Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood was quite the sensation. I liked it, but wasn't wowed. I did learn a lot, but dang… it was such a long, drawn out, overly exhaustive affair, I found myself fast-forwarding here and there as my attention span stalled. Had I known he also made Machete Maidens Unleashed!, I might well have put the DVD on the back-burner, but ignorance was bliss and a boon at the same time: I was glued to the TV as this movie bounced along, bare boobies and all. Only after end credits did I realize who the director was.
I'm not necessarily a fan of exploitative women in prison flicks, nor do I really seek out "bad movies" — but there was a certain era in which AIP and World Pictures were really firing on all cheapie cylinders and mining the very best in gung-ho b-movie talents both in front of, and behind the camera. Hartley very smartly chose a very narrow sub-genre of the Roger Corman creations, and focuses solely on the more joyous-style grindhouses in the Philippines from the early 70s - early 80s during the Marcos dictatorship.
Some of the behind-the-scene stories told by the talents — actors Sid Haig, Pam Grier, Patrick Wayne and Margaret Markov — and filmmakers — Joe Dante, Jack Hill, Brian Trenchard-Smith, and Corman, of course — are mind-blowing! Oh, what they got away with not only because it was a bygone era, but the country itself was a flat-out frontier where absolutely anything went. The animals in the jungle were almost as bold as the filmmakers; stories of rats eating kittens; actresses eating cockroaches; and snakes eating nearly everyone abound.
The soundbites from the interviews (of which there are MANY) are short, succinct, to the point and yet endlessly entertaining and informative, while the film clips are only the very best. I had heard of the more famed fare such as The Big Bird Cage, The Hot Box and Black Mamma White Mamma, but some of the off-shoots of these movies, such as a super-cheesy Dr. Moreau knockoff (technically, the animal-women are in prison, as they're caged, confined, and used and abused) called The Twilight People is a new discovery for me which I now absolutely must see!
More than just nudie nip-clips and salacious stories, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is actually a serious look at low budget filmmaking, how it's done, who pulls the strings, the methods through which they were released, and what the upshot was. Mostly focused on the Corman factory, Hartley's homage to the King of the B's is more informative and far less fawning than the more recent Hollywood Rebel doc that hit the festival walk late last year.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson