Wait a minute- who snuck an Australian film into the New York Asian Film Festival? Someone must be notified about this!
But we’ll give them a pass since Machete Maidens Unleashed! is all about Filipino exploitation films. The same guys that delivered the amazing Not Quite Hollywood, the documentary about the exploitation films of Australia, have focused their cameras on an even more obscure film industry.
You might know about some of these if you’re up on your exploitation. Arguably the most famous are Roger Corman’s “women in prison” flicks, an entire subgenre which has its roots here in the jungles of the Philippines. Films such as The Big Doll House, Women in Cages and so on were made there for a pittance. Horror, sexploitation, blaxpoitation, and then even military and action genres were all pumped out at an enormous rate, with classic titles like Blood Island and Cleopatra Wong. The biggest to be shot there by far was Apocalypse Now, which is briefly touched on. (Did you know that it had a troubled production? The things you learn!)
But the main focus is on all of these smaller films that were just cranked out with American actors in the lead and Filipinos rounding out the casts and crews, making obscene amounts of money back in the States on tiny investments in a place where life was cheap.
Sadly, the film’s major fault might be its own subject matter. The simple fact is that with the exception of the film that gave Martin Sheen a heart attack not a single one of these are good. This is a fascinating look into a film industry that you likely know nearly nothing about, but there are no forgotten gems here. People left Not Quite Hollywood with a massive list of films they had to hunt down and see if they haven’t already- Razorback, Patrick, Long Weekend, Road Games, etc. You came out excited to see the full things after hearing all the amazing behind-the-scenes stories and seeing glimpses of their insanity.
Not so with this one. Perhaps it’s the general down feeling from the directors and producers they interview, who seem somewhat ashamed about the whole thing. They went there because the natives owned all their own equipment and worked for cheap, and that’s it. If they had found somewhere cheaper they would have gone there and exploited those people as well. They got insane stunts and performances and managed to somehow do it with the support of the local fascist government, who even lent them military troops and helicopters for their shoots. (How did you think Apocalypse Now was able to afford all of those?)
I do have to admit to the burning desire to experience the great three-foot tall WENG WENG in For Your Height Only, though.
So don’t come into this expecting the infinitely rewatchable fun that Not Quite Hollywood is. Not that it has to be!
Really the fun of the film lies in the great interviews here from a wide variety of famous faces, like John Landis, Roger Corman and Joe Dante (who used to cut trailers for these films!), as well as notable exploitation directors like Jack Hill and Eddie Romero. A lot of actors (Sid Haig, Pam Grier) show up to offer their thoughts on whether the films were exploitative or empowering for women (take a wild guess), and the hellish living conditions down there. These are entertaining folks , but there are barely any Filipinos to lend their thoughts on the whole thing.
The blatant exploitation of a nation might leave you feeling a bit dirty but the slick production will doubtlessly please fans of obscure cinema.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Trailer is NSFW!
Machete Maidens is playing the New York Asian Film Festival this Saturday July 2nd at 10:15pm, and will be a double feature with an actual Filipino exploitation film called Raw Force! Check here for tickets.
More reviews from the 2011 NYAFF-