The Muthers (1976) Review by RevTerry

Preface: 
The following is written with humorous intentions. I do not support illegal activity of any kind. Media piracy and copy infringement are a crime.

 Seriously, if you like a film, give the people who made it money. This goes double for independent features or distributors that can sometimes live or die by your twenty dollar mail order. In the film industry you have a vote--a lot like the government only you do it with your wallet, and it actually works.

By some definitions, I was a pirate for a very long time. After bootlegging my share of tapes as a youngster, I jumped head first into the digital era's rapid-fire duplication and distribution technology. I took full advantage of the lax protection on early computer games and can look back fondly on the days when you could run a whole block on one Starcraft product key. Later, after Napster went down in 2001, I kept the neighborhood up to date on which P2P program to use next. I can't admit it when asked at work: “how do you know all this computer stuff?, but the truth is, I learned it all to steal shit. As far as digital piracy goes, I'm a retired crusty sailor from way back with an eye patch and a pegleg. But while that has its perks and shares a name with the aaargh kind, it's definitely not as cool. Sure, just at my fingertips, laid a world of media for the pillaging, and my expedition to booty ratio was probably better, but the lifestyle lacks any real adventure. There's some danger... well kind of. My day job regularly has me removing the malware from other’s naive attempts at locating the newest Marvel movie. And of course, copyright enforcement came into play but usually through a third party and in the form of passive aggression. Both the sea-fairing buccaneers and I had a code of sorts, so there are similarities. My plundering was just not as badass. For example, if my sister needed to catch up on a show or see a movie she couldn't find otherwise, she might have hit me up. If I didn't have it floating around in some form, I could get it-- simple enough. However, if she had fallen into some real trouble which might call for possible swashbuckling, I wouldn't have been much help. I don't think my net combing skills will come in handy if she gets herself locked up in a Filipino prison run by a murderous warlord. Nope, that would call for another type of pirate something like the ladies of The Muthers (1976).
Kelly (Jeannie Bell) and Anggie (Rosanne Katon) are pair of tough as nails thrillseekers with their own boat full of dirty pirate crew members. While making a living through oceanic armed larceny, the rambunctious group spends its days robbing yachts full of yuppies of their shit when not clashing for territory with rival gangs. One day after returning to the pirate commune from a particularly easy jack-move on a load of wealthy partygoers and a score-settling shootout with their nemesis Turko (John Montgomery), Kelly receives some troubling news. It seems her stubborn younger sister ran off some time ago, and the family is beginning to worry, as she usually turns back up after a day or so. Rumor has it that the sibling has entered an ominous placed called Santa Domingo and most likely has fallen into peril. Annoyed with her sister but not wanting to miss out on giving her a lecture/beating, Kelly begrudgingly takes Anggie to go look for her. After Santa Domingo is a bust, the two head into a bar to question the patrons and end up having to break the bones of several handsy drunks. Somewhere between ass-kickings, they are approached by a government agent investigating the local sexy-lady work camp (pretending to be a coffee plantation) run by Monteiro (Tony Carreon). According to the man, Kelly's sister has been locked up in the bloodthirsty tyrant's establishment, and there is little chance of escape. Having recently lost contact with his informant, probably due to death, he needs someone on the inside and promises to look the other way on the group's piracy business if the two agree to get themselves locked up. They comply, seeing the terrible strategy as the best chance to catch up to the wayward family member. Predictably, once inside, the ordeal becomes more complicated and the whole thing goes to shit, but they do make some new friends (Trina Parks as Marcie and Jayne Kennedy as Serena). Soft women-in-prison antics follow, including cruelty and showers, before the girls get sick of dry land and stage a breakout. Also, there's some more shooting, and everyone has really creative ways to almost not wear a shirt.
With no complete stops, The Muthers (1976) is a trashy leisure cruise through grindhouse concepts with an action-packed pirate theme. It's a flurry of well-used exploitation tropes, poured over a very basic jungle based chicks-in-chains flick that sets itself apart with its solid leads and quick flashes of adventure cheese. There isn't much of a story, just some classically diabolical bad guys, a gang of beautiful buccaneers and a checklist of borrowed concepts half stirred into the husk of The Big Doll House (1971).  It lays into several women-in-prison norms but feels more at home during fits of chaos on a cartoon battlefield. Inexplicably, the B-movie blend of tropes becomes its own with a flavor equal parts Foxy Brown (1974) and Missing in Action (1984). It leaves behind the usual pampered socialite doomed to learn a harsh lesson and supplants “take no shit” bandit queens, out to crush skulls. More scoundrels than victims, the enigmatic gang spends its time beating up handsy jerks or pulling nautical jack moves when not breaking in and out of prison. The movie relies on the WIP norms at choice moments but functions better with a spray of artillery. Those strictly looking for the subgenre's usual brand of sadism might be a little bummed with the focus being the breakout as opposed to the extreme atrocities of a scary prison somewhere. It has less to do with a female stuck in jail than it does someone taking a shitty deal knowing they will have to fight their way out. Fucked up shit goes down, but it only fuels the fires for comic book revenge, and soon after it rounds back to one-liners without many tears shed. Logic is thin all around, and nobody seems to be concerned with tragedy for long. Stacked next to its blood relatives, it seems almost tame with a unique flair for action. A sleazy tone picks up after the early swashbuckling leaves and sticks around till it ends, but it never gets grim. Despite the subject matter, the film is almost lighthearted, boiling down at most to sexy, one-lady armies laying waste to goons and talking shit to everyone. None of it makes any sense, but it comes out the other end as an entertaining ride through cliches with above average characters and a few boat scenes.
The film does its best to mimic the high-end Hollywood action films of its time using the skimpy and makeshift technical aspects of the average B-movie produced in the Philippines. There are some valiant attempts at grandeur during the intro that utilize bright colors and roving landscapes to create its own brand of stylized swashbuckling. It almost has a fucked up retro, live-action Disney thing going on before devolving into the basic cheap and dirty techniques of frugal jungle sleaze. The editing, while rough, isn't the worst of its kind, and outside of a few strange choices, does its part in scraping together a flow. There isn't a ton of fluff and the quick cuts of stripped down content help the film move along quickly.  A majority of the camera work is kept bare bones, avoiding the stock footage feel of some of its peers but also missing out on some scenic meandering. After the time spent on the beach, it moves to a plantation-like location deep in the jungle with a set that looks like it may have been assembled the day before. It gets some of the action right, other times brawls resemble a fucked up game of duck-duck-goose. The dubbing goes from semi-functional to disastrous, on several occasions coming closer to a Shaw brothers film than a Roger Corman production. The soundtrack chases the themes around the runtime with a different style and volume for each situation. Sometimes it's fitting, like rousing adventure tunes beachside showdowns but also things like loud funky basslines for tense torture scenes. Rushed, blunt and dirty, it is in standard form for the boom of Z grade productions coming from the Philippines at the time. My biggest nag is that I wish there were more straight pirate content. The fucking intro Robin Hood skit was gold, and I would have liked a whole movie of that kind of shit. I guess sweaty jungle torture huts are cheaper than naval warfare.
The Muthers (1976) was produced, written and directed by the legendary Cirio H. Santiago, king of fan service and lover of topless karate. He was one of Roger Corman's goto filmmakers at the time and fit the project between work on films like Cover Girl Models (1975) and Vampire Hookers (1978). Breaking into the American market with blaxploitation films Savage! (1973) and TNT Jackson (1974), Santiago gave the world three decades of trashy entertainment before his death in 2008, and I have too many personal favorites to name. Mustering an unprecedented amount of chemistry (along with the requisite badassery), the most consistent highlight of the film comes in the form of its female lead cast. 70s playmates/prior Santiago collaborators Jeannie Bell and Rosanne Katon play sexy-pirate managerial duo Kelly and Angie. Bell who previously starred as TNT Jackson, brings the similar role to its apex, turning otherwise cheesy dialog into damaging put-downs with her sheer presence and going for broke in the fight scenes. Rosanne Katon had worked with Santiago on Ebony, Ivory & Jade that same year, going on to pop up in a range of 80’s television roles and a few cult favorites like Motel Hell (1980). Here she can be seen putting in a considerable amount of the actual physical action, outside of the ridiculous wire assisted jumps (done with a double). Among the rest of the eventual escapees is Trina Parks who first comes to mind as “Thumper” from Diamonds Are Forever (1971), but honestly if you haven't seen her as Syreena in Darktown Strutters (1975), you should check that out (it's a fucking trip). The group does wonders with a nothing script and even adds a hint of realism at unexpected times. It's a great mix of "whatever works" directing and actors willing to make shit happen. While not Cirio H. Santiago’s best on the usual aspects, the left field combo of his eclectic style and the main performer's energy bring something fresh and just fucking awesome to the flood of similar movies from the time.
The Muthers is a low budget, over the top action adventure flick made from the abandoned remains of a jungle sleazefest. It's pure junk food with a twist on familiar flavors never truly replicated. A women-in-prison film with an identity crisis, it's not shocking enough to be counted among the notorious greats of the subgenres, but in its madness, it brings in values that rarely get play, in any genre really. Hollywood gives itself a pat on the back every time it includes a single female with a weapon, so in a fucked up way (that makes me sad), this movie still has them beat thirty-something years later. It is two playmates and a Bond girl spending a whole movie talking about beating up and/or robbing people when they are not doing it, which I enjoy the shit out of. It could use some more pirate action though, as it gives just a taste. I liked their style and could do with some pointers. If I was looking towards advancing in the field, robbing the rich assholes face to face on their luxury watercraft seems like a logical next step from where I left off.
1h 23min | 1976
 Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Writers: Cirio H. Santiago, Cyril St. James

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Review by:
RevTerry

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