Directors: Eduard von Borsody, James L. Wolcott
VCI Entertainment

Seven years after releasing the first three volumes, VCI Entertainment rolls out number 4 in their Psychotronica series, a “primitive women” double feature of NATURE GIRL AND THE SLAVER, here making its commercial DVD debut (as JUNGLE GIRL AND THE SLAVER on the case cover), and perennial no-budget exploitation favorite THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO, which receives a remarkably good-looking transfer with this release.

Arab slave traders on horseback are conducting raids around the East African city of Uruki, kidnapping natives to sell into bondage, so Frank Wyler (Adrian Hoven, MARK OF THE DEVIL, SUCCUBUS, with a greasy pompadour), inspector for the Uruki police, must locate the one person who can unite the African tribes against the slavers: Liane (Marion Michael, LIANE: JUNGLE GODDESS), the legendary blonde, blue-eyed “queen of the jungle,” called “Kia Ki” by the Wudu natives. Frank is accompanied by Ali, “comic relief” man Friday, and Professor Danner of Uruki University (Rolf von Nauckhoff, ISLAND OF THE DOOMED, returning from LIANE). They promptly find Liane, inexplicably referred to as “Diana” in the English dub, and quickly arrive at the Wudu village (likely due to about 18 minutes being edited from the original German version), where topless African women dance while Liane plays the drum—clad only in a shell necklace and matching loincloth and her long blonde hair. In the film’s ostensible highlight, Liane performs a provocative solo tribal dance including daring-for-the-day “wardrobe malfunctions,” then invites Frank up to her super-cool tree house, where he convinces her to help fight the slavers, and of course begins falling for her.

While accompanying Police Chief Emilio (Saro Urzi, MODESTY BLAISE) through Uruki territory, Liane inadvertently releases Frazer (Friedrich Joloff, THE DOOR WITH 7 LOCKS), a criminal being transported to jail, who later joins up with the slavers. Liane and Frank encounter skulls posted as warnings on their journey to the Wudu camp, which the slavers later attack and burn, kidnapping Liane in the process. Frank and Liane’s friend Ku-Lala (Lei Ilima), who was widowed in the attack, briefly rescue Liane, but she’s soon recaptured, and chief slaver Sheik Ibrahim (suave Rik Battaglia, NIGHTMARE CASTLE, A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE) challenges Frazer for possession of Liane while the wounded Frank lies recuperating in a bedouin hospital . . . .

NATURE GIRL AND THE SLAVER (LIANE, DIE WEIßE SKLAVIN/LIANE, THE WHITE SLAVE), is an entertaining, if highly improbable, sequel to Arca Filmproduktion’s 1956 international hit LIANE: JUNGLE GODDESS (LIANE, DAS MÄDCHEN AUS DEM URWALD/LIANE, THE GIRL FROM THE JUNGLE), and actually an improvement on the original, which disappointingly spent most of its running time away from Liane’s jungle environment. It’s primary reason for existence—like LIANE before it—is so audience members can ogle the nubile Marion Michael (promoted as the “German Brigitte Bardot”) and wait for the inevitable “nip slips” during her titillating dance number. (Liane displays plenty of “side boob” and buttock during the first half of the movie, but, as in the original, she’s clothed in more modest short-shorts and top for the second half.) The action moves along at a nice clip, due in part to the missing footage (it seems to take Frank only about five minutes to discover Liane’s whereabouts), although this makes for some choppy continuity, and a narrator covers for some of the editing. To the movie’s credit, the African characters, Ku-Lala in particular, are depicted with respect and empathy and not as ignorant savages, though Ali’s brief “comic” interludes will probably make the modern viewer cringe a bit. More amusing is the big finale where Ibrahim absconds with Liane in what must be the lowest-speed car chase ever filmed.

Even in the truncated U.S. version presented here, it would appear that only expository material was cut, with plenty of footage of topless native women and Liane in various states of undress—and briefly exposed—intact. It’s a bit curious how United Producers Releasing Organization, the same outfit that handled THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M, HOW TO SUCCEED WITH GIRLS, THE BELLBOY AND THE PLAYGIRLS, and other such marginal fare, managed to exhibit this with National Screen Service publicity materials with no snipes or disclaimers despite the frequent toplessness (as did DCA with LIANE). In addition to the frequent skin on display, unexpected amusement can be found in voice artist extraordinaire Paul Frees (THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, SON OF SINBAD) voicing virtually all the male characters in the movie, sometimes more than one in the same scene: Professor Danner (in Frees’s British gentleman voice), Frazer (in his tough guy/criminal voice), Chief Emilio (in his unmistakable Boris Badenov growl), and a Wudu soldier. (I’m also leaning toward Hoven being dubbed by Frees as well, in his Universal-International trailer voice, but I’ll leave the final word on that to an expert.) All in all, a great Saturday afternoon time-killer for fans of campy “green hell” B-pics like JUNGLE HEAT or CONGO CROSSING (or cheesecake and pinup photography).

Previously available on DVD as a burn from Sinister Cinema (since deleted from their catalog and website) and at least one PAL edition, NATURE GIRL makes its commercial U.S. DVD debut courtesy of VCI, presented in 1.33:1 full frame from a relatively gently worn source element with only light to moderate speckling and spotting in evidence. Since the original aspect ratio was 1.66:1, the framing looks a bit loose at 1.33:1, but never distractingly so. Colors are vibrant and well saturated (even oversaturated at times), with a 1950s Kodacolor “picture postcard” look, and generally well balanced with the occasional reddish or yellowish cast. Contrast and brightness are fine, if also somewhat variable. Considering the age and pedigree of this movie, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the quality of the transfer, quite a bit nicer than Retromedia’s watchable but generally lackluster DVD of LIANE: JUNGLE GODDESS. Approach with realistic expectations and you should be quite pleased.

The opening narration (by Mother Nature) of THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO sets up the silly premise of this sublimely silly movie: as an experiment with the human race, the village of Wongo is populated by beautiful women and ugly men, and the nearby village of Goona is populated by hunky males and homely females. This state of affairs is disrupted when emissaries from Goona, including the king’s son Engor (Johnny Walsh, YOUTH RUNS WILD), show up in Wongo to ask for help in repelling a tribe of ape men who are attacking their village to capture mates. Betrothed Wongo maiden Omoo (Jean Hawkshaw) immediately falls for Engor, and the other Wongo women become noticeably agitated over the studly Goona emissaries, so the Wongo men plot to assassinate Engor, hoping their women will forget the Goona men.

During a premarital purification ceremony (backed by the main title library cue from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) the women foil the assassination attempt and are banished to the temple of the Dragon God (a completely unenhanced common alligator), where the elderly high priestess transforms into a young, beautiful spirit with an alligator headpiece and leads a rather bizarre, spastic (and very loosely choreographed) dance to the Dragon God with the Wongo maidens. Meanwhile, Engor brings word to the Goona men of the Wongo hotties, and the ape men lay waste to the Wongo village. Ahtee and Wana get into a cat fight over leadership of the tribe after returning to the village’s smoldering ruins, and ultimately the Wongo women decide to head for Goona, where the men have been sent into the forest without weapons for one moon to prove their manliness. After much bungle in the jungle, the ugly Wongo men fall for the ugly Goona women, and the beautiful Wongo women take the beautiful Goona men as “love prisoners” (including bodybuilder Ed Fury, COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN), and everybody pairs off at the temple of the Dragon God.

It’s hard to imagine who the target audience was for THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO. If this had been produced just couple of years later, it would likely have been a nudie-cutie with bared bosoms and bums. As it is, it’s a quaintly chaste fantasy/comedy curio item that basically functions as a 72-minute display of beef- and cheesecake, cheaply shot on various Florida locations, including Silver Springs, Parrot Jungle, and, most impressively, Coral Castle, serving as the temple of the Dragon God. Beloved by fans of 1950s kitsch, and pretty much universally reviled by mainstream movie audiences, you’ll either have a lot of fun with WONGO or be bored silly; it’s hard to imagine any reaction in between. Several plot threads are introduced and then dropped (the Goona men’s spirit quest, the ape men), and the story line is simplistic and predictable. An annoying parrot is used Greek chorus style as running “comedy relief,” and at one point four Wongo women pop their heads out from behind a single tree like in an old Warner Bros. cartoon. If you’re a fan of campy cave girl babe-fests like PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1950) or PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1966), or “pagan dames on uncharted island” dreck like UNTAMED WOMEN or ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN, you know what to expect. All others approach with caution.

IMDb and other places on the Internet discuss the alleged involvement of Tennessee Williams (yes, that Tennessee Williams) in directing WILD WOMEN OF WONGO. Accounts vary from Williams directing the bulk of the movie on a whim after an offer from close friend and nominal WONGO director James L. Wolcott, to Williams being on set waiting for one of the young Goona men—whom he was supposedly dating at the time—to clock out, to merely being a guest on set and falling asleep after too many cocktails (the latter version is recounted in the Medveds’ Golden Turkey books, so probably is closest to the truth). Back in the pre-video days, there was also a pervasive rumor, even turning up in the monster mags, that the Adrienne Bourbeau who plays Wana was actually Adrienne Barbeau of MAUDE, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and SWAMP THING fame. Now that the movie is ubiquitous on home video and we have IMDb as a resource, it’s easy to see how ridiculous that claim was; just doing the math, Ms. Barbeau would have been only 13 when WONGO was released. And Wana obviously looks nothing like her anyway. Made a great rumor, though. (Ms. Bourbeau went on to become an assistant director, working on William Grefe’s MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH and Bert I. Gordon’s EMPIRE OF THE ANTS.)

For many a cult movie fan, the main reason to snap up this release will be the relatively stunning transfer (again considering the lineage of the movie) presented here of WILD WOMEN OF WONGO, which has had numerous cheapie public domain DVD releases over the years. I’ve owned the Something Weird Video edition on their Primitive Triple Feature disc (co-billed with BOWANGA BOWANGA and VIRGIN SACRIFICE) for years, and frankly never bothered to check out the various PD releases as the SWV transfer appeared “good enough” given the movie at hand, and presumably as good or better than any of the no-name editions. While neither VCI’s source elements nor transfer are flawless, this has to be the best this movie has ever looked since its original theatrical release — certainly the best I’ve ever seen it — and, I hate to say, it pretty much demolishes the SWV transfer on direct comparison (it’s also miles better than the “upgraded video quality” print on Brightness and contrast are much improved, with clean whites and acceptably deep blacks, and the vintage Pathé color is much more vibrant, well saturated, and properly balanced. Primaries, green foliage, and Omoo’s red hair pop nicely, and the palette is noticeably more varied, with pinks, yellows, and natural looking fleshtones in evidence. In contrast, the SWV transfer is quite faded, almost monochromatic looking at times, with near-constant blue or yellow color casts, poorly balanced fleshtones, and very soft sharpness and muddy detail. The VCI source exhibits some typical light speckling and spotting, but no noticeable serious defects, and the VCI edition runs about nine seconds longer (72:11) than the SWV version, so nothing appears to be missing. Sharpness and detail are modestly improved, though still on the soft side. The movie is presented 1.33:1 full frame (the OAR was 1.66:1), but generally frames up nicely at 1.85:1 on a 16x9 TV, save for a few noticeably tight compositions here and there. The only apparent flaw is some very minor compression artifacting (stairstepping and blocking during fast movement), but it’s negligible given all the strong points of the transfer. Though the only extra is a fake trailer for NATURE GIRL, obviously cobbled together by VCI for this release, if you’re a Wongo-maniac or Liane fan, or both, this disc is almost certainly a huge improvement on any existing edition you may own and, particularly in the case of WONGO, as close to a definitive release as is likely to ever materialize. Highly recommended. (Paul Tabili)