Before Home Video was but a glimmer in the industries eye and long before stuff like OnlyFans.com changed the porn industry forever, there were erotic films like The Story of O and The Image, movies that were not only given proper theatrical releases but had decent production values and often made considerable bank – Deep Throat with Linda Lovelace became one of the 10 highest-grossing films of 1972 – and today we will look at another of those entries from those halcyon days of porn, a film called Flesh Gordon, a loving satire of the classic pulp action hero.
The movie opens with a text/narration that informs the viewer that this take on the immortal pulp hero Flash Gordon is going to be a little different, stating “In today’s troubled times, we, the producers felt there existed a need for more entertaining humor. Realizing America’s respect for things of the past, we in the spirit of burlesque and satire have created a new folk hero, with the spirit of the old and the outrageous of the new” and was clearly included to prevent copyright lawsuits from King Features who own the rights to Flash Gordon. The plot of Flesh Gordon is quite similar to the story it is parodying, with a mysterious threat from outer space, only in this case we open with Professor Gordon (John Hoyt) explaining to a group men that a “Sex Ray” is causing the people of Earth to fall into an uncontrolled sexual frenzy and that his son Flesh (Jason Williams), who has been representing the United States at the tenth international ice hockey playoffs in Tibet, has discovered a great beam of light originating from somewhere in deep space and he is returning to the States to brief the world…or that was his plan.
Unfortunately, Flesh’s flight is caught in one of those sex beam attacks and the passengers and crew proceed to have an uncontrolled frenetic orgy which results in the plane flying out of control and crashing. Lucky for us Flesh is able to escape along with fellow passenger Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) and the two of them drift to Earth via some well-placed parachutes, where after safely landing they quickly run into scientist Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins) who has a plan to stop the sex rays at their source, by travelling to Planet Porno aboard his space ship.
All the elements that make up a classic Flash Gordon story are on hand here, only now with their porno-parody counterparts and casual nudity making this stand out from its predecessor, but due to the bulk of the X-rated footage that was shot for the film being forcibly surrendered to L.A. vice police, to save the producer and director from being fined and possibly going to jail, which resulted in a film that was not much a porno as it was a raunchy sex comedy as all that remained was some full-frontal nudity and rather softcore sex scenes.
One thing this version of Flash Gordon doesn’t manage to escape from is the problem of the “Yellow Peril” aspect found in Emperor Wang the Perverted (William Dennis Hunt), this film’s Ming the Merciless counterpart, whose make-up was even more racist than what is found in those old Flash Gordon serials. Modern viewers may also find the effeminate gay stereotypes used for Prince Precious (Mycle Brandy) of the Forest Kingdom to be fairly tasteless and a clear by-product of a less-than-enlightened age, but when watching a movie called Flesh Gordon being offended is par for the course.
• This film is mostly populated with either porn stars like Candy Samples or no-name B-listers but it did manage to land one veteran actor in the form of John Hoyt, star of the sci-fi classic When Worlds Collide, to cameo as Professor Gordon.
• Why a hockey player was looking for the origins of the sex ray is never explained. Maybe Tibet is just that boring and star gazing is the only other way to pass the time.
• Flesh Gordon grabs Dale and they bail out of the aircraft leaving his fellow passengers to die, and this is our hero?
• Flesh is forced into a “Trial by Ordeal” that involves three harpy-like hermaphrodites, an element that Greek mythology clearly missed out on.
• Dale is captured by Amazons because you’re not a proper porno without at least one lesbian scene.
• Flesh has a duel with a skeletal-like insect creature that was a nice homage to the Ray Harryhausen skeleton fight in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.
• The design of the hooved Great God Porno is a nod to the giant cyclops from the aforementioned Sinbad film and its death atop Wang’s tower is an obvious homage to the original King Kong.
• This movie takes the phallic nature of a rocket ship to its logical conclusion.
When watching Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm’s Flesh Gordon it should be noted that the film features production values that are quite comparable to the original Flash Gordon serial, with miniatures and model spaceships that look almost lifted right from those classics, that being said there are three sequences that used the stop-motion animation technique, a labour intensive process that would never have been utilized by the makers of the Flash Gordon serials – they tended to strap horns and spikes onto actual lizards for their monsters – and it’s these nods to animation legend Ray Harryhausen, provided by effects artists such as Jim Danforth and Rick Baker. who would later become legends in their own right, is what makes Flesh Gordon worth the watch.
As a porno Flesh Gordon fails pretty hard at being erotic – having the hard-core X-rated elements being forcibly removed by the vice squad certainly didn’t help – but where the film does succeed is in its campy comedic elements and at times one will find it hard to distinguish the bad acting from the intentional hammy performances. A particular favourite moment of mine is when Flexi Jerkoff hands Dale a dress to wear, her outfit having been destroyed prior to their escape from Earth, stating “It was my mother’s, she was buried in it.” It’s those oddball moments that stop Flesh Gordon from just being a forgettable raunchy parody and elevating it into almost camp classic status, unfortunately, those moments are a little too few and far between and thus prevent this film from quite reaching that level. Overall, Flesh Gordon is an interesting entry in the science-fiction genre and is easily the best space-porno-parody to date.
Note: The film ends with a title card promising us a sequel “Don’t miss the next exciting episode – The Perils Of Flesh” and even though that never happened we did get the sex comedy Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders back in 1990, sadly William Dennis Hunt was the only returning cast member.
Flesh Gordon (1974)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Even though Flesh Gordon fails pretty hard at being an erotic film it does have enough campy fun to make it worth a watch, that is if you like campy humour and don’t have faint sensibilities.