Just Jaeckin has had an interesting career and should be a better known name to Eurocult fans than he is. Not only did he direct Gwendoline, but the guy also made Lady Chatterly's Lover but he also did The Story Of O and the original Emmanuelle to boot. So what's the deal with Gwendoline, also known as The Perils Of Gwendoline In The Land Of The Yik Yak (which is how it was released stateside on VHS by Warner Home Video in a version trimmed of over ten minutes – also available as a separate DVD release from Severin Films!)?
Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen of Witchboard and a few Whitesnake videos) has hidden herself inside a crate that sits inside a ship bound for somewhere in Asia. She hopes to make it to the 'Land of the Yik Yak' where she'll start looking for her father, who hasn't been seen by anyone since he took off that way in search of a rare butterfly. In the port city where she lands after being released from her crate by the burly Chinese guys who were running the ship, she heads out into the streets. There she soon meet up with an American named Willard (Brent Huff who starred opposite Sho Kosugi in 9 Deaths Of The Ninja and then later opposite Coolio in Submerged!) and runs into her old pal, Beth (Zobou of One Woman Or Two). Beth and Gwendoline want to get on with Gwendoline's quest, Willard isn't so keen on the idea, but the girls have ways of convincing him to think things over a little more before coming to such rash conclusions.
The three of them head off in a few different directions, the women undress a lot, they run around in the jungle some and then in the desert, and finally some strange tribal types capture them and bring them back to their base of operations which just so happens to be in the Land of Yik Yak. There they find that the land is ruled over by a nasty Queen (Bernadette Lafont was shows up in To Catch A Spy) who controls and army of Amazon women who do whatever they're told and run around in bondage outfits. They're also very black widows, in that they mate with their men only one time before making short work of them once and for all. With Willard obviously a man, it doesn't take the warrior women long before they've got him hanging upside down from the ceiling and they're trying to get Gwendoline to join them.
The plot in this one is nuts – it's all over the place. At times the movie is kinky and slick like so much of Jaeckin's other, better-known films, and then at other times it's (intentionally?) campy and goofier than a Troma film. There's no shortage of flesh on display, women disrobe for the simplest reasons, and the movie is full of 'beautiful people' in that there are no unattractive ladies in the cast. As crazy as this sex-adventure hybrid sounds, it turns out to be a whole lot of fun. There's no shortage of style here, from the set design to the wardrobe, even the hairstyles of the Amazon warrior women – it's all highly polished and very intentionally over the top and it isn't surprising in the least to find out that the movie was based on a comic book. It just has that vibe to it.
Tawny Kitaen, who gets most of the screen time here, is definitely in her physical prime. She looks really, really good here and the camera loves her as much as she loves the camera. While the script doesn't prove to be too challenging she handles things well as she's got enough obvious confidence and some decent screen presence. Brent Huff makes for a macho enough hero that you can understand why Gwendoline falls for him and it's interesting to see the twists that their relationship takes as the movie plays out. If you go into this one expecting some fine, sexy pop art and some neat adventure you'll probably really enjoy it as it's a fun, slick movie that doesn't spend a lot of time sweating the details. Style over substance? Maybe, but it's still a good time.
As mentioned earlier, this is the uncut French version of the film. It runs roughly ten minutes longer than the version that Warner Brothers released under the aforementioned goofy retitling, and most of that content is made up of some of the racier footage found in the film. Hardcore fans of the movie might want to check out both versions as the US cut runs at a slightly brisker pace, while purists will likely be content with the lengthier version on this DVD.
Judging by the image quality, it is probably a safe guess that Severin was working with the same elements that Nucleus Films used for their recent R2 PAL release of the same film (the repetition of some of the extra features backs this up), which is good news for those who aren't region free and who didn't splurge on the import disc, because the movie looks great and the anamorphic 2.35.1 transfer looks very nice on this DVD. The color reproduction is very good, the black levels are strong and deep, and the flesh tones, of which there are plenty, look lifelike and natural. While sometimes the really fine detail seems to be obscured a just a tiny bit in the shadows or the darker scenes thankfully this is a really minor complain and there's still a lot in the image to look for. Most viewers should definitely come away from this one happy with how the movie looks. Mpeg compression artifacts aren't a problem, edge enhancement is held firmly in place, and while there is some mild line shimmering, it's just that – mild, and it doesn't prove to be overly distracting or a serious problem at all.
Take your pick of four audio tracks on this release, both in their original French language, in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound – with optional English subtitles and an English dub, also available in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The quality of either track you should opt to check out is fine and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Dialogue is clean and clear and the subtitles are nice and easy to read and also fairly well timed. The 5.1 tracks add a bit more depth and spread the score out nicely, and they also throw some nice directional effects into the soundscape as well.
Just Jaeckin is on hand for a director's commentary and an on camera video interview entitled The Last Temptation Of Just for this release. In the interview he covers working with some of the cast members and shows a particular affinity for Ms. Kitaen, while in the commentary track he goes into detail on some of the casting choices, the set design and the locations used for the shoot. Just comes across as a pretty amiable sort and he speaks of this film with some noticeable pride – he seems to have had a really good time making it and working with the people involved in the project and it's a lot of fun to hear the history of the movie and where a lot of the ideas for some of the set pieces came from. The commentary was on the Nucleus disc but it's nicely done and its inclusion here will certainly please North American fans. The documentary uses the same raw footage as the Nucleus piece and is very close in terms of content, but it can be differentiated by the editing.
Exclusive to this disc is a segment entitled Dr. Kinsey Interview With 'Sweet Gwendoline' Creator John Willie which is an audio interview with the creator of the comic book on which the movie is based. This isn't of the best quality, the recording is a little on the weak side (it was recorded in 1962), but it's an interesting discussion as we get to hear him give us his take on illustration and the fetishistic material that he worked into his comics.
Rounding out the extra features is the film's original European theatrical trailer, the U.S. theatrical trailer, and a gallery of glamour shots that originally appeared in Lui magazine that feature Tawny doing her thing (ten shots, all taken by Jaekin himself) as well as animated menus and chapter stops.
Fans of the film who didn't break down and pick up the recently released PAL disc will definitely want to pick up this domestic release of the unrated director's cut, available on home video in North America for the first time. Gwendolyn is sexy, quirky, and completely enjoyable despite its flaws and this DVD from Severin Films is an easy one to recommend.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.