Monday, July 25, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) Arrives On DVD!

(My review copy was the Australian All Region/PAL DVD edition. Machete Maidens Unleashed will be available on DVD in America on 26 July. Check your local or online retailers!!!)

Ever since I read some anecdotes from Allan Arkush and Joe Dante in a book about Roger Corman from Starlog magazine writer Ed Naha, I've been fascinated by the work of these sorts of filmmakers in the 1970s.

The stories in that book detail a sort of 'all bets are off'-style of making a picture, as well as a good deal of exploitative know-how from Roger Corman. The guy's trailer editors exhibited a lot of wit and creative license when trying to market a B-film shot in the Philippines to audiences in American drive-in theaters.

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010), from director Mark Hartley and producer Veronica Fury, is 84 minutes of pure joy for lovers of cheap (and fun) cinema. The film also fleshes out those Corman anecdotes into a full-length tale about the mix of Filipino and American B-movie talents during the glory days of grindhouse cinema.

The film wisely divides its time between pioneers of the Filipino B-movie industry, like Eddie Romero, and the Americans, like Roger Corman, who saw the Philippines in the 1970s as a cheap place to make a film. That said, I'd still like to see more about Eddie Romero and star John Ashley as I think there's a lot of stories probably left to tell about their low budget exploits.

What makes Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) such a joy to watch is that the documentary displays a lot of fondness for this era, no matter how limited the talents of some of the individuals involved. The documentary walks a fine line which never quite turns into outright derision, no matter how ridiculous the film involved.

What's always missing in a lot Tarantino's work is that he manages to name-check all of the right things -- his taste is great, obviously -- but he misses a lot of the joy; Inglourious Basterds (2009) is surely never as much fun to watch as the original Fred Williamson film it's ripping-off/referencing.

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) reminds a viewer of an era of exploitation glory, where a film about women being tortured in a jungle prison camp was somehow not the stuff of horror but of empowerment.

Featuring interviews with action heroines like Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry, and Rosanne Katon, the film also serves as a sort of feminist take on blaxsploitation; instead of the macho male black hero, these flicks were sometimes lead by Pam, or another African-American actress, and they ended up being tales of not only racial empowerment, but sexual as well. As Pam leads a group of battered women out of a jungle prison, the viewer is witnessing both a cheap-but-fun actioneer but also one of the only venues where a black woman could dominate a motion picture in the 1970s.

Jeanne Bell, seen here in plenty of clips but not in any interview segments, was another African-American B-movie queen but she always looked a little softer than Pam Grier, maybe not quite as believable when playing a hard-and-fast action heroine.

Bond girl Gloria Hendry (1973's Live And Let Die) is here, as well as Jayne Kennedy (star of 1976's The Muthers, on disc 2 of this DVD edition), but it's Playboy Playmate -- Miss September of 1978 -- Rosanne Katon who still captivates. Ms. Katon clearly gets the appeal of these films. Without taking herself too seriously, she understands why these films were so popular. With her girl-next-door looks, Ms. Katon managed to look so wholesome and fresh-faced even when kung fu-ing her way out of a jungle in the Philippines.

The coverage of Apocalypse Now (1979) is de rigueur, I suppose, given that Coppola shot his epic in the Philippines. That coverage also manages to link up the political turmoil in the country with the American filmmakers using the place as a locale for so many tales of escaping from oppression; the irony of a fascist ruler imposing martial law while Americans were making films about women breaking out of work-camps is the sort of thing I never considered until seeing Machete Maidens Unleashes (2010).

Director John Landis is also quite funny in his interview segments, though he might seem a bit too cynical; yes, the films under review here were largely exploitative but they were still enjoyable and tawdry bits of fun.

I don't want to reveal all of the pleasures of this documentary but Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) is essential viewing for fans of exploitation cinema. There's a lot of love for these genre pictures here and I as a viewer very much appreciated that.

Just seeing recent interviews with legends like Jack Hill, Pam Grier, and Sig Haig was a great thing.

There are also segments on the Cleopatra Wong pictures which I have yet to see, though I've read about them.

The bonus features on this Australia DVD are numerous, including 55-minutes of additional interview segments, and more than an hour of exploitation trailers for most of the films covered in the documentary. Unfortunately, the trailers are included in one long DVD chapter!

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) is on DVD now at all the usual online retailers!