Jack Hill and an especially funny John Landis. The problem is that these people so often reiterate how terrible the movies were that after a while it's hard to remember why we should care. The film is also a bit of a structural mess, bouncing from topic to topic without much depth and no clear arc. Once you've seen the goofy paper-mâché monster from Mad Doctor of Blood Island tear off several women's clothes, you start to get numb towards all those kung-fu fighting naked femmes in the various iterations of Cleopatra Wong and T.N.T. Jackson. Still, for all its flaws, it's awfully hard to dislike a movie like this. You want clips of women in prison being unconvincingly tortured? You got 'em. You want to see a three-foot-tall actor flying around with a jet pack? You got it (via James Bond spoof For Y'ur Height Only). You want a thorough, if superficial, summary of a film movement of questionable merit? You got it. You want funny stories about the utter shamelessness of some of these companies? Done. (My favourite: Joe Dante reveals that the New World marketing department fabricated that T.N.T. Jackson star Jeannie Bell won something called "The First-Annual Ebony Fist Award.") And, if nothing else, the film does contain my new favourite Roger Corman quote: "I didn't like The Big Doll House. I thought it had gone a little too far with the sex and violence. Then when I saw the grosses, my scruples faded away." (Films We Like)