Hokey Filipino Exploitation Flicks Get the Spotlight in Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)
Low-budget filmmaking has been around for as long as people have been making films, and such cost-cutting movies usually feature subject matter that is often regarded as exploitative as a way to secure a profit despite a shoestring budget. Yet not all cheapjack exploitation flicks come from the same place, a fact that is emphasized in the 2010 documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed!
I recently saw Machete Maidens through Netflix's on-demand service and it provides a lighthearted overview of grindhouse exploitation films from the late '50s up to the early '80s that were made in the Philippines during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. As the official Machete Maidens site proclaims, "Boasting cheap labour, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations, the Philippines was a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers whose renegade productions were soon engulfing drive-in screens around the globe like a tidal schlock-wave!"
Machete Maidens contextualizes where the grungy exploitation Filipino films fit within both American and international film history. Cast and crew members from many of these films are interviewed, including noted genre filmmakers such as Roger Corman, John Landis and Joe Dante. Landis' comments are hilarious, and the coverage of Dante's involvement in Filipino exploitation movies provides key insights into his approach to later work such as Piranha, The Howling and Gremlins. (Fun trivia fact: The "machete maidens" that are named in the documentary's title is a nod to Dante's 1976 parody of Filipino exploitation films, Hollywood Boulevard.)
Even though it provides a fun look into the absurd world of low-budget film production, Machete Maidens unintentionally puts the concept of free speech into a unique perspective. If a Filipino filmmaker wanted to make a movie in the '70s to examine and criticize the Marcos regime, that person would have been thrown in jail (or worse); however, if an American film producer who wanted to make a flick with gore, gunplay and gratuitous nudity in the Philippines during the same decade, Marcos would welcome that person with open arms and even permit the usage of real Filipino military equipment as props and real Filipino soldiers as extras(!).
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an amusing and informative documentary that I would recommend to anyone who has fond memories of the exploitation films that were shown in drive-ins and available for VHS rental at local video stores. For those who are particularly interested in low-budget exploitation horror, you might also want to check out The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds by Mike Howlett, a book that chronicles the publication of horror comics from the same era (although not from the Philippines).