It may seem strange that I am beginning my coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival with a review of a film that is an English-language Australian-made documentary about predominantly American filmmakers working in the Phillipines, but it really isn’t. In a sense, this review is a disclaimer. Many of the films that I see over the next two weeks will be similar in nature to those that are documented in Machete Maidens Unleashed!. Asia has been pumping out exploitation-style films, and I want my opinion on the those films to be absolutely clear before this all begins. That being said, this is a review first and a disclaimer second. You are here to find out if Machete Maidens Unleashed! is worth your time and money. Check below for your answer.
[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the weeks as we bring you more reviews!]
I’m sorry, but I have to start with me: I love exploitation films. I love them so much that I spent my first semester of college doing an independent research project about them. Because of this, I consider myself to be a bit above average when it comes to knowledge on the topic of exploitation films. Be that as it may, one facet of the trend I never really paid much attention to was that of the American film made in foreign countries. That was a mistake.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is about the American practice of exploitation filmmakers creating films in the Phillipines, one that was common from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Movies needed to be cranked out by the dozens, and a real jungle added production values while the incredibly cheap labor added everything else. It was a kind of exploitation mecca. Being released only last year, the film is a 20+ year retrospective of the phenomenon by numerous people involved in the production of these Filipino exploitation films.
The film consists entirely of interviews, film footage, and trailer footage (including the glorious voiceovers that accompanied them). Film historians, critics, directors, actors, producers, and others tell the stories of themselves and of the films. Anyone who is wondering about the legitimacy of their interviewees can rest easy knowing that, yes, Roger Corman is there, and he is heavily featured. Every interview is interesting, and many of the stories are fascinating. Maybe you will have heard some of it before, but there is so much awesome information packed into 84 minutes that it is incredible, and all of that information is fantastic.
The real star of the show, though, is the exploitation film footage. At least two dozen films are shown (and talked about), ranging from Mad Doctor of Blood Island to The Hot Box to Apocalypse Now. If you are offended by topless women or over-the-top gore, then this movie is not for you. Exploitation films, if you are unaware, lived and died by their lurid, titillating material. Essentially every one featured violence, sex, and gore, and that is all on display in Machete Maidens Unleashed!. The viewer is bombarded with decapitations, removal of limbs, explosions, shootings, people getting hit by cars, stabbings, and clothes being ripped off. It’s awesome. There is no other way to describe it. It is simply amazing to watch footage from these films while the actors/directors/producers/marketers (and Roger Corman) talk about what it was like to be there and to make them.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is about an era of filmmaking that has long since died, and it does an incredible job of condensing nearly two decades into 84 minutes. Exploitation films were an incredibly important part of cinema, and though much of the film is about the films themselves, there are moments dealing with the implications of the films and their significance in the greater cinematic scheme. These moments are what make the film worth watching for the everyone else. If you love exploitation films, you already knew you wanted to see it. If you don’t love exploitation films, perhaps this film will change your mind.
Note: In the spirit of the exploitation double feature, this screening was immediately followed by that of the Filipino exploitation film Raw Force. I will be reviewing that film separately, so look for that later tonight!