I wish I could say Machete Joe is a good film. I wish I could say I enjoyed it. More than anything, I wish I could recommend it because, in a very, very specific but important way, I’d like to see more films like Machete Joe.
Let’s start with why I can’t get behind this film.
Well, as I implied, it’s simply not a good movie. The acting, with very few exceptions (we’ll get to those) is absolutely abysmal. At times, it almost seems as though the dialogue has been dubbed. I’m not sure if this is due to bad sound mixing, bad ADR, or an almost supernatural ability among the actors to actually make their performances that much less enjoyable. Anything’s possible.
On the technical side, the nicest, most generous way to describe Machete Joe is as a slightly above average student film. First year student film. The kind that gets a shrug from the other students and a polite nod from the instructor.
The photography is flat and never takes full advantage of what should have been a can’t-miss setting (it’s shot in a freakin’ castle). The editing is inept, with actors that were side by side suddenly facing each other as continuity is left on the cutting room floor.
The film includes three rape scenes in its first fifteen minutes, though, to be fair, they are neither graphic nor gratuitous. The few attempts at creating tension fall completely flat, mainly because we haven’t just stopped caring about the characters, we never did care to begin with. The kills are dull and the effects basic at best.
Then again, the script simply wasn’t much to work with. The first two thirds of the movie are dedicated to tedious arguments between the members of the cast and crew on a low-budget movie shoot. For the most part, these discussions all amount to the battle between commercial viability and artistic integrity, a conflict so tired that, in other movies, it’s more often used as a source of cheap laughs than it is serious drama.
And this film could’ve used some laughs. This thing takes itself so damn seriously. This one is meant to Mean Something, folks. But as one of the characters says, “It’s just a horror movie!” I’m not saying horror movies can’t have meaning, but it takes a massive amount of talent to pull it off and, even then, many of the greatest horror films were just that, horror films (to wit: John Carpenter speaking about Halloween: “We were just trying to make a movie, man!”).
But the makers of Machete Joe simply did not have the requisite talent. And the saddest thing is that they actually did manage to get some talented people involved. The film stars Erica Gimpel (Wallace’s mom on Veronica Mars) and features incredibly brief appearances by Ernie Hudson and Art Evans. It’s actually a little heartbreaking to see these three in a film like Machete Joe, trying to do their best—especially Gimpel—with so very little. But, then again . . .
I think I know why they would have agreed to be in the film. See, people of colour make up the majority of Machete Joe’s cast. This may not seem like a big deal but, unfortunately, for a Slasher film, it is. It’s a very big deal. People of colour continue to be woefully underrepresented in Slasher films and I have to give the makers of Machete Joe credit for trying to fix that.
And that’s the reason, the reason I wish—really wish—I could tell you to go watch this film. But I can’t. It’s simply not good enough. A low budget is no excuse. Reeker, Malevolence, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon are all recent Slasher films made for very little, and they are far, far better than Machete Joe. Unfortunately, none of the three films mentioned above include a single prominent character played by a person of colour (though No Man’s Land: The Rise of Reeker, the sequel to Reeker, includes a Native American and a character of Hispanic descent).
Hopefully, more genuinely talented, creative makers of Slasher films will soon begin using actors of differing ethnic backgrounds, making movies that highlight both diversity and excellence. Machete Joe does great on the former—it just doesn’t even come close on the latter.
Length: 81 min