Philippines under martial law, it was a great place to make a movie on a shoestring.
President Ferdinand Marcos was a kleptocrat with expensive tastes and a high-maintenance wife, so for relatively small sums by Hollywood standards, he gave budget-conscious filmmakers the run of the islands. So it happened that the early 1970s produced such Philippine-lensed classics as "The Big Doll House," "The Big Bird Cage" and "Women in Cages," among a host of other inexpensively made, quickly shot and fondly remembered movies of the drive-in era. Pam Grier owes her stardom in no small part to Marcos' willingness to do whatever it took to keep Imelda in Prada.
Grier returned to the U.S. as the women-in-prison genre's breakout star and began top-lining movies stateside such as "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown." But back in Philippines, directors were still churning out exploitation flicks to ship back to the States. One of them was 1973's "Wonder Women."
Now "Wonder Women" is one of the latest video-on-demand offerings from Rifftrax.com, the current movie-mocking venture from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" alums Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.
The Rifftrax guys have been on a roll with their recent VOD titles, from 1987's "ROTOR" (think "RoboCop" by way of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" with the budget of a senior class play) to the infamous 1951 how-to-survive-a-nuclear-blast short "Duck and Cover." And "Wonder Women" is no exception. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett are at the top of their game, riffing with a confidence that takes viewers back the glory days of MST3K. There's no point now in MiSTies wishing for "Mystery Science Theater" to return; for all practical purposes, Rifftax is MST3K's second coming.
Apart from some brief poolside nudity that wouldn't have gotten past basic cable's standards and practices department back in the day, "Wonder Women" is exactly the sort of movie MST3K used to do best: entertaining schlock on its own, but comedy gold once the riffs start flying.
First of all, "Wonder Women" is not to be confused with Wonder Woman, although it's entirely possible the movie's distributor welcomed such confusion as long as it put butts in seats.
Tough-guy actor Ross Hagen (familiar to MST3K viewers from "The Sidehackers" and "The Hellcats") stars as Mike Harber, a safari-jacketed super spy soldier of fortune insurance investigator, or something, who takes an assignment to track down a criminal organization that's kidnapping star athletes and selling their organs.
Other supporting players include frequent Pam Grier co-star Sid Haig ("The Devil's Rejects"), as Dr. Tsu's financial go-between, and Philippine Peter Lorre look-alike Vic Diaz, who must have been contractually obligated to appear in every U.S. movie shot in the Philippines in the 1970s.
The plot is paper thin and serves mostly to provide Hagen reasons to shoot things and/or get beat up by various wonder women, which, when you throw in a free trip to the Far East, seems like nice work if you can get it. But insubstantial as it is, "Wonder Women" provides more than enough material for Mike, Kevin and Bill to work with. The seemingly endless chase scene through a Manila market district is one of the high points in the history of talking back to movies.
Exploitation fans will appreciate seeing "Wonder Women" in a new context, while for newcomers the Rifftrax VOD (available for $9.99 at Rifftrax.com) is the safest way to ease into the world of Philippine-shot exploitation flicks. Interested viewers can move on to Mark Hartley's fun 2010 documentary about the '70s Philippine exploitation boom, "Machete Maidens Unleashed!"