When you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark one thing is clearly missing, and that would be gratuitous nudity and bondage, which was an oversight that director Just Jaeckin sought to correct with his film Gwendoline (later retitled The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak), and by using a character created by John Willie, an artist, fetish photographer, editor, and publisher of the soft-porn cult magazine Bizarre, he was able to bring new levels of sex and fetishism to the adventure genre. Gwendoline was your standard damsel in distress, but in these comics, the damsel was often nude when tied to the train tracks; she would be captured and tied up, rescued by the hero, then captured and tied up again. Repeat as often as needed. This was an ideal character for Just Jaeckin, the man who adapted the classic bondage tale, The Story O, to the big screen.
The main thrust of the story has to do with Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen), a naïve girl who has escaped from a convent to hunt for her missing father, and along with her on this adventure is her maid and faithful companion Beth (Zabou Breitman). The movie opens with Gwendoline being abducted by a group of cargo thieves who, presuming a crate from Paris holds valuables, break into it only to find it holds a beautiful woman instead. These Chinese thieves take Gwendoline to a local casino-brothel owner to sell her, but before the brothel owner even has a chance to sample the merchandise a grappling hook embeds itself in his neck, and mercenary adventurer Willard (Brent Huff) swings into the room. He easily dispatches the thugs, unties Gwendoline, yet he never gives her a second thought because this wasn’t a rescue mission as it turns out the brothel owner simply owed Willard money.
Lucky for Gwendoline the ever-faithful Beth shows up, but as the film progresses, and we spend more time with Willard, I kept hoping that Beth and Gwendoline would hook up because Willard is a total asshat, and not worthy of either of these women. With his switchblade-operated grappling hook, standing in for Indiana Jone’s bullwhip, it’s clear he’s this movie’s attempt that the Harrison Ford hero but where Indy was a likable rogue this guy is a total jerk. Gwendoline and Beth spend the first half of the movie trying to enlist this guy’s help and he constantly turns them down, which includes him repeatedly tossing them off his boat into crocodile-infested waters, and yet somehow we know these two are going to hook up at some point.
There is a difference between two characters at odds with each other, constantly bickering and fighting but who will eventually fall in love, unfortunately for us, these two have no screen chemistry at all and it’s clear that Beth deserves her more than the jerk in a captain’s hat. Gwendoline is at first portrayed as totally innocent yet while being forcibly kissed by Willard, during one particular escape attempt and she practically orgasms, then later she is calling him a coward and wants nothing to do with him. On the other hand, we have Willard, an egocentric asshole who only does things for money and so when these two people eventually fall in love it’s almost as if the screenwriter had just flipped a switch, there is no set-up to this relationship, it’s simply a case of Willard suddenly admitting he is in love with her. There is no explanation for this sudden change of mind, other than that she is super hot, and I know this is supposed to be a campy-erotic adventure movie but Willard is just so unlikable I was praying he’d be eaten by a snake. How big of a jerk is he? Well at one point they are travelling through a tropical rain forest when a torrential downpour starts, he tells Gwendoline and Beth to, “Take off your clothes quick, or would you rather die of thirst?”
That is just one of many WTF moments this film delivers but that’s enough talk of this film’s apparent love story, let’s get to the good stuff, and by that, I mean more bizarre and weird happenings. Gwendoline is able to con Willard into helping her and Beth find her father, who went missing looking for a rare butterfly, but when we learn that he is dead it looks like the adventure has come to an end, even before it got a chance to get going. Then Gwendoline suddenly decides that she is going to find that butterfly and name it after her dead father, to honour him for god knows what reason, but Willard wants nothing to do with this plan as it involves going through an incredibly dangerous country. This is when the apparently naïve and innocent Gwendoline offers to pay him $2,000 dollars and we are left wondering, “Where did she get that kind of money?” Well, apparently she secretly stole and sold Willard’s cargo, to one of Willard’s less-than-honest friends, which makes us question what exactly are the nuns teaching girls in those convents.
Gwendoline, Beth, and Willard encounter numerous dangers throughout the film, the butterfly they seek is in the legendary Land of the Yik Yaks but no one has ever returned from there alive. Lucky for Gwendoline $2,000 dollars is enough for Willard to overlook certain death and agrees to lead them into danger. This results in them being captured almost immediately by a group of cannibals, which leads to Gwendoline and Willard partaking in some oral sex but no not in the way you think as they are tied up and he is forced to just describe how he would make love to her. They eventually escape the cannibals by running around like the Scooby Gang being pursued by the villain of the week, but then things really get interesting when Gwendoline discovers a path that leads to the Land of the Yik Yaks, and by interesting I mean not at all, but when they lower Beth down to snag one of those elusive butterflies she is captured scantily-clad Amazon warriors. So Gwendoline and Willard must infiltrate the underground city of Pikaho, an all-woman tribe ruled by a cruel and sadistic queen (Bernadette Lafont), to hopefully rescue Beth. Now, sneaking around a city solely populated by women is a pretty tricky business, especially when one of your parties is a dude, so they quickly grab some disguises and Willard dresses up as one of the Amazons.
We learn that the city of Pikaho was once a diamond-mining centre but was swallowed up by a volcanic eruption sometime in the 12th Century and shortly afterward some kind of plague killed off all the men, basically your typical lost city origin story. Now, this society survives by occasionally stealing men from the outside world for breeding purposes and Willard seems to be in luck when he finds out that Amazons will be fighting for the right to fuck him. His luck turns bad when he is told that he will be killed right after the dirty deed is done, but then his luck turns good again when a disguised Gwendoline wins against three other warriors. If any of this makes a lick of sense please comment below.
The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak is not a subtle film as it knows exactly what its intended audience wants, which is action, nudity, thrills, more nudity, adventure, and a little more nudity in case anyone out getting popcorn missed the last four or five shots of naked breasts. The first half of this film comes across as your standard Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off, only with the occasional nipple shot to spice things up, but in the last half of the film when our heroes enter the city of Pikaho, things just go off the wall crazy, because over the next 45 minutes, we get…
With a movie based on a bondage-centric comic, this part of the movie shouldn’t really surprise anyone, yet the complete goofiness in the way it handles such things does catch one off guard, and that makes The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak a film that is certainly not for everyone which makes it mostly a bad movie made for bad movie lovers to enjoy. There is plenty of cheesecake for those who came to see that, but the wait for those “titillating moments” was quite some time and though the acting is pretty bad, as one would expect to find in this kind of film, I was happily surprised at the high level of production value on display for many of the scenes, especially the bondage gear that populates the city of Pikaho, but there are still moments where clearly the prop people went to the dollar store.
As I said, this is certainly not a film for everyone and it’s not one I can easily recommend but if you go into it with the right frame of mind -meaning a little bent – you could find yourself having a good time and it does make one miss the sexploitation films of the 80s as they were definitely unique if a little weird at times.
The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak (1984)
Director/writer Just Jaeckin provides the world a wacky sexploitation adventure film, one loaded with bondage and bad writing, which pretty much delivers everything one could expect from such a thing.