From Amazons to Machete maidens

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Karen Kunawicz

Hollywood is on a rampage these days, trying to churn out big, heavily marketed films and blockbusters almost each week now. As such, I am once again suffering from blockbuster fatigue. Unfortunately, I feel that the new crop had more misses than hits.

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So after “Wonder Woman,” the next film I watched was a 2010 Australian made documentary aptly called “Machete Maidens Unleashed.” Written and directed by Mark Hartley, it chronicles the brief history of cheap exploitation films made in the Philippines for the US, European and Australian markets.

Made mostly in the ‘70s, these were a whole slew of drive-in and grind house films genre films. They usually fell in the horror and (rubber) monster, jungle epic, women in prison, kung fu hybrid and Blaxploitation category. These “producers” (actually mostly Roger Corman) had no money to spend for great scripts or acting talent but found out that they could make film in the Marcos-era Philippines for but a pittance.

They could get a hardworking crew and stuntmen for next to nothing—with no contracts really and no provisions for health and safety. They could also get cooperative locals who could speak English. Furthermore, they had not much in the way of regulation—they had easy access to our lush tropical jungles and the girls were pretty.

It all started in the late ‘60s with something called the “Blood Island” trilogy that the late Gerry de Leon and his then-apprentice (also the late) Eddie Romero helmed. From then on, it was a bizarre fiesta of films with, as John Landis put it, “boobs, beasts and blood.”

Apart from interviews with John Landis, actor Sid Haig, producer Roger Corman and the many actresses who had to bare their breasts, scream, fire weapons and do kung fu, there are also interviews with MRomero, Cirio Santiago, Nick Deocampo and Eddie Garcia. So much of the material was bizarre, haphazard, over the top, politically incorrect, funny and awful. One of the interviews referred to the Philippines as “the wild east,” and rightly so!

“Machete Maidens Unleashed” also pays homage to the midget actor WengWeng and his cult classic, “For Y’ur Height Only.” This was curious bygone era in the history of both local and Western cinema. By the time “Star Wars” and “Jaws” came out, it marked the beginning of the end for these types of movies.

But oh what splash they made. I don’t know if they’ll want anything to do with it but Joe Dante and Ron Howard and many other great directors and Hollywood talent have put in some kind of work with the Roger Corman films. And their influence is evident in the work of Quentin Tarantino.

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