DocEdge 2011: Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Australia | 2010 | Dir. Mark Hartley | English | 84 mins.

Australian filmmaker Mark Hartley now does for the Philippines what he did for ‘Ozploitation’ in 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood. Machete Maidens Unleashed! looks at the short-lived American–Filipino B-movie industry that thrived from the late-’60s to the early ’80s. At its peak, the industry would grind out “drive-in filler from Manila” at the rate of one film a week and export them back to the US for the voluminous grindhouse and exploitation B-movie audiences who would lap them up. The documentary expectedly culminates with what could perhaps be called the biggest-budget B-movie ever filmed under Ferdinand Marcos: Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, tales of the production of which are, of course, legendary.

Roger Corman and many of his employees at “New World Productions,” including Joe Dante and Jon Landis, are interviewed alongside Filipino directors and the surviving actors and actresses who actually appeared in the films. Though these ‘Maidens’ certainly make an appearance, “Unleashed” is probably the worst descriptor to retroactively apply to the interviews here, given the way the film has been constructed in the editing room: they’re very restrained, chopped up and stapled together with little regard for what’s actually being said. Interviewees appear in quick succession; the films in question are given only cursory inspection—at most the title and poster will flash quickly across the screen, sometimes so quickly it’s impossible to read—and the whole thing is relentlessly soundtracked with funk tunes. Thus, their comments are constrained to soundbites—rendering null and void anything that might be insightful—and deflating any emotional impact any of their comments might have. This is particularly annoying when it comes to the Filipino directors and actors, such as the late Eddie Romero (no relation to George), whose insights, at length, would have made this memorable and interesting, instead of simply a cheap, trashy tour through a portion of schock-film history.