Monday, November 21, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed (now available on home video)

[MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED is now available on home video.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Starting in the late sixties and continuing on into the early eighties, the Phillipine Islands played frequent host to low budget filmmakers looking for exotic locations on the cheap. The documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED takes a fond but not blindly nostalgic look back at these trashy jungle epics, interviewing the actors, directors and producers who made them and for some reason, John Landis, who just acts snarky and above it all, and poo-poos any suggestion that producers like Roger Corman and Sam Sherman had anything more on their minds than getting a movie in the can as cheaply as possible.

Well Mr. Landis can stuff it. Not only were these movies a lot of fun, they often really did sneak in subversive messages. Sherman is on his own, but while Corman's thriftiness is legendary, his insistence on including social commentary in the films he produced is just as well known. Of course those messages are rendered somewhat ironic by the fact that these films were made in a country ruled by a dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, but hey, nobody's perfect. It's the thought that counts, right?

Marcos probably would have dealt harshly with any native filmmakers producing films with the kind of revolutionary messages included in “Women in Prison” films like THE BIG BIRD CAGE and more traditional action flicks like BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (essentially a female version of THE DEFIANT ONES with more nudity, more violence, and Pam Grier). But for the American filmmakers cranking them out for drive-in audiences back home, he rolled out the red carpet. You need extras to play an army? How about the actual army?

Another seeming internal contradiction in these films was the mix of female empowerment with leering nudity and sex scenes. Feminism not being nearly the monolithic single philosophy some of its detractors (and adherents, for that matter) paint it as, different people will have different views of this, and those views are reflected in interviews with several of the female stars today. Some feel as though they were exploited, some feel as though movies like this were a rare chance to see women in the kind of roles traditionally reserved for men, and others fall at various points along the way in the middle. And of course John Landis has to offer up his point of view on the subject as well.

While it was Americans like Corman, Sherman, and John Ashley who bankrolled these films, oftentimes the guy in the director's chair was a Fillipino. Even before American exploitation producers discovered the islands, the Phillipines had a thriving movie industry. Guys like Eddie Romero and Bobby A. Suarez were more than happy to pick up extra work on these schlock fests, and in this way managed to spread a distinctly Fillipino vision to the rest of the world.

Very few of the films covered in this documentary are good in any traditional sense of that word. They do, however, deliver on what drive-in and grindhouse audiences of the time wanted: sex, violence, gore, and general weirdness. The reason these movies live on, though, is their uniqueness. A film like MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND may be horrible, but I guarantee you've never seen anything like it. And once you see the snippets of that and other films included in this documentary (in all their violent and sleazy glory, so be forewarned), you'll be ready to take the oath of the green blood and seek out these pieces of bizarre cinema history for yourself. Now if someone can just explain to me why John Landis was in this movie, and why he couldn't just as easily have been left out. 3 out of 4 stars.

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