Here’s a statement I don’t often make, but I was super excited when the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films popped up on Netflix Instant not long ago. Now, I love a good geeky documentary, but I usually stumble across them while looking around instead of knowing about them ahead of time. But, Electric Boogaloo comes from Mark Hartley, the same guy who made Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens, the former of which is a masterpiece and the latter of which is highly entertaining.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, cousins, bought a US film company called Cannon Films that would go on to make some of the best and worst action and sci-fi movies of the next few decades. They particularly dealt with stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, but also made movies like Cyborg, Superman IV, Masters Of The Universe, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and more than I can even count.
The doc itself tells the story of how these two guys hustled, begged, borrowed and even stole their way to Hollywood success by making more movies than anyone could keep track of. Unfortunately (for them and audiences paying good money for a ticket) the movies tended to be pretty bad, but a goldmine for fans of less-than-perfect cinema like me and a lot of my friends.
Told at a breakneck pace, Electric Boogaloo feels like an open and honest recounting of a company that was neither. Everyone from producers and directors to editors and stars appeared on the film to talk about the slap-dash way some of their projects were put together and presented to the world in general. Ultimately, it’s a story of how quickly these two men and their company could rise and how fiery they eventually fell. The only downside is that Golam and Globus, who are both still alive, refused to appear in this film in order to do their own doc called The Go-Go Boys, which doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix. Actually, there’s one other downside: there’s no mention of James Cameron’s Spider-Man film which was set up there for a while. I’d like to have seen them talk about that, then again, maybe there’s a full doc in the works for that. I hope.
If there’s one documentary subject I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it’s filmmakers talking about the good old days of cheaply made schlock shown at drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. And I’m glad that people are not only making these movies, but also that the people who were involved are not only still alive, but also willing to talk about their experiences. While the excellent Not Quite Hollywood focused on these kinds of movies shot in Australia and the not as great American Grindhouse focused on its own obvious subject matter, Machete Maidens Unleashed set its sites on American films that were shot down in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. I actually just looked and the guy who directed this movie, Mark Hartley, also directed Not Quite and is the man behind the upcoming Canon Video doc which I am really looking forward to.
I actually didn’t even know this was a thing before reading the description on Netflix Instant (I, of course, was first drawn in by the poster image and then the title), but there was actually a full-fledged movie industry in the Philippines at the team that lots of producers and directors like Roger Corman and Joe Dante took advantage of because of the low, low cost. At one point, one of the filmmakers in the doc said something along the lines of “The film was cheap and human life was even cheaper,” referencing the lengths local actors and stuntmen would go to put their lives on the line to get just the right shot. Fight scenes were filmed so that people were actually beating the crap out of each other and a lot of the explosions going off and glass being broken were real. It’s the kind of thing that, today, would create a public outcry for human safety, but at that place and that time, those apparently weren’t big concerns.
There are two aspects of this film that make it so interesting aside from the subject matter itself. First off, it seems like everyone who’s still alive agreed to be interviewed for this flick. Heck, John Landis is there and I don’t even think he shot a movie in the Philippines! That dude just loves to talk about these kinds of movies (he’s also in American Grindhouse). I already mentioned Corman and Dante, but tons of people appear in this movie: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, R. Lee Ermey, Dick Miller, Brian Trenchard-Smith, seemingly every hopeful starlet who appeared topless in those movies and several local filmmakers. Everyone is very open, honest and entertaining when it comes to relating their experiences. The second aspect of this movie that really makes it great and seems to be a trademark of Hartley’s, is the quick and efficient editing of the picture. There isn’t a wasted moment in this flick and, at the same time it doesn’t feel rushed.
If you love bad movies of years gone by, exploitation cinema or are just interested in some of the less glamorous corners of the film business, I highly recommend giving Machete Maidens Unleashed a watch.