Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010)

I was (and am) a huge admirer of Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, so the prospect of him taking on Filipino exploitation cinema struck me as a good thing; my own experience of the stuff is limited to a couple of Eddie Romero movies, Weng Weng (obviously) and Willie Milan’s remarkable W is War, so a primer on this sort of thing seemed like an excellent idea. There is a rather crucial distinction between the two films, though, in that NQH is about the Australian film industry but MMU is actually really about American exploitation cinema of the period that happened to use the Philippines as a filming location (especially those released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures) and not about the actual Filipino industry itself. Apparently there was a pragmatic reason for this, namely that, frankly, those films produced for US release still exist, whereas a lot of the films produced for the home market just don’t (the Philippines was the last country in the world to establish a film archive, as recently as last October). That said, there’s plenty of insight to be gained, and if the portrait of the local filmmaking style in the film and the DVD extras is accurate, then “cavalier” doesn’t begin to describe it. Indeed, in some respects the additional interview footage is where the really jaw-dropping stuff lies; there are astounding tales of insanely unsafe stuntwork, and a genuinely horrifying near-rape story involving performers who apparently thought they were being paid to really rape the actress. As if the country’s dodgy political situation wasn’t sufficiently troubling, you had situations like this that went beyond mere incompetence to something quite disturbing. Accordingly Machete Maidens Unleashed ends up (perhaps inadvertently) as a fairly unflattering portrait of the American producers like Corman who went to the Philippines to shoot films cos it was cheap, leaving a slightly bitter sense that these were indeed “exploitation films” in a darker way than usual…

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