Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/30/11 09:13:19

"A history of that great Filipino filmmaker, Roger Corman."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: I wonder where Mark Hartley's next stop will be. Hong Kong? Thailand? Indonesia? After spotlighting the exploitation cinema of Australia in "Not Quite Hollywood" and the Philippine Islands in "Machete Maidens Unleashed!", there must be other spots on the Pacific rim that he can give a look-in. "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" is maybe a little less informative than "Not Quite Hollywood", but it's certainly one of the more energetic movie-history docs you'll see.

As the opening narrative crawl tells us, the Philippines had a thriving film industry throughout much of the twentieth century. Starting in the 1960s, and especially the 1970s, it became a popular place for American exploitation filmmakers for its combination of skilled professionals, cheap labor, and varied environments. Roger Corman's New World Pictures, in particular, shot many of their most famous pictures there, sometimes with American directors like Jack Hill, other times with local talent like Eddie Romero.

Many viewers may come away wishing that the film focused more on Romero. His interview segments are fun to watch - he's one of the directors that looks back on his time working with Corman without shame and laughs nostalgically as he recalls making blood & guts pictures. When others talk about him and his work, though, it's with unusual respect; Corman and others describe how his shots would be beautifully framed and lit, and how he would put more effort into things like story and character development than Corman thought necessary (or even really desirable). His career extends many years in either direction away from his American exploitation pictures, and as the movie points out, he is a grandmaster of Filipino cinema.

Instead, the movie generally focuses on the likes of Corman, Hill, and the sort of American films that were made in the Philippines during this period. It's an entertaining, amusing take on the subject, to be sure; Hartley quickly jumps between a bunch of people with entertaining stories, great deliveries, and either a genuine love for the material or good memories of making it. Jack Hill, for instance, is a funny guy with great comic timing, and while some develop a clear shtick as the movie goes on - Joe Dante and Allan Arkush are going to interrupt each other talking about how cruddy the movies they cut trailers for back in the day were, and John Landis will mock the attempt to imbue these films with some sort of sociological significance - Hartley and fellow editor Sara Edwards cut the talking heads and film clips together in a zippy way. It's so fast-moving (but well-paced) that we don't notice until afterward that Roger Corman and American grindhouse pictures have been covered extensively before, and it's actually kind of a shame that familiar Corman material winds up dominating the less-well-known subject matter.

The quick pace does rather serve to highlight the scattered nature of the movie, too. It touches on a lot of subjects without going into a great deal of depth on any - the frequently revolutionary undertone to the films, the way the female roles were could be described as both exploitative and empowering (depending, of course, on the interests of the person making the argument), Francis Ford Coppola's misadventures making Apocalypse Now and other subjects all get a few minutes - and it's about 50/50 in terms of making the audience want to know more versus wondering why they went with that.

It's a fun survey, and it does an unusually good job in making the films it shows clips of look like fun even as the interview subjects run them down. It could have been really interesting, though, if it had stuck with the Filipino elements, since fans already know plenty about Corman.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.