The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak

Though she appeared in a number of films throughout the 80’s, Tawny Kitaen will always be known, first and foremost, for one thing: dancing on the hood of a car in that Whitesnake video.  Like Phoebe Cates emerging from the swimming pool, it’s one of the most iconic pop culture images of the decade.  The films she appeared in were nowhere near as memorable.  Amongst them was a 1984 film that answers one of those nagging questions every film fan has: What do you get if the director of Emmanuelle were to make an Indiana Jones ripoff? I’ll tell ya what you get; released a few months before Temple of Doom, it’s The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak.

Kitaen stars in the title role, a young woman who has traveled to China in search of a mysterious butterfly which her lepidopterist father staked his reputation on trying to find, but failed. Immediately, she and her associate Beth (Zabou Breitman) end up captured by nasties and need saving. Enter mercenary Willard (Brent Huff) who saves the ladies and gets roped into leading them on their search.

Their journey includes many perils, including an encounter with the cannibalistic Kiops, and the building sexual tension between Willard and the virginal Gwendoline. Just as it seems the adventurers have found the elusive butterfly they seek, they end up in a mysterious city inhabited only by shapely women with a disdain for wearing clothing.  Any man that arrives is used for procreation and then executed. That means it’s up to Gwendoline to fight gladiator-style to save Willard and claim him as her lover.

This is a film that goes by a variety of names. Here in the US it was released as The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak.  Sometimes it’s listed simply as The Perils of Gwendoline, sometimes it’s just Gwendoline. No matter how you list the title, its a heck of crazy film.  The first half feels like many mid 80’s attempts to get some of that Indiana Jones cash, but perhaps with a bit more nudity involved.  Extra skin is to be expected with Emmanuelle director Just Jaeckin at the helm, but in the first half of the film it’s not too excessive. Everything changes, though, when our heroes reach the city of Pikaho. All of the inhabitants of the city are either half-naked bald gladiator women, or ladies dressed like samurais who get their hair done by Grace Jones’ stylist. The city itself seems to run on naked-lady-power, complete with huge pistons that are made of, you guessed it, naked ladies. Insane doesn’t even begin to describe it. Crude is also a word that comes to mind, but, I’m embarrassed to admit, the filmmakers do get a few originality points.

Although titilation seems to be the major driving force behind most of the film, there is a level of creativity at play that I can’t help but admire. I mean halfway through the film it suddenly abandons jungles, deserts, and cannibals, and we end up in a futuristic environment where everything is stark white. It’s part cheap Italian sword and sandal flick, part Logan’s Run. There’s even a chase involving chariots pulled by, say it with me, half-naked women. For all its ridiculousness, it works.

It doesn’t hurt that the cast, though not exactly high-level thespians, are very likable. Kitaen’s approach to her role is a bit flighty and disconnected, but it fits. She’s not supposed to be Marion Ravenwood, but she’s not your standard girl-that-needs-saving either. She begins the film as a damsel in distress, but by the end, she’s the one taking control and doing the saving. It’s one of Kitaen’s better performances, that doesn’t involve trying to seduce a car. Likewise, Brent Huff does a solid job as Willard, who’s cut more from the same mold as Jack Burton than Indiana Jones.  Zabout Breitman is serviceable as the story’s third-wheel, Beth. Ultimately, though, the character is really not necessary.

For many years, this was a film that had pretty much vanished from the radar. Recent DVD and Blu-ray releases have brought it back into the spotlight, though. Actually, let me change that…it NEVER had its moment in the spotlight back in 84, as it came and went from theaters very quickly and never really became a cable TV staple. It’s fun to see it resurrected. It’s not for the kiddies, mind you. You’re not going to put this on a post-Raiders double feature with The Jewel of Nile!  However, anyone with a taste for the weird will find something here to appreciate.

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