Friday, April 8, 2011

Flesh Gordon (1974)

The Movie: The Earth is, as the esteemed scientist Professor Gordon (John Hoyt) puts it, in big trouble. A sex ray beamed from space has been striking the Earth, causing all struck by it to engage in unrestrained sexual orgies. Civilization can’t survive when the president of the U.S. neglects his duties to lock himself in the bathroom with the vice president, or the world’s pre-eminent scientist is distracted because he found his wife in bed with the garbage man. Fortunately, Flesh (Jason Williams), the professor’s son, has located the planet the beam is coming from; and he is returning from playing ice hockey for the U.S. in Tibet to help find a solution.

Meanwhile, as Flesh flies home from Tibet he meets Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields), who we automatically know will be “the Girl” for Flesh. Unfortunately, trouble strikes almost immediately as the sex ray hits the plane in mid-air. The pilots decide they would rather join the on-board orgy than handle the controls (that innuendo was not intentional, I swear), and when they and the passengers go down, so does the plane (okay, that one was). Fortunately, Flesh and Dale are able to bail out. Even better, they happen to land outside the home of Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgens), an old friend of Flesh’s father and a brilliant scientist. Jerkoff has also been investigating the sex ray, and he has built a spaceship to take him to its source. Our three heroes set off for the planet Porno to put a stop to the ray.

Unfortunately, their plans to save the Earth put them afoul of Porno’s ruler, the evil Emperor Wang the Perverted (William Hunt). Even with the aid of the outlaw (and flamboyantly gay) Prince Precious (Lance Larson), true heir to the throne of Porno, our heroes’ task will not be easy. Penisaurs, lesbian amazons, hermaphrodite gladiators, Wang’s cannon-fodder troops and deathtraps, and the Great God Porno; all stand between our heroes and victory. Will Dr. Jerkoff figure out how to use the Power Pasties to end the threat of Wang and his sex ray? Will Dale be able to avoid being molested by everyone but the men she wants to molest her? Can Flesh keep his pants on long enough to save the Earth?

The Review:

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Sex madness perils planet! Hey, scram you horny joiks!" -Paperboy

For my current offering, I present one of my truly guilty pleasures. By that, I mean that I feel extremely guilty about the fact that I enjoy this movie; or at least, some people feel that I should. Now, I’m not all that big on porn movies. Mostly this is due to my attitude toward the two main elements that people go to these movies for. After a certain double date in high school I came to the conclusion that when it comes to sex, any sex; if it doesn’t involve me, I’m not interested. Now I have since seen some stuff out of curiosity (“oh, so that’s how that would work”), but I have mostly retained that attitude. For me, with the very rare exception, watching other people screw is at worst kind of repulsive, and at best rather dull.

As for the other main element, I must confess that I am something of a connoisseur of the female form and its infinite variations. However, I don’t care how good looking the women in question are or how much we get to see of them; if a movie doesn’t have more to offer I lose interest quickly. Admittedly it doesn’t have to be much more, and I do enjoy female nudity in my movies; but it’s really not worthwhile when that’s all the movie in question has to offer.

Flesh Gordon is one of the only three pornographic movies (the others being Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, which I have yet to get my hands on) that are widely recognized as classics in and of themselves. There is a reason for this; Flesh Gordon actually works as a movie, not just as a vehicle for vicarious sexual shenanigans. It is obvious that a lot of effort went into this film, and one also gets the impression that somebody had a lot of fun making it.

Flesh Gordon is a spoof of the old Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. One of the main reasons that it works is because it is exactly what a spoof or a parody should be. Flesh Gordon sticks very close to the original that it is parodying, only tweaking it a bit so that the elements used are slanted to their most ridiculous extremes and/or to be sexual. All of the major (and the majority of the minor) plot points are nothing that, at their core, you wouldn’t find in this parody’s model. A handsome, square-jawed hero; a hapless damsel; and a brilliant but slightly unhinged scientist travel to another planet to stop a threat to Earth. Once there, they have to deal with monsters, death traps, and an evil supervillain with powerful super-science at his disposal. The only real differences are that the threat to Earth is an aphrodisiac ray, the monsters are, among other things, penisauri, and the villain is more blatantly sex-obsessed than his models from the pulps and serials.

Unfortunately, that accuracy is applied to the character of our heroes as well. I say unfortunately, because as characters the heroes in this genre tended to be uniformly bland. Flesh is pretty much your standard square-jawed, upstanding fighter, defined wholly by the fact that he’s tall, strong, handsome, and every female he encounters inexplicably lusts after him on first glance. The movie does something clever with that last one, in the scene where Flesh, Dale and Jerkoff first meet Prince Precious. When the obviously gay Precious first beholds the heroic Flesh, he follows the exact same script the majority of the female characters do in reaction to him. We even get a glimpse of the two enjoying a “romantic” (i.e. blatantly sexual) interlude together.

The character of Dale has the same problem. Like her sisters in the serials she is basically a dumb bimbo whose only purpose is to serve as eye candy, be constantly rescued by the hero from being molested by everyone and his brother, and be forced into marriage to the villain. Albeit, in that last one the heroine is usually the one who wears the wedding dress. Also, even when Dale in Flesh Gordon is completely nude (which she is for much of the running time), she’s still not wearing much less than her models from the pulps did.

Another way in which Flesh Gordon adheres to the original, and does it extremely well, is in the look and the setting. With the exception of obvious little tweaks (such as the heroes’ very penis-shaped rocket ship, or the strategically placed drills on Wang’s robots), the settings and props look exactly like they came out of an old Flash Gordon serial. They are all amazing; which isn’t too surprising considering they were put together by some of the best sci-fi effects people of the time. The scene where the swan-shaped airship of Amora, Queen of Darkness (Mycle Brandy) flies across the night sky is just beautiful.

The same thing can be said of most of the stop-motion creatures in the movie as well. There is this one metallic insect–thing that’s just amazing. Best of all is probably the Great God Porno. The model would make Ray Harryhousen himself proud, its movements and facial expressions have personality in and of themselves. Combined with the voice and script they give it, it is both beautiful and very perversely hysterical.

The final strength Flesh Gordon has is its humor. This is a seriously funny movie with some really good, if perverse and often juvenile, jokes. Despite what you may think, they’re not all (or even mostly), sexual. There are plenty of bad ones, of course, but there are enough good ones that you forget about them rather quickly. From the Volkswagen key used to start the heroes’ rocket, to Wang’s various titles (“Your Impotenance” and “Your Assholiness” are my personal favorites), to how Jerkoff escapes from Wang’s lab to the Great God Porno; if you aren’t laughing at some point during this movie, you don’t have a sense of humor. What’s more, unlike some other movies of this type, there is no mean-spiritedness whatsoever.

Finally, I must address the pornographic elements; since this is, after all, a porno. My copy of Flesh Gordon, which is supposed to be the “re-edited, uncensored” version, mostly has softcore elements. However, I have heard that this movie was originally shot with hardcore scenes, but the director was forced to edit them out before the movie was released. I actually think the movie is all the better for it. While nudity abounds and there are plenty of softcore scenes, I get the impression that the pornographic elements were back-burnered in favor of the story; that the makers of this movie seemed to be more concerned about having fun spoofing Flash Gordon than they are about making pornography. I could be wrong; but even if you don’t care for pornography there are plenty of other things to be enjoyed about Flesh Gordon.

So in conclusion; Flesh Gordon is crude, perverse, twisted and juvenile. It has its frequent moments of cleverness, and very well done settings and props. In short, I find it to be a lot of fun, even if it is a porno. There is plenty to enjoy even for people who aren’t into pornography. I thoroughly enjoy this movie; and while I’m probably going to Hell for that and other reasons, I understand that all the best people are going to be joining me there anyway. If you have a really warped sense of humor and aren’t easily offended, this one is definitely worth a viewing.


  1. Hi Nathan -

    Matt here. I just read your review of "Flesh Gordon," which I finally saw for the first time a week or so ago, and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your funny, entertaining, and insightful essay. I'm also a fan of bad taste and Movies That Shouldn't Be ("Tromeo & Juliet" is my favorite), and I plan on perusing the hell out of your site. Thank you for sharing it!

    As for "Flesh," while some sloppy editing kills a few jokes (there are times when the actors look like the cannot believe no one has said "Cut!" yet), I also found it a fun, funny, and lovingly-crafted parody with some surprisingly wonderful effects, like that insect man and the glorious swan-ship. Despite all the flesh and rare glimpses of actual sex, it's not erotic in the fact, I agree with you that the lack of hardcore gives it an innocence that adds to its charm. Shame they'll never make anything like it again.

    Again, thank you for posting your wonderful blog - I can't wait to read more!


    P.S. The voice of the smooth-talking monster at the end? Craig T. Nelson. So sez IMDB, anyway.

  2. Thank you for the kind words, I'm so glad you enjoyed the review and I hope you continue to enjoy the site. I've really grown to love movies from the 1970s largely because there is an experimental quality to them. The Hays Code had just been dropped and new restrictions for what could and couldn't go into movies hadn't been made yet. Suddenly, movie makers could do things with their films they hadn't been allowed to do before, and they were all playing around with it to see what they could come up with. That's how movies like Flesh Gordon could be made. Sadly, nowadays the new batch of movie restrictions and the formulas for how certain movies are supposed to go together have been codified and formulized. The industry would have to have another major shake up for something like this to be made again.