Gwendoline Quite a Romp!
By Leigh Wood
Gwendoline. The Perils of Gwendoline. The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik Yak. Whatever you call this 1985 naughty adaptation from director Just Jaeckin (Emmanuelle), it certainly is a memorable picture!
Ingénue Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen) is trying to find her professor father, who has gone missing while in search of a rare butterfly. Along with her maid Beth (Zabou) and muscle for hire Willard (Brent Huff), instead they find the lost land of Yik Yak – an all female society with one thing on its mind: male stock.
I don’t remember if I saw this French import in all its saucy glory or just chopped up on television, but as a youth, I recall loving this demented and kinky faire – along with Kathy Ireland’s Alien from L.A. for some reason. (I suppose this might explain a lot about my eventual occupation as a camp genre erotica author!) Perhaps then, I didn’t quite get all the sexual scenes and innuendo, but the stupidity of Gwendoline is unforgettable. Of course, this Unrated Director’s Cut starts off extremely slow thanks to Asian stereotypes, and Three Stooges-Fu fakery. It’s immediately camp and totally off on the wrong beat, but at least the audience knows we aren’t supposed to take the danger or poorly choreographed fighting with whimsical music too seriously. I can’t decide if Gwendoline is taking itself seriously or is fully aware of its spoof the genre either. The totally nonsensical plot tries to explain their perilous route and the butterfly rarity, but having a guy who’s getting a bj explain about butterflies and human sacrifice doesn’t make it sound any better. The nudity does begin early, however, complete with lots of heavy petting and chauvinism to go along with the voyeuristic hints and girl power innuendo. Really, I suspect Gwendoline just might be better on mute. It may even make more sense by allowing room for some sort of viewer thought or drinking game.
Indeed, Gwendoline is tough going until you get to the underground industrial bondage chicks. After all, I suppose that’s the saucy reason for which most people are watching. The plot becomes more and more ridiculous, but somehow, it gets better thanks to such sexually preposterous twists and turns – coed wrestling, kinky sparring, love biting a.k.a cannibalism, bald women in futuristic torture devices. Gwendoline is so bad, raunchy, and stupid that it must be seen to be believed. The bad English dubbing actually adds to the woefully over the top design and becomes a strength here. The evil lesbian implications and bad ballet combat sequences are also so wrong and yet somehow so entertaining. There’s not much point in trying to explain the onscreen gals’ history, but what we do get is a convoluted mess. Suffice to say that the women caught trying to leave get strung up naked by their toes while the rest of the dames get to fight for the man they want. Outside of the possibility of being torn alive or laid on a bed of spikes, what’s for the male audience not to like? I mean, women pulling chariots, boys – need I say more?
Wow, that bad eighties hair is also, well, bad. However, Tawny Kitaen (Those Whitesnake Videos) is otherwise so young and supple that not much else matters. She gets manhandled repeatedly, and I think the audience is meant to believe she actually enjoys the rough stuff – but our eponymous gal is also overly juvenile and infatuated. With the poor characterization, ingénue acting, and horrible writing, Gwendoline’s long winded soliloquies on love are just…no. I think she is turned on by seeing people killed, too. All that lip service about rescuing her dad and finding the elusive butterfly is completely uneven and creates no real character motivation. Gwendoline is first mousy, then strong, and later deceptive. Perhaps it’s meant to be character growth, but her wants him then hates him emotions are all over the place, too. It’s not really Tawny’s fault – in fact, her pouty eighties appeal makes a lot of those flaws disappear. She looks far better with her hair pulled away from her face, and it’s refreshing to see a curvy style and un-dolled up, fresh face in this new century of stick and plastic women. Tawny’s topless and all wet in slow motion – ultimately, I don’t think what she’s saying matters that much! Those up close faux orgasms, however, are just laughable. I mean, there are the funny looks on people’s faces in hard-core poor and then there’s the weird, fully clothed, and wearing a helmet sex here. Unfortunately for die-hard kitten Kitaen fans, Gwendoline’s action is all topless and not full frontal. It keeps Gwendoline just titillating enough, doesn’t it?
Of course, lady audiences also get the shaft thanks to the blink and you miss it penis ratio. Brent Huff (Girl’s Night) is also a totally unlikeable ass as our cheap imitation Indiana Jones Willard. Willard? Willard? Unlike Kitaen, his eighties then attractive just doesn’t work now. The onscreen relationship is also lame, with Willard presented as too grown up and badass to the overly naïve Gwennie. Again, folks who like the implied barely legal bondage can enjoy, but the attempt at making the overly manly man as parody falls flat. Their banter is all over the place, and it’s too unbelievable to be romantic even on a hammed up level. I suppose part of the film’s charm is in how preposterous it is, but it doesn’t get the over the top camp intentionally correct enough, and it can make your brain hurt if you think on it too much. He pokes her in the eye with a piece of straw and that is supposed to be making love? What? I’m glad Willard gets punished by being forced into a thong. Zabou (Beautiful Memories) is likewise wacky as Gwendoline’s nursemaid Beth. She’s supposed to protect our titular gal but ends up more helpless and afraid. We know she’s only there for double girl teases and latent passive aggressive innuendo. However, with all the other stupidity happening, her comic relief simply isn’t required.
So, if the script, acting, and plot of Gwendoline stinks, then surely the art direction is visually striking, top notch good stuff! Nope. The kinky bad BDSM leather costumes are too eighties shoulder pads-esque to be attractive, the butterfly graphics are way weird, and the avante garde eighties music adds to the Euro messy feeling. Fog, or dust and piles of junk onscreen are used to hide the ridiculously small stage Asian opening, but it just makes Gwendoline look more on the poor. There are some attempts at gruesome and dangerous action thanks to hooks, bloody slashes, and ears being sliced off, yeah, but the pitiable fight choreography boils such action down to the aforementioned stereotypical jungle tribes and Amazon women offensives. The Styrofoam temples also go from some sort of Allan Quartermain looking adventure to a different underground science fiction vibe, but hey, who’s paying attention to the plot or set decoration at this point?
Adults only should definitely go for broke with the under two hours Ultimate Director’s Cut edition of Gwendoline instead of the chopped up 88 minute American release for all the commentary crazies and interview fun. The credits are in French and there are no subtitles, but big whoop. Of course, I swear Netflix only has two copies, for Gwendoline was on wait forever before finally arriving cracked. The replacement skipped, too, but then, what is Gwendoline but so bad its good fast forward juicy?