Friday, July 8, 2011

DVD Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)

2 Disc Set DVD
Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 84 mins
Video: 1.77:1 Widescreen 16x9
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
Director: Mark Hartley
Cast: Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Sid Haig, Judy Brown, Jack Hill
Tagline: The Filipino Revolution That Even Marcos Couldn't Crush!

Mark Hartley's previous genre cinema documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD was a super-charged exploration of Australian exploitation cinema, a mesmerizing doc you watch with pen and paper in hand while you jot the names of films you may never have heard but the  film's combination of outrageous film clips and enthusiastic talking heads, Quentin Tarantino most notably, convinced me that these ozploitation films from down under NEEDED to seen, and the sooner the better.

This time out Hartley has aimed his lens on the renegade exploitation films of the Philippines from the 60's, 70's and 80's, these b-movies drive-in shlockers from the Wild East were a genre of film I was completely unfamiliar with. Where as with the slasher doc GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM I had seen 95% of those films, it was a greatest hits of slashers cinema but there wasn't much new under the sun for me to discover. With NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD I had at least seen MAD MAX and RAZORBACK but it really opened my eyes to quite a few films and filmmakers that had never popped up on my radar. Enter MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! - this may as well have been about cult films from the planet Mars, these films were totally new to me. I had only heard of THE BIG BIRD CAGE, that was the extent of my familiarity with any of the films and this was quite an introduction, it's definitely primed my urge to seek these films out in a big bad way.

The film starts with an introduction by director John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) who gives a great definition of exploitation and explains the three "B's"- blood, boobs and bombs. Landis is a cinema nut I could listen to for several lifetimes, he's witty, informed and totally enthusiastic about schlock cinema. The film concentrates on the three major players in the Filipino exploitation market beginning with the director Eddie Romero who brought forth the BLOOD ISLAND series of films and a successful tidal wave of demented and sleazy exploitation flicks. Then came the age of Cirio H. Santiago, a man who's mix of kung-fu action and blaxploitation resulted in T.N.T. JACKSON and SAVAGE, fun stuff, but apparently not a man known for quality filmmaking. John Davison, New World Marketing director observes "once Cirio started producing and directing, I mean, all bets were off in terms of product being half way decent", then recalling Roger Corman screaming into the phone "you really screwed me this time Cirio!" after a particularly disastrous screening, it's hilarious stuff and makes for compelling viewing. The third major Philippine filmmaker was Bobby Suarez, the PT Barnum of Filipino action films, who directed the nun-ploitation schlock-fest CLEOPATRA WONG, whom counts Tarantino among his worshippers, but again, his films were charmingly inept.

The film is as much a documentary of Roger Corman's involvement in bringing the Wild East exploitation to American drive-ins as it is anything else and there's some great interviews with the b-movie master himself, often rebuking allegations immediately following Joe Dante or John Landis chronicling his notoriously schlocky ways. Hearing Alan Arkush and Joe Dante (PIRANHA, THE HOWLING) recollect their time as trailer editors for Corman is priceless, its nearly slanderous, probably true and quite funny. There's interviews galore with b-movie queens, directors and critics. There's plenty of camera time given to director Jack Hill (THE BIG BIRD HOUSE) who seems to have a firm grasp on what kind of films were being made, Aussie Brian Trenchard-Smith (CUT AND RUN) who speaks a bit about the zany stuntmen, working with the Philippine military and explosives "experts" who may or may not have had missing fingers. The interviews with B-movie stars like  Gloria Hendry (SAVAGE SISTERS), Pam Grier (WOMEN IN CAGES), and genre legend Sid Haig (BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA) are chock full of insights and recollections of unsafe sets, shady goings on and just the general insanity of the era, it was like the west of exploitation cinema by all accounts. In a deleted with actress Marlene Clark (THE BEAST MUST DIE) she tells of a near disastrous scene where her character is raped by a group of dwarves (!?!) and during filming the little guys truly thought they were to actually rape her, she had to stop the scene and clarify the situation, that's the kind of sleazy behind-the-scene stuff we get here in abundance, these were mondo psychotronic films made in unsafe conditions without a safety net, really bizarre stuff.

Many of the filmmakers discuss making these films with the full cooperation with the Marcos regime, who were only too happy to supply military troupes and equipment to the productions when they weren't otherwise strafing rebel uprisings, it's such an weird but oddly appropriate setting for these sleazy grindhouse films. Of course, there's mention of Francis Ford Coppola's famously difficult shoot of APOCALYPSE NOW, the largest production ever to shoot in the Philippines, the films is a bit outside the film's sleazy b-movie scope but it felt appropriate, and any excuse for a R. Lee Ermey (FULL METAL JACKET) interview is appreciated and needs no explanation.

At times some of the interviewees attempt to argue that these sleazy, often racist exploitation films, turned out for a buck with a script held together by sweaty breasts, shower scenes and violence, entertained ideas of feminism which John Landis dismisses with no small amount of incredulity, but it's all in fun to me and if some of these b-movie queens felt empowered while they were being raped by dwarves, good for them.  

DVD: MACHETE MAIDEN UNLEASHED! is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen with optional English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio with no subtitle. The film looks great, there's a smorgasborg of the film clips are of varying quality but it's a sharp looking, well edited film. Special features include an entertaining commentary from Hartley and crew discussing the creation of the film, getting access to the cast and crew of the films, and a ton of anecdotal tidbits that make this a necessary watch if you love the film. There's nearly an hour of deleted interviews with John Landis, Joe Dante and Alan Arkusch, Paul Koslo, Marlene Clark, Sid Haig, Darby Hinton and more. They must've been excised for time because these are great bits, including the aforementioned Marlene Clark midget-rape fiasco. There's a fun "The Oath of Green Blood" which is a bit of marketing schlock genius and some test footage of the rather unfortunate creature from UP FROM THE DEPTHS, some Fantastic Fest Q+A audio and a featurette, extensive stills, posters and behind-the-scenes galleries, a theatrical trailer and perhaps the second best feature on the set; a 65 mins 'Filipino Exploitation Trailer Reel' featuring trailers for many of the films featured in the film. The best feature on the set is an honest to goodness Filipino exploitation film directed by Cirio H. Santiago THE MUTHERS (1975) starring the kick-ass Jeannie Bell (TNT JACKSON) presented in 16x9 widescreen. It tells the story of a sea pirate going undercover in a prison camp/coffee plantation. It's a great flick with torture, kung-fu, jungle action, women-in prison elements, and of course, a shower scene and breasts galore. Note, this is the  first time THE MUTHERS has been available in 16x9 widescreen, it's fun stuff. Many thanks to Umbrella Entertainment for stuffing this set with interesting extras that compliment the feature presentation. 

DISC 1 Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Director and Crew
- More Stories from the Cast (55:49) 16:9
- Filipino Exploitation Trailer Reel (65:54) Letterboxed
- The Oath of Green Blood (1:148) 4:3 Letterboxed
- "Up From The Depths" Monster Test Footage (3:14) 4:3 Letterboxed
- Fantastic Fest Red Carpet Featurette (4:33) 4:3 Letterboxed
- Fantastic Fest Q+A with Roger and Julie Corman, Hartley and Tim League
- Poster and Stills Gallery (100 images)
- Behind the Scenes Gallery (100 images)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:35) 16:9
- Easter Egg: Trailer for RAW FORCE (1:58) 4:3 Letterboxed

DISC 2 Special Features:
-Cirio Santiago's THE MUTHERS (1974) presented in 16x9 Widescreen

Verdict: I came to this film with no knowledge of Philippine exploitation but I walked away with not just a great appreciation for the Filipino schlock of yore but a serious hunger to stuff my eyes with as many of 'em as I can, I would say feed my brain but bringing your brain to these films might prove detrimental. Definitely a fun, fast-paced film that I highly recommend to anyone who loves cult cinema, grindhouse, schlock, exploitation or just plain bad cinema - a MUST WATCH for genre cinema fans. The film has also reaffirmed my love of Joe Dante and John Landis, two genius filmmakers who's love of schlock is contagious. What's next for Hartley? No clue but I for one would like to see him tackle the Italian exploitation films, that would be quite brilliant, wouldn't you agree? 4 outta 5

Umbrella Entertainment's MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! two-disc DVD can be ordered HERE.

For our Region 1 locked readers I will tell you that US distributor DARK SKY FILMS are releasing MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! in North America in late July. No special features have been announced thus far. I'm not 100% sure but I do not believe the R1 DVD will include THE MUTHERS either, to which I say GET YOURSELF A REGION FREE DVD PLAYER - there's a world of cinema out there - don't limit your collection.