Bare breasts, extreme violence and unashamedly incoherent plots. Just some of the ingredients which make the flurry of 1970s and 80s Filipino exploitation movies the hidden gems of grindhouse cinema.
I’ve written before about the Philippines and its vibrant but chaotic mish-mash of a culture. I’ve also said before, with great affection, that I’ve never met a Filipino who doesn’t have a streak of batshit crazy in them. So how I’ve only just delved into the goldmine of the country’s grindhouse films, is a serious oversight on my part. They are both a celebration of that Filipino crazy streak and, like the country, a melting pot of different influences; from kung fu flicks to women-in-prison films to Blaxploitation, every avenue of the exploitation genre is explored. Tarantino has often gushed about being a fan-boy for Philippines’ thrill-films, citing classics like ‘Ebony, Ivory and Jade’ and ‘They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong’ as key influences on his own career. And after falling down a YouTube rabbit hole of vintage trailers, you can see where his love came from. The films have all the ingredients of classic grindhouse- gratuitous violence and nudity, terrible props and every ‘ism’ in the book- but all on an unparalleled level of ridiculousness.
Rather than entering into a week long binge of Fili films, ‘Machete Maidens Unleashed!’ is a magnificent crash course in Filipino grindhouse. From director Mark Hartley, the man behind the excellent Ozploitation documentary, ‘Not Quite Hollywood’, the film chronicles the B-movie boom of the 1970s and 80s that came during the Philippines brutal Marcos’ dictatorship. While the country may have been under strict martial law, their small film industry somehow managed to cut loose on screen, quickly earning a reputation for having one of the most reckless, unregulated film scenes around. Readily available exotic locations coupled with dirt cheap labour, had filmmakers and B-movie stars flocking from all over the world. The same factors that lured Francis Ford Coppola to the Philippines for the infamous filming of ‘Apocalypse Now‘, where, in his own words, in the depths of the jungle, in the heat and with too much money to burn, they “little by little went insane”. Suddenly, that crazy streak makes a lot more sense.
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
With the same love and attention he poured into ‘Not Quite Hollywood’, Hartley has assembled a dizzying amount of guests for this comprehensive guide to Filipino exploitation films. In-between the barrage of tits, blood and papier mache props the candidness of his interviewees, including legendary Fili director Eddie Romero, is what makes this documentary a must-see, with blisteringly honest accounts of work conditions and the lack of rules on set.
They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong
The film said to be the driving influence behind ‘Kill Bill’, this is a gloriously badly acted girl power flick, with a lot of unnecessary high-kicking crotch shots and bizarre fight sequences.
The Killing Of Satan
If you don’t want to watch the rest of ‘The Killing of Satan’ on the strength of this clip alone, there is something wrong with you. Can you get stunning effects such as these with CGI today? I think not.
The ultimate Filipino exploitation flick, Raw Force has lashings of nudity and badly staged fights, to distract from the completely incoherent plot. But with hysterically brilliant moments such as a stripper gyrating topless in the midst of a bar brawl, you can forgive plot holes.
Though certainly not a B-Movie, the problems which hampered the filming of ‘Apocalypse Now’ put the Philippines on the movie map, but for all the wrong reasons. Typhoons destroyed the ambitious sets, the cast and workers were slowly losing their minds as filming in the tropics dragged and army equipment loaned to Coppola by the Marcos government, often disappeared off set to clamp down on the bubbling Filipino insurgence.
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