The Unloved and Forgotten 1970s Exploitation Classic, 'The Muthers' (Not Exactly 'Hidden Figures')

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April 20th 2017

The Muthers

If "Hidden Figures" got you excited to see more films about black women triumphing over insurmountable odds, then let me suggest that you check out the 1976 exploitation classic, "The Muthers"... well, with some caveats.

First, let me state the obvious. “The Muthers” is not a great film. I dare say it isn’t even a good film. The acting is terrible, when it’s not wooden; the dialogue is laughable; the plot looks as if they made it up as they were going along; and the whole project reeks of cheese.

But it is also, without question, deliriously entertaining. When was the last time you saw not one, not two, but three sisters banding together to kick ass on the big screen? And isn't that something that we really want to see? Black people in powerful positions, whether physically, or otherwise, in movies. Is that too damn much to ask for?

Yes I know "Hidden Figures" was a terrific film but, I want to see sisters blowing sh*t up, beating up white guys and, of course, copious amounts of nudity. Once again I ask you, is that too much for a guy to ask for?

"The Muthers," starring Jeannie Bell, Trina Parks and Jayne Kennedy, came out in 1976 during the Golden Age of the Grindhouse Cinema; low budget exploitation films that packed audiences in every week, from the 1970s to the mid 80s, in rundown, rodent infested, seen better days, second-run movie theaters; whether you lived in New York, Philly, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston or wherever.

The Muthers 2

They were cheaply made genre films with no aspirations other than to entertain and take full advantage of the MPAA ratings system that had only been established a few years earlier, in late 1968.

Or, in other words, if it wasn’t rated “R,” it wasn’t any good. And if it was rated “PG,” then it had to be really, really good to satisfy us.

The film was directed by Cirio H. Santiago (who passed away in 2008), who is sadly all-but forgotten now; but he was a very familiar name during the 70s. When you saw his name as director, you knew exactly what you were going to get.

He was a Filipino filmmaker who directed over 50 films throughout his career, and produced even more in his native Philippines. All sleazy genre movies – women in prison movies, action films, horror movies and martial arts films, such as "The Big Bird Cage" (which gave Pam Grier one of her very first starring roles), "Ebony Ivory" and "Jade" (aka "She Devils in Chains"), "T.N. T. Jackson," and "The Big Doll House," among many others.

They were crude, fast paced, sadistically violent at times and reveled in sleaziness. Santiago wasn’t interested in art or aspiring to something higher or more profound. He was interested in giving the people what they wanted: action, violence and bare breasts. It’s not surprising that Quentin Tarantino once called Santiago a "major inspiration" for him.

And shooting exclusively in the Philippines had some great advantages. First of all, it was incredibly cheap to make films there, but another great benefit was that the Philippine army was very generous. You could get a lot of hardware from them for free; tanks, jeeps, weapons, boats, machine guns, cannons, helicopters, explosives etc, all for the taking. Just ask and it’s yours, free of charge. It was something that even Francis Ford Coppola learned when he was making "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines and was forced to take advantage of the army's generosity, when the Pentagon refused to loan him equipment for his film (I wonder if they still offer the same deal. I’ve got some scripts that could use them.)

The Muthers 3

The plot for "The Muthers" is all over the place, but it’s basically a pirates/women in a jungle prison/escape attempt/martial arts movie all rolled into one, and all in just 80 minutes. Even the trailer (below) can’t make sense of the entire plot; but who cares? As I said before, it’s three sisters kicking ass, and that makes it a perfect movie in my book.

The film is available on blu-ray in a special 2K restoration from the specialty label Vinegar Syndrome, which means that it now looks better than it ever did in the theaters when it first came out. But even more surprising is that the Turner Classic Movies cable channel will be broadcasting the film on early Saturday morning, June 3rd at 2:30AM (Eastern time), which means that TCM has definitely expanded its definition of what a classic film is.

As I've said, it's not one for the ages, but it's fun just to relive the good old days of cinema, when it was cheesy, unpretentious and fun for a moment.

Here's a trailer:

by Sergio Mims on April 20th 2017
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