Gwendoline (Just Jaeckin)
Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff
Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen) is a luscious, pouting virgin (!), the heroine in a French comic strip with the imaginative title of “The Adventures of Gwendoline”. She inhabits a world where heroes parry bad guys with witty one-liners, heroines have extreme difficulty keeping their clothing for more than a few rapid scene changes, and where anything can (and if it’s silly enough, probably will) happen.
We first meet her stowed away in a crate full of straw on the docks of Shanghai or some similar exotic set, er, location. Inside two minutes, she has been accosted by oriental villains (with dodgy sneers and even dodgier accents), sold for 300 of whatever-the-local-currency-is (plus 50 for the shoe) and rescued by the designer-stubble clad hero who manages to dispatch everyone present in true comic-book style. Pausing only to adjust his cool (this guy shits ice-cubes), he departs, leaving Gwendoline soggier than the Weetabix you didn’t finish yesterday.
What really makes this film ‘work’ is the style and pace of the direction. One of those rare films where a largish budget was probably involved, yet without obvious result, the action hardly lets up. Any attempt at character development, acting or the building of tension would have slowed things down, and are thankfully avoided. Our hero, Willard (Brent Huff), Gwendoline and her friend/chaperone are put in jail. Why? So Willard can pull the guard’s head through the bars leaving his ears behind…
Gwendoline is trying to find her father, a butterfly collector, who has strayed into the depths of the country’s interior, where tropical rain forests, deserts, volcanoes and swamps co-exist, blithely oblivious to the laws of nature, and within handy walking distance of Shanghai. Pretty obviously, Willard has no choice but to guide the girls past oriental pirates and rubber crocodiles & boa constrictors, pausing only to deliver one-liners like “Quick, get your clothes off!”.
Captured by a tribe called the Cheops(!!) before Willard can come up with a smart remark, they are tied and left on the floor of a bamboo cell overnight to await certain death. Q: How do you make love while tied up? A: With a straw. This scene has to be seen (and heard) to be believed – Just Jaeckin was also responsible for directing “Emmanuelle”, and such a scene is his meat and drink. Amazingly enough, they escape certain death (yes, really!) only to be captured by a race of scantily clad 18 year-old girls…
At this point, some of you may be doubting this is a real film, and is instead merely the product of a deranged imagination. Let me assure you that it IS a real film and that this article is a true and fair account of what goes on in it, difficult though it may be to believe.
You might wonder how a race of pretty young things in rubber and foam spiked shoulder pads, bra, g-string and thigh length boots would survive undetected and without men, in the middle of a desert. Well, this film makes absolutely NO attempt to explain. Mind you, with all that pert female flesh bobbling around, this problem doesn’t bother the average trash film fan for long.
Somehow, in all the running around in white caves full of shiny machinery doing nothing in particular with lots of steam (Metropolis with the woman’s touch?), our hero and heroine disguise themselves as guards (Just how does Willard wear a woman’s g-string and why do the guards in these films NEVER recognise each other?). Pretty soon we have met the token mad scientist, enjoyed a Ben Hur style chariot race where the chariots are pulled by women, and laughed at more silly dialogue like “The Queen’s will is the will of the Queen” and “Let’s find the door and get out of here!”.
But true to form, Willard must make love to the victor of a fight to the death between the Queen’s best warriors, before dying horribly. I won’t spoil the climax, but just tell you he only does one of these…
Coming on like a soft-porn version of either “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” or “Jane & the Lost City”, this film is guaranteed to infuriate any feminist who sees it. I can give it no higher praise than that, and finish with some more of the wonderfully cheesy dialogue :
Gwendoline: I’m scared, Beth. How do you make love to a man?
Beth: It’s much easier to make love than fight four warriors with your hands tied behind your back…
Tawny Kitaen, star of this film, has become something of a celebrity since. She starred in “Witchboard” and (my Heavy Metal correspondent tells me) she appeared in a few of Whitesnake’s recent videos. I believe she’s also married to David Coverdale, their lead singer.
Return of the Barbarian Women (Richard Billi*)
Nick Jordan, Mark Hannibal, Lyn Moody and Genie Woods
* or Al Bradley, depending whether you believe the video box or the film credits
“Even more action, adventure than in the original – the Barbarian women return in the sequel to the smash hit “Barbarian Women”. The Amazonian women are on the trail of a strange god with superhuman powers who uses them in a valley captured by the Barbarian Women. With a superhuman adversary with brilliant Kung Fu abilities – the rampant Barbarian Women fight harder, hacking and slashing more aggresively than ever before. In spectacular scenery with superb photography, the Barbarian Women are tougher and faster than ever before…hell has no fury like The Return of the Barbarian Women.”
—– Video box blurb.
I’ve never been a fan of Italian films – many of their modern horror pics seem to me to be vastly over-rated, dull remakes of other countries hits. However, occasionally even they can turn out a classic, although not one that will win any Oscars, unless they start giving them out for WORST actor, WORST special effects and WORST film. “Return of the Barbarian Women” would be guaranteed to sweep the boards at such an event, being a superb example of a really appallingly bad film.
The Italians have always been great ones for using pseudonyms, presumably so that if the film dies a death, they can deny all association with it. It is therefore interesting to note that, as far as I am aware, none of the people credited with making this film have produced anything else, before or since. Either they all decided to change their names when they saw what a turkey they had produced, or they really were all complete amateurs – both explanations are extremely plausible.
Of course, they are not ENTIRELY to blame. Every bad movie has a moment in it when something happens which snuffs out the last, flickering hope of a decent film, and in RotBW, it is provided not by the plot, but by the video company. The particular scene in question has two characters chatting with a camp fire between them – unfortunately, the cutting from cinema screen shape to TV shape has been brutal and manages to leave both characters out of the shot, with the exception of the odd hand gesture. The result is definitely a classic of the genre.
Now, to the film itself. The video blurb quoted above is almost entirely misleading, but given the truth is probably preferable. Pausing only to take a deep breath, here we go. Bear with me…
It starts with the Barbarian Women (hereinafter referred to as the BW, though oddly enough, in the film they’re always referred to as “the Amazons”) engaged in their version of the Olympics ; climbing poles and shooting arrows at each other, single combat on ground studded with metal spikes, fighting with spike gauntlets, the usual sort of thing. Their Queen then tells them they will go and force Dharma to reveal the secret of his sacred flame.
After this admirably confusing opening, we meet a couple of the other characters. Moog is a coloured gentleman we first see dealing with some trouble-makers who annoy him while he’s eating, first by hitting them, then, when this fails to discourage them, by belching and literally blowing them away. Chang is an oriental bloke, who rides on a buffalo – we also meet him just before an encounter with some nasty people. Bandits, in his case, and he disposes of them with a mix of Kung Fu and swordplay, although not before meeting his love interest (also Oriental, no “Angel Heart” here!), accompanied by some sickly violins.
The scene switches to a village; the BW ride in, round up the inhabitants and demand a tax from them. We find out Dharma has been protecting this village for 400 years – he appears in a flash of pyrotechnics and tells the BW to leave. They chase him and he runs away (strange behaviour for an immortal) before vanishing in another flash of pyrotechnics.
Dharma appears in the village, and receives tributes, which he accepts ungraciously (“Where are my favourite hot peppers? Don’t say you’ve forgotten them again!!”). Now, Dharma’s secret is revealed – he is just the latest in a long line of con-men who pretend to be immortal and have been swindling the villagers for centuries and he is now training his successor. This youth goes hunting and helps a BW who is injured when she gets thrown off her horse, clearly frightened by the sickly violin music that wells up.
The BW attack again and this time Dharma is turned into a novelty pin-cushion – before he dies, he tells his successor to go meet Moog & Chang (who are seeking ‘immortality’ through Dharma’s ‘sacred flame’), and revenge him. Thus perishes the only half-decent actor in the picture.
Dharma, Chang and Moog meet up in the market place – Moog also meets his sickly violin music, sorry girl, and the three return to Dharma’s hideout. Moog & Chang try and become immortal by passing through the ‘sacred flame’, but only get burned (“Aieee!” “What did you say?” “I said ‘Aieee!’ – that means ‘Ouch!’ in dialect”). Dharma tells them they must perform a noble deed first – in their case, fighting the BW, who are busy pillaging the village, carrying off 100 sackes of grain and the best of the young men.
They try to recruit the rest of the villagers’ help, but with no luck, and are forced to try and rescue the prisoners themselves. This they do (being flung into the BW camp on catapults!), which leaves the BW feeling a bit miffed. Fortunately, some bounty hunters offer to tell the BW how to get into Dharma’s refuge. They capture him, but Moog & Chang capture the bounty-hunters and find out how to enter the BW’s camp. They rescue Dharma, and escape by PARACHUTING out.
The villagers have now decided to fight back and are prepared, just like in “The Magnificent Seven”. The BW attack, but are repulsed with a mix of home-made hand- grenades and TANKS (complete with flamethrowers!). Dharma defeats the BW Queen in single combat and returns to his hideout, leaving Moog & Chang to ride off into the sunset still mortal, and probably no wiser!
As you’ll have guessed from this, it is a violent film, but only in the way “Tom and Jerry” is – there is almost no blood. Fight & chase sequences, which together occupy a very impressive 36 minutes out of the 94 the whole film lasts, are accompanied by sound effects, mostly of gongs being hit. The actors leap through the air, turning somersaults as they go, an effect spoiled somewhat when you realise that they are only ever seen in mid air, going straight up or coming straight down. I searched for a ‘Trampolines by’ credit, but couldn’t find one.
Acting is non-existent, dubbing is so bad you wonder if the dialogue comes from an entirely different film, and the direction is not exactly up to Polanski level. In fact, it’s difficult to say whose level it IS up to. The music is indescribably cliched – the song at the end must be about the worst I’ve ever heard in a movie. Not to say this film doesn’t have it’s good points – it is extremely entertaining and undemandingly enjoyable. However, this is no bar at all to it being, without a doubt, the worst film I have ever seen. Mere words seem totally insufficient to even begin to describe just how monumentally atrocious it is.
One thing still bothers me – both the title and the video blurb imply that this is a sequel. Despite much searching, I’ve not been able to trace the original, “The Barbarian Women – mind you, I’m not sure I really want to!
You’ll be lucky if you can get a copy of RotBW – my copy came out of a Tottenham Court Road shop when they didn’t have a tape of “Q – the Winged Serpent” to replace my faulty one. I think the recommended retail price was 3.99.