Machete Maidens Unleashed! -- Film Review

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SYDNEY -- Mark Hartley again turns trash into treasure with his new documentary "Machete Maidens Unleashed!," a rowdy celebration of the exploitation-movie industry in the Philippines during the 1970s and '80s. There's blood and gore and bare breasts galore as Hartley lets loose a lurid cavalcade of clips from the schlocky fringes of American moviemaking, interspersed with funny behind-the-scenes anecdotes. (John Landis is particularly droll.)

It might lack the broad scope and a little of the untamed exuberance of Hartley's 2008 doc "Not Quite Hollywood," but it still is a wildly entertaining companion piece. The shift in focus from largely unseen Aussie genre films to titles from "King of the B-movies" Roger Corman should build on Hartley's fan base of genre buffs and open-minded cinephiles. Quentin Tarantino will be first in line.

During the early '70s, the Philippines was subjected to the Invasion of the Mutant B-Movie Producers. Exotic locations, cheap labor and a surprising willingness by dictator Ferdinand Marcos to turn a blind eye to rule-breaking lured such gung-ho filmmakers as Corman, Landis, Brian Trenchard-Smith and Joe Dante.

They began churning out fodder for the U.S. grindhouse circuit, mostly horror, action and blaxploitation flicks. Women-in-prison films were a staple, here giving rise to a near-numbing clip show of topless, mud-spattered, machete-wielding starlets wrestling behind bars and fleeing through the jungle.

Some of the talking heads make halfhearted stabs at intellectualizing the use of female action heroes -- Pam Grier got her start in such Filipino genre films as "The Big Doll House" and "Women in Cages" -- but most shuffle their feet as they recall their contribution to films including "Night of the Cobra Woman" and "Fly Me."

One of Corman's New World filmmakers sums up the spirit of the time: "You'd go to your cameraman and say, 'How long to make it excellent? How long to make it good? How long to get the image?' Then you'd get the image."

The images that sprouted from this obscure corner of junk culture are simply jaw-dropping, none more so than the sight of a 3-foot-tall Filipino named Weng Weng jump-kicking enemy kneecaps in the James Bond spoof "For Y'ur Height Only."

Brisk editing and an infectious level of enthusiasm from the directors, actors and producers interviewed help make up for the appalling quality of some of the footage.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: Bionic Boy Prods
Screenwriter-director: Mark Hartley
Producer: Veronica Fury
Director of photography: Karl von Moller
Music: Jamie Blanks
Editors: Sara Edwards, Mark Hartley
No rating, 85 minutes.
Sales: Celluloid Nightmares
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