MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! is an antic verbal history of foreign exploitation film production, devoted in this case to the Phillippines, and the greater familiarity of the titles covered and the commentators discussing them made it an even warmer and funnier viewing experience.
It begins in the late 1950s when Gerardo de Leon got the ball rolling with TERROR IS A MAN (1959), then goes through the 1960s Hemisphere Pictures acquisitions directed by de Leon and Eddie Romero (including the "Blood Island" trilogy), subsequently devotes a large chunk of its running time to Jack Hill and Cirio H. Santiago's 1970s programmers for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, then sails into port with a look at the serial-influenced work of Bobby A. Suarez (THE BIONIC BOY, THEY CALL HER... CLEOPATRA WONG), which -- along with the changing political climate of the country where "the rich rule and the poor are shit" (according to director Brian Trenchard-Smith) -- drew the curtain on the Philippines production resources in the early 1980s. In terms of the story's chronology, the chosen turning point is the production of Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), in its emulation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" essentially a mega-budgeted war picture made in the style of BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA, which producer Roger Corman described to its star Margaret Markov as an exploitation version of THE DEFIANT ONES. Hartley doesn't mention Coppola's apprenticeship under Corman in the early 1960s, but he does counter Coppola's silly press conference boast "My movie isn't about Vietnam, it is Vietnam" with actor/military advisor R. Lee Ermey sneering "That was nothing like Vietnam," and its production designer Dean Tavoularis saying that you couldn't pay him enough to make him watch it again.
This irreverent but loving film is fraught with hilarious comments, but once in a while, one of them rings true in a serious way. For example, there is an interesting section in which a number of the actresses who worked on the Corman productions (who still look fabulous) discuss how appearing bare-breasted onscreen at that point in time became for them a kind of liberating, empowering act. There is also this candid, clear-headed comment from John Landis: "I think everyone's affection for those films is based in tolerance." And this is an important thing to remember because -- in Hartley's brilliant, inspired assemblange of all the best/silliest/most non-PC moments from this realm of filmmaking, and the way he complements these with sparkling, high energy commentary (which sometimes, even often, seems cobbled together to say something that no one person ever actually said) -- he doesn't really convey what a tough slog some of these films can be to get through; even the best of them have stretches that encourage the mind to wander. In short, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! may inadvertently misrepresent its subject because it's actually more entertaining than any single movie (or double feature!) it covers. The only real disappointment? No discussion of the Filipino Peter Lorre, Vic Diaz.
Viewed on Netflix.