Director: Just Jaeckin
Severin Films

To kick off the new label Severin Films, yet another company started by Blue Underground alumni, Just Jaeckin’s GWENDOLINE is an odd choice. It is definitely a recognizable film, popular from constant cable airings throughout the 1980s thanks to the interest in Tawny Kitaen following her famous appearances in two Whitesnake videos. But Just Jaeckin’s comic book adventure is not the sex-filled erotic masterpiece it is being touted as, and while it’s definitely an enjoyable romp with liberal doses of violence and S&M-themed nudity, it’s more akin to the ALLAN QUATERMAIN films than another installment of the EMMANUELLE series.

Young convent escapee Gwendoline and her sidekick Beth find themselves in the Far East, searching for Gwendoline’s missing father, who disappeared while searching for an elusive butterfly. Amidst the various sleazy villains is Willard, a tough American floating through the world of underground crime, who saves Gwendoline from a gang of white slavers and finds himself recruited to help them find the Land of the Yik-Yak, where Gwendoline’s father vanished. En route, it is learned that he was sacrificed by a jungle tribe to appease mysterious wind spirits, and Gwendoline makes it her mission to find the butterfly and fulfill her father’s dream. However, the road to Yik-Yak holds even further perils, including vicious natives, jungle booby traps, bloodthirsty pirates, giant snakes, and eventually once the troupe reached their destination, they are trapped in the clutches of a clan of Amazons!! Split into two factions, the bald topless drones and the leather-clad warriors, this bizarre civilization, ruled by a sinister Dragon Lady Queen, threatens to swallow Gwendoline and her friends whole. Can they escape with their lives?

If you’ve seen ROMANCING THE STONE, that’s the basic premise of GWENDOLINE: a damsel-in-distress on a quest is assisted by a gruff adventurer, who continually saves her from certain doom. And of course the two find love while surrounded by danger and peril. Inspired by a French comic book of the same name, Just Jaeckin was approached most probably because his name is synonymous with sensuality, specifically S&M, but thankfully he decided to focus on the serial-esque adventure and comic aspects of the story. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of nudity in the film; in fact, everything seems, for the most part, sort of family-friendly until the Yik-Yak sequences, with every character appearing in scanty leather outfits, topless, or nude, transforming into adults-only fare pretty quickly. The problem some consumers will have with this film is the DVD marketing of it (at least the Unrated Edition) as a sex film when it is in fact, as Jaeckin himself discusses in the special features, a comedy-adventure. Don’t go into it expecting another STORY OF O and you should have a good time with this one. You get a giant fake alligator (think Martino’s GREAT ALLIGATOR), spurting blood, karate fights, a midget, bald topless women, sex-crazed harpies attempting to rip apart our hero (who had previously dressed as a woman to infiltrate them), nasty jungle natives, Russian roulette, crazed torture devices and futuristic weapons, a cannibal feast, a no-holds-barred female gladiator spectacle, chariots with women running in place of horses, and plentiful female and male nudity. Jaeckin’s assured direction and apparently heft budget keep the film looking polished and professional throughout. To be honest, I had no desire to see GWENDOLINE and felt no excitement at the DVD announcement, but upon viewing the Director’s Cut, it has enough violence and quirky weird scenes to surprise even the most jaded viewer and it’s great to have it uncut and looking excellent on this DVD.

Brat-faced Tawny Kitaen is an awkward choice as a leading lady, and it’s weird to think that she was considered an 1980s sex symbol at one time. She’s not that appealing or sexy, and actually her co-star Zabou, a French model, makes a larger impression, in terms of both acting and looks, but our red-haired Tawny still earns points for trying, and is actually pretty funny as the virginal nymph. Seeing Kitaen recently on VH-1’s “The Surreal Life”, all of America now knows that she is a few random attacks and outbursts away from being declared legally insane. It was also amusing to hear her play the morality card, saying she would never do Playboy and chastising recent Playmate Andrea Lowell for appearing in the magazine when not only does she appear in much disarray throughout the film, her nude layout for Lui magazine appears on the disc in its entirety! Not surprisingly, she did not participate with this DVD release. Handsome Brent Huff provides for the beefcake factor in the film, and is a believable ruffian.

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Severin’s transfer of GWENDOLINE looks marvelous! There is little room for complaint here, as the colors are beautifully rendered and the image has a perpetual glean to it, very crisp and clear. Four audio options are included: 5.1 Stereo English and French and 2.0 Mono English and French. The 5.1 English seems to be the preferable mix. There are no issues with any of the tracks, as all are free of defects or problems.

With the complete cooperation of director Just Jaeckin, the disc includes both a video interview and a full-length audio commentary with the man behind GWENDOLINE. The interview does its job very well, revealing Jaeckin’s introduction to the comic book and his approach to bringing it to celluloid and his working relationship with Tawny Kitaen. The commentary is more specific as to how certain scenes were realized and Jaeckin shares his memories of the cast members, behind-the-scenes tales of creating the magnificent sets and shooting in various locations, his affection for comedy and how he envisioned certain scenes, and also goes into detail about how his career sort of fizzled after this film was released. In addition to the Jaeckin supplements, a very rare vintage audio interview with Gwendoline creator John Willie conducted for the Kinsey Institute in 1962, the year he passed away. Willie discusses how he became interested in fetishism and the inspirations behind the comic. In place of a Tawny Kitaen interview, there's a lengthy gallery composed of a photo spread Jaeckin shot of her for the French glamour magazine Lui, including many enticing nude photos. The two trailers included, one for the U.S., the other for international sales, are radically different. The American preview plays up the action-adventure angle, making it appear to be a genuine comic book come to life. The International preview is composed mostly of random scenes, set to the irresistible synthesizer score from the film, and attempts to paint it as an erotic adventure, with nudity mixed well with the violence. (Casey Scott)