Written by: FutureSlash
It's virtually impossible to intentionally make a true cult film.
Since the advent of the "midnight movie" way back in the early 1970s, filmmakers and studios have tried again and again to unlock the magic formula which will result in a film gaining the kind of dedicated and manic following enjoyed by films like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, DEATH RACE 2000, and FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! Film historians generally agree that ludicrous concepts, excessive sex and violence, and offbeat (if sometimes unintentional) humor are the primary ingredients of cult flicks, but few would-be auteurs have been able to deliberately find the correct mixture of these necessary elements to generate a genuine underground sensation at will. For every BOONDOCK SAINTS that comes along, there are seemingly a thousand SNAKES ON A PLANEs or BLACK SNAKE MOANs which promise fringe-dwelling moviegoers a truly over-the-top thrill ride but crash land with a dull thud upon release.
It isn't even that these aspiring cult hits aren't enjoyable films - many of them are well-made and quite fun to watch. The problem is that cult movies are, by definition, entertainments which attract the sort of viewer who doesn't like to conform, and refuses to be told by critics, mainstream audiences, or (especially) studio execs what they should or shouldn't like. The moment the marketing stooges at Paramount or Universal tell me (in between ads for Taco Bell and Geico) that a new picture is too cool for school, the skeptic in me takes over like Edward Hyde on a coke spree. That's why even classic modern schlock like KILL BILL, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, GRINDHOUSE, and PIRANHA 3D (fantastic though they are) aren't likely to ever become true cult films, in the purest sense of the term - real oddballs just won't buy their non-conformity at Hot Topic, no matter how cool it actually is.
That said, I have no doubt that MACHETE will become a true cult film in the decades to come.
The reasons are simple. First, MACHETE has all of the elements of a great cult movie, in spades. It's violent as hell, ridiculous as all get out, loaded with hot girls in little or no clothing, packed with straight-faced self-parody, fully stocked with some of the most quotable dialogue ever written for the cinema, and it delivers on every single delightfully absurd moment promised in the faux trailer from which it was birthed. On top of all of this cheese-tastic goodness, it has a true franchise antihero, a modern-day Mexican Snake Plissken who, with scarcely fifteen lines of dialogue in 90 minutes and a backstory thinner than a tortilla, manages to leave a truly indelible mark on celluloid history. Like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name in the 1960s, Shaft, Coffy, and Superfly in the 70s, and Rambo in the 1980s, Machete is a superhumanly cool, frighteningly badass SOB who audiences will want to see again.
And that's the main thing... Machete is exactly like a Mexican Shaft, or Slaughter (as in Jim Brown, not the 80s hair band), or Mr. T (as in the lead from TROUBLE MAN, not Clubber Lang/B.A. Baracus), or Hammer (as in Fred Williamson, not M.C.). He's a genuine 70s exploitation hero, in a movie that is genuine 70s exploitation. Yeah, there are cell phones and laptops and modern guns in the film. Yeah, the immigration plotline is ripped from today's headlines. Yeah, some of the actors in the film weren't even born then. But strip away these minor details and MACHETE is a movie that easily could have played in theaters in 1974, on a double bill with FOXY BROWN or HELL UP IN HARLEM. While KILL BILL, GRINDHOUSE, BLACK DYNAMITE, and PIRANHA 3D all very effectively emulate and satirize schlock cinema genres past, MACHETE authentically restores its genre to life. In the process of paying loving homage to your daddy's action trash cinema, Robert Rodriguez and company have created a film which can actually stand toe to toe with the ones it's celebrating. You can't watch Quentin Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS back-to-back with the original film bearing that title (or 1970's THE LOSERS, or THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE, or HUSTLER SQUAD, or...) and not see the glaring differences between the two. On the other hand, you could slip MACHETE right in between viewings of THE BORN LOSERS and BLACK CAESAR and not miss a single bone-crushing, blood-spattered, whitey-smashing beat. Watching it isn't like looking back on a better, bloodier time in cinema. Watching MACHETE is like being there.
That purity is what will gain MACHETE the sort of cult following that has eluded so many other films of its ilk since the drive-in days, in my opinion. The reason so many remakes, tributes, homages, rip-offs, knockoffs, reboots, etc., come down the pike these days is that Americans are desparate to recapture the lost joys of their youthful past, and movie studios have been trying in vain since the early 1990s to peddle them that nostalgic high at the multiplex. After so many attempts (some great, some awful, most just painfully mediocre), someone has finally made a film which is more than just a pale imitation of/winking nod to something we once loved. With MACHETE, Rodriguez has made an actual grindhouse film, the way they used to be made so long ago.
I can see Rodriguez making good on his promised sequels, and a small but fervent army of dedicated weirdos lining up on opening night to see them - some of them in full costume and carrying plastic machetes. I can see fan pages dedicated to the movie, and whole blogs filled with lurid (and mostly terrible) fan fiction about the titular hero and his gory exploits. I can see online comics, fan art galleries, and even homemade Youtube videos. I can see homemade t-shirts with slogans like, "I absolve you of all your sins. Now get the f@#% out of here!" and "Machete don't text!" showing up at comic conventions and movie marathons. With movies so readily accessible in this digital age, there aren't likely to be a lot of midnight theatrical runs. I can, however, imagine campus MACHETE parties, in which schlock lovers gather to watch the movie and take shots of tequila every time Machete nails a chick half his age or Steven Seagal takes out his bionic sword.
Twenty years from now, when the rest of the nostalgia trip reboots, re-imaginings, and rehashes are long forgotten by all but the most avid movie collectors, some film history books will dedicate at least a few sentences to MACHETE and its wonderfully earnest trashiness. Somewhere down the line, a celebrated Latin American public figure will confess to Katie Couric that MACHETE has been his favorite film ever since he first saw it as a child. Above all, MACHETE is the first film in this now decade plus wave of nostalgia which I believe someone will attempt to remake years from now, because it is so much its own, original entity that its nostalgic origins will eventually be overshadowed by its individual merits.
Whatever its longterm legacy, however, MACHETE was the most fun I've had in a theater in 2010. It may take the rest of the world 40 years to realize how great it is, but those of us with a true taste for old-fashioned, balls-out, boobs-and-bullets action will be celebrating it for the rest of our very strange lives. If not us, then who?