Machete Maidens Unleashed!

When I first saw this cover I thought “Fuck yeah, an exploitation film”. They always make for an entertaining night. Then I noticed that it was made last year and I feared it was either a parody or a movie by a fan of exploitation films who wanted to make something in that genre (à la the recent grindhouse revival). Though when I read up on it I found that it was, in fact, a documentary on exploitation films made in the Philippines during the 60’s and 70’s. That’s all I needed, game on!

I’ll admit that, before watching this, I didn’t really know anything about the Filipino exploitation boom. I had definitely heard about some of the films mentioned (Brides of Blood, The Big Doll House) but I had no idea they were a part of a much larger body of work all made in the Philippines. This documentary really opened my eyes to all the films that were made simply because resources and labor were so cheap. And it gave me a lot of films to watch for future reviews! What up Weng Weng!

The Filipino war films brought the attention of American filmmakers and producers to the film industry in the Philippines, but it was the “Blood Island” films that made people realize there was money to be made. And, of course, Ferdinand Marcos welcomed Americans (and their money) with open arms. He would even allow filmmakers to use the army and military equipment for their films. Then once New World Pictures noticed the potential of shooting in the Philippines they began to crank out their “women in prison”, revolution/war and Blaxploitation films. The Philippines quickly became the place to shoot low-budget films. What’s better than tropical location, beautiful women, and cheap labor?

I enjoyed hearing about the American filmmakers who went to the Philippines to make movies, but it was the Filipino filmmakers working with American funding that I found the most fascinating. Of the four Filipino directors highlighted in the documentary, Eddie Romero seemed to be the shining star. He always set out to make the best film he could, with intricate plots and complex characters, while others were just trying to turn out as many films as possible. The interviews with some of the actors in these films were great as well. I love hearing first hand horror stories of the injuries, large insects, rodents and poor living conditions that come with shooting a low-budget film in a jungle.

My only gripe with this documentary: they focused way too much on Roger Corman and New World Pictures. I understand that Corman was the one producer financing the majority these films, but I wanted to hear more about the filmmakers and the stories/history behind the movies. It got a little old hearing about Corman and what it was like working for him. I should add a little caveat here. I’m as much of a fan of Roger Corman as anyone who loves B-movies can be, but I get tired of Corman fandom. Yes Corman gave a few of the film greats their start and yes NWP brought some amazing foreign films to US audiences, but the driving force behind many of the decisions was money. He may care about film, but he’s a businessman first. /rant

My favorite part of this documentary was John Landis, hands down. He wasn’t one of the filmmakers working in the Philippines, but he sure has a lot to say about the subject. I felt like he was the wild card, always making jokes and calling people out on their shit. Landis alone is worth the price of admission, imho.

So all-in-all, what did I think of Machete Maidens Unleashed!:

Not bad. I’d recommend this documentary for any fan of exploitation or low/no budget films as something fun to watch. Just don’t think you’re going to walk away with a Masters in Filipino exploitation films.

You can get your hands on this documentary here or on Netflix, if that’s your thing.