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Karate-kicking midgets! Paper-mache monsters! Busty babes with blades! Filipino genre films of the '70s and '80s had it all. Boasting cheap labour, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations, the Philippines was a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers whose renegade productions were soon engulfing drive-in screens around the globe like a tidal schlock-wave! At last, the all-too-often overlooked world of drive-in filler from Manilla gets the Mark Hartley (NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD) treatment in Machete Maidens Unleashed! This is the ultimate insiders' account of a faraway backlot where stunt men came cheap, plot was obsolete and the make-up guy was packing heat! Machete Maidens Unleashed! features interviews with cult movie icons Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Sid Haig, Eddie Romero and a large assembly of cast, crew and critics, each with a jaw-dropping story to tell about filmmaking with no budget, no scruples, no boundaries and - more often than not - no clothes.... Written by
This documentary with it's (deliberately?) misleading title, gives viewers a brief overview of the Filipino cult cinema of the sixties, seventies and eighties. In a seemingly endless string of fragmented interviews (some of the edits so short that the subject's title is flashed for a fleeting moment), the film tries to draw an overview of this period of American/Filipino co-productions. Archival footage is interspersed here and there, and occasionally we are given context.
Is it interesting? Yes, but as much as it is frustrating. For you will certainly find that the film never settles down from its opening moments. The pace of the film is that of one tempo, as if the editor was worried that we might lose interest, or as if the visual information was paramount and the factual information (something I'm more interested in than anecdotal) was a mere triviality. You will be bombarded with cuts and clips and cues for the duration of the film - it's an editing style borne from the free-to-air TV realm that transposes to the cinema with a terrible effect.
Also, the relentless funk soundtrack (the staple to the C-Grade Grindhouse films) undermined the interviewees' comments, robbing them of any memorable moment and washing them altogether with the same colour. I can't help but relate the style of this documentary with American style 20-to-1 type shows, where the interviewees are there to provide colour to a proposed topic, not to provide any real insight. This is the films worst crime, for Filipino film-makers we are shown are outnumbered five-to-one by the Americans, yet the tiny grabs we are given with these eccentric characters were far more interesting and exotic.
This film belongs on a commercial or pay TV network, but the limited audience and scope of the film will probably condemn it to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's schedule sometime in the near future. Wait for it then, for the cinema gives little to this difficult documentary.
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