HCF GUILTY PLEASURES: FLESH GORDON 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 90 min/ 78 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Earth is being devastated by a mysterious sex ray which is causing people to have carnal desires, strip naked, and have sex. Professor Gordon thinks it comes from the planet Porno. Meanwhile his son Flesh Gordon and Dale Ardor meet on an airplane which is then struck by the sex ray, making everyone, including the pilots, fornicate with each other. Flesh parachutes out with Dale in his arms, and, landing in a forest, discover Dr. Flexi Jerkoff ‘s secret laboratory. He has invented a spaceship capable of reaching the stars and wants to travel to the planet Porno to stop the ray. The three set off…….
When I was at school during the early 80’s, the cool kids had video players and the really cool kids had parents who let them hire out and watch whatever they liked. People like me didn’t have video players for ages so we weren’t cool at all, and for us there was considerable excitement and mystery about titles like Zombie Flesh Eaters and Life Of Brian, films which were obviously not the kind of films kids of my age should be watching but those who had great [we didn’t know the meaning of the word irresponsible!] parents or older brothers were given the great privilege of doing so. One of the most legendary titles was Flesh Gordon, not, of course, to be confused with the 1980 Flash Gordon, which could also be a great Guilty Pleasure if it wasn’t for the beautiful sets and the stunning costumes which actually make it rather good as well as just being heaps of fun. Several classmates would go on about Flesh Gordon and how funny and raunchy it was. Even when my mum and dad did get a video player there is no way they would let me hire out something like Flesh Gordon. I had to wait quite a few years till I got round to seeing it.
Flesh Gordon was originally planned as a hardcore porn movie, a follow-up to producer Bill Osco’s and director Howard Ziehm’s Mona, The Virgin Nymph, the first hardcore film to feature a ‘proper’ narrative. The basis was the 1936 serial Flash Gordon. For years the story went that after shooting, they decided to reshoot some scenes and change it into a softcore film because the special effects were turning out rather good and therefore could attract a wider audience. Rumours abounded that the full hard core version existed somewhere. Actually, what really happened was that part of the way through production the film was seized because making a hard core sex film in Los Angeles at that time was considered equivalent to ‘pandering’ [operating a brothel] and the hardcore footage destroyed. No ‘full uncut’ version exists. They did reshoot many scenes and brought in a team of special effects talents including future star Rick Baker and even established artists like Jim Danforth and Dave Allen. The film was shorn of eleven minutes for its US cinema release, not sexual scenes but trims to quicken the pace. UK cinemas, quite amazingly, saw the full version, though the video release lost a lesbian rape/seduction scene and a shot of a shaved pussy, amounting to just under a minute and a half cut.
The best way to approach Flesh Gordon is to pretend you are a 14 year old boy [and I suppose girl, though we all know that even soft core porn movies tend to be unfairly aimed at the male of the species], and though I did, and still do, gain much enjoyment from this film, I really wish I had seen it when I was around 14. The names of the characters are changed so they are smutty i.e. Flash Gordon to Flesh Gordon, Dale Arden to Dale Ardor, etc. The story follows the serial quite closely [and would be virtually reprised in the 1980 film] but changes bits and pieces so it all revolves around sex. The weapon attacking Earth turns people into sex maniacs. The spaceship looks like a penis. The first monster the humans encounter on the planet Porno is immediately recognised by Dr Jerkoff as a ‘Penisaurus’. The rebels living beneath the evil Emperor Wang’s palace are rapacious lesbians. The Tree Men, the leader of which is the rightful heir to the planet, are all gay. Wang’s secret weapon is the ‘Rape Robots’ who have drills between their legs. And so forth.
So it’s all very juvenile, and even the non-sexual humour is of the idiotic kind and actually only mildly amusing [though I always chuckle when Jerkoff starts his spaceship and we see he’s using a set of car keys]. What I find quite appealing is how childlike and harmless most of it is. Yes, there’s a great deal of nudity and sex – Dale spends most of the time topless and you can actually glimpse the odd glimpse of actual sex footage in Wang’s palace where orgies are always taking place – but compared to much of today’s comedy output which is very mean-spirited and just seems to want to shock, the proceedings seem almost innocent. Yes, you do get to very briefly see, in return for saving his life, Flash letting Prince Precious [the leader of the Tree Men] give him a blow-job, but the only bit in the film which leaves a sour taste in my mouth [sorry] is when Dale is strapped to a table and sexually assaulted by a lesbian, half-way through starting to enjoy it. For once the BBFC did a good job is removing most of this dodgy sequence. Otherwise, so long as you know you’re watching a film that is ‘18’-rated, there really isn’t anything to offend in it.
Now of course as filmmaking it’s pretty rudimentary, and, blown up from 16mm to 25mm, it has always looked a bit shabby, but if you consider that it was made for $470,000,they didn’t do a bad job in some areas really. The opening credits, with reasonable serial-type music playing over lewd [it’s mainly boobs] but very stylish drawings, certainly gets the film off to quite a good start. The spaceships, Wang’s palace [made mostly out of drinking glasses] and an area of psychedelically painted caves are quite impressive. A fight with a stop-motion ‘ant-man’ plays like a half-decent approximation of a Ray Harryhausen set-piece, and it all ends quite well with a King Kong-inspired climax involving the ‘Great God Porno’, who looks and moves like Harryhausen’s Ymir from Twenty Million Miles to Earth but is, quite insanely, voiced by Craig T. Nelson sounding like a dirty Bing Crosby. Considering the budget, this whole sequence is very well put together. And then there’s that rather beautiful image of Queen Amora’s swan-like spaceship gliding past the constellations in space; no, it’s not really convincing, but a certain amount of artistry is certainly present.
The direction is run-of-the-mill and the acting is atrocious, with Jason Williams as Flash Gordon even making Sam J. Jones in the part seem good. Though technically it’s quite an achievement considering what they had to work with, at the end of the day this is still not a good film, but then many films can be enjoyed as much for their badness as their goodness. Flesh Gordon is utter madness of a highly inventive kind which just isn’t seen today. Damn it, a film like this and this low budget wouldn’t even get a decent release. Whether that’s a good thing may be open to dispute, but, after checking out Flesh Gordon, which finally seems to be available uncut both sides of the Atlantic, watch a bit of the 1990 follow-up Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders, which attempted a more conventional kind of comedy, toned down the sex, but also toned down the audacity and energy, and ended up dropping every ball. It’s harder [sorry] to make this kind of thing work than you might expect. They at least got half way there with this crazy one-of-kind-movie [of course full-blown pornographic versions of major films are a dime a dozen] and I’m so glad it exists.