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Mark Hartley Unleashes “Machete Maidens”

Mark Hartley Unleashes “Machete Maidens” (photo)

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“I had no interest in doing another documentary after ‘Not Quite Hollywood,'” says Australian director Mark Hartley. It’s kind of a weird statement, since I’m talking to Hartley specifically because he made another documentary, a thoroughly entertaining chronicle of American exploitation filmmaking in the Philippines called “Machete Maidens Unleashed” (“Not Quite Hollywood” focused on exploitation films from Hartley’s homeland). Packed with great interviews and movie clips, edited with panache and wit, and featuring some incredible anecdotes about Roger Corman’s B-movie factory of the 1970s, New World Pictures, “Machete Maidens” certainly doesn’t feel like the work of a disinterested filmmaker. So how’d we get here, chatting about his film the day after a gala screening at Fantastic Fest? I asked Hartley what changed his mind, whether he thinks there are feminist messages in Women in Prison movies, and the morality of enjoying stuntwork that could have cost someone their life.

What was the origin of the project?

The origin of the project was long before I became involved. It started out with another film which is credited on the end of “Machete Maidens” called “The Search for Weng Weng.” It was an idea by a guy from Queensland named Andrew Leavold who is obsessed with Weng Weng [a three foot tall dwarf Filipino action star of the 1970s]. He went over to the Philippines and shot a lot of interviews with people in his search for Weng Weng. And when he got back they discovered that due to the nature of the conditions under which they were shot, none of the interviews were usable.

So I got called in by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who had initiated the project. I thought I should at least research the subject because I was flying to Brisbane to have a meeting with them. If I’m going to say no, I should be at least have some knowledge of the topic so I could say I was informed when I declined. But when I was doing the research, I realized it was a much more interesting story there.

The other thing is, after “Not Quite Hollywood,” Jamie Blanks, who was one of the editors of “Not Quite Hollywood” and did the score of “Machete Maidens” and who most people know as the director of “Urban Legend,” said to me, “You could make any documentary you want now. What would you like to do?” And I said, “Well, if I was going to make another documentary it would only be to meet my childhood film heroes, and the only way I could think to do that was to make a documentary on Roger Corman and the proteges of Corman. But we looked online and found that there was already a documentary being made about Corman. So we thought that was it.

But then months later when I did this research about Weng Weng, I realized this is the early period of New World Pictures. This is Corman going to the Philippines, Jack Hill, Joe Dante and Allan Arkush back in the cutting room selling these films, Jon Davison promoting them, all these guys I really loved. And I thought, “Maybe I can convince these people somehow that there’s a better story here.”

The representation of women in those Corman movies is interesting. Some of the people you interview think movies like “The Big Bird Cage” or “Black Mama, White Mama” are about female empowerment. And others completely disagree and say they were simply exploiting the actresses. Who do you side with?

I don’t think anyone’s right or wrong. And I certainly don’t think that I, as the filmmaker who’s documenting these other people’s stories, should tell people what’s right and what’s wrong. But it certainly makes for good drama if you’ve got different opinions.

I think the actresses really did think they were making liberating films over there. At that time, there were no roles for women. They had to go to the Philippines to get leading roles. These were films where they had their names above the title. That didn’t happen in Hollywood.

The stunts in these movies are just insane. And while that does make them more fun to watch, in the back of my mind, I’m always aware of the fact that if something looks dangerous, it probably was. People literally died for these movies.

It’s interesting. We have a section about stunts later in the film. Obviously we didn’t want to say at the front, “And they died.” You need to have people go “Whoa, that’s insane,” and then realize that it was insane for a very good reason: people were risking their lives and getting killed.

In a way, it does sort of make our film a bit of a downer from that point on. After that we’ve got “Apocalypse Now” and then you’ve got Weng Weng. By the time you get to Weng Weng, which should be the most insane, hilarious moment in the film, people aren’t enjoying it that much because they realize that there are some pretty heavy consequences. This stuff really is exploitation.

It was the same in “Not Quite Hollywood.” The stunts in the Australian films were insane too. People were doing it because there were no rules. And it’s the same in the Philippines. I think the Australian directors look like choir boys compared to what was going on there.

Corman himself is such an interesting figure. He’s so eloquent and classy in interviews, but his movies are so tawdry.

I have to say from the outset that Roger was incredibly generous. This is a documentary that he’s got nothing to do with. He doesn’t make a cent from it. And ultimately it’s capitalizing on the films he made over there. So it was just amazing that he said yes to an interview. It did take a lot of persuading, a lot of me getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning in Australia and constantly phoning New Horizons. And in the end I think they just felt sorry for me cause I kept setting the alarm clock every hour to get up and give him another call.

That period at New World really intrigues me because everyone talks about it being very magical. I worked for someone very much like Roger who paid me no money and exploited me. And I would never go out of my way to say anything nice about that guy. But no one has a bad word about Roger. So obviously there was something very special about that time at New World. They all believed they were getting the break that no one else would give them. When Dante and Arkush make films now they have to answer to forty people. With Roger it was one person. They knew if they gave Roger what he wanted they could do whatever they wanted. And I think they had a creative freedom that they haven’t had since.

What’s the legacy of these films?

I really can’t talk about the legacy of these films. But hopefully the legacy of documenting these films is going to be the people who are inspired to know that against the odds, anyone can make a film. You don’t need big budgets. You just need a gung ho attitude, some luck and a willingness to do something that is different than all the other stuff out there.

OK, last question. There’s a whole section of your doc about this trio of films known as “The Blood Island Series.” Why on earth would anyone live in a place called “Blood Island?

[laughs] Well they don’t live there! They just go and visit.

Then why go and visit a place called “Blood Island?” To me, that’s a place I don’t want to go.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s actually called “Blood Island.” It’s just a nickname. Those are pretty interesting films.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.