Friday 16 February 2024

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Flesh Gordon is, very obviously, a softcore Flash Gordon spoof. And it’s not done in quite the way you might expect. It was directed by Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm. Michael Benveniste and William Dennis Hunt wrote the screenplay.

Earth is under attack. A hitherto unknown planet is aiming a sinister ray at our planet. It’s not a death ray, it’s a sex ray. It causes people to go mad with lust and start having sex with anyone who happens to be in close proximity.

Professor Gordon’s son Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams) is going to be the hero of the hour. Luckily he encounters one of his father’s colleague, the brilliant scientist Dr Jerkoff. Dr Jerkoff has invented a new high-tech spacecraft. Dr Jerkoff, Flesh and the lovely Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) voyage to the source of the sex ray, the planet Porno. On the way they are hit by the sex ray so they have a mini-orgy before continuing their voyage.

The planet Porno is ruled by the evil Emperor Wang (William Dennis Hunt). There is a power struggle going on there between Wang and his queen, Amora.

Flesh, Dale and Dr Jerkoff have to find a way to destroy that sex ray but they are inevitably captured. They have the usual series of narrow escapes from danger.

Eventually they make contact with a resistance movement, after a frightening encounter with lesbian amazons. Dr Jerkoff thinks he has invented a device that can end the power of the sex ray.

One advantage our heroes have I that Dr Jerkoff is now in possession of Queen Amora’s pasties. Apart from their accustomed purpose the power pasties are formidable weapons.

The first surprise this movie springs on us is that it has a period setting. It is set in the 1930s, just like the original Flash Gordon serials. This is rather unusual and daring for a very low-budget movie. The decision proves to be a masterstroke. Consciously aping the setting and feel of the 30s serials means that the cheesy special effects become a major plus instead of a minus. Everything looks the way these things looked in those 1930s serials.

Even Dr Jerkoff’s spaceship, which looks like a giant penis, actually looks rather like the spaceships in the serials with a slight alteration in shape. The spaceship interiors look exactly like similar scenes in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials.

The sets are cheap but they have that 1930s serial look. The matte paintings are very obviously matte paintings but that is totally in keeping with the movie’s chosen aesthetic.

Had the money been available to do more sophisticated and convincing special effects it would have ruined the movie completely. It would have taken most of the fun out of it. And the stop-motion effects are actually pretty good.

It’s also obvious that this movie is not going to make a single concession to realism. The sets are intended to look like movie sets.

And it’s obvious that this is going to be a fun sexy spoof rather than a sex movie. This is not a silly goofy fun movie with added nudity and sex. The nude scenes and the sex scenes are just as silly, goofy and fun as everything else in the film.

This movie is actually quite amusing and even has a few laugh-out-loud moments. It also manages to be off-the-wall and very good-natured at the same time. It’s all much too goofy to get upset about.

There’s a moment, just after their spaceship has passed through the sex ray, when Dr Jerkoff is explaining some scientific principle to Flesh in a very serious manner. While he’s doing so he’s idly fondling Dale’s breasts. She’s not the least bit worried. She knows it’s just the after-effects of the sex ray and he’s not even aware of what he’s doing. She just carries on as if nothing is happening.

Later on the three of them are having a serious discussion about strategy. Dale is totally naked. She seems completely unaware of this and the other two seem totally oblivious to her nudity.

There’s an immense amount of frontal nudity and lots of sex scenes both of which come across as zany and fun rather than arousing. This movie simply doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be erotic.

The basic plot, apart from the sex angle, is pure 1930s movie serial stuff with plenty of conscious echoes of the plots of the original serials.

The acting is mostly bad but bad in a fun way. The cast members all clearly understood that they were meant to make their performances as outrageous and silly as possible.

It’s a rare example of a movie that is deliberately trying to be camp and that gets away with it.

Strangely enough and despite all the sex and nudity this movie is far more successful in capturing the authentic feel of the 1930s movie serials than the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.

Flesh Gordon has a rather poor reputation which I think says a lot about the humourlessness of the modern world. A crazy movie but I enjoyed it a lot. Highly recommended.

The audio commentary by Howard Ziehm is extraordinarily interesting. To say that the movie’s production history was troubled would be an understatement. Ziehm was ripped off by his business partner, he had to fire the director, he had to deal with temperamental crew members and constant persecution by the cops (such as being threatened with a fifteen-year prison sentence). Amazingly he was able to stay out of jail and complete the movie and it went on to be a major success.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Candy Samples was my favorite part of this film.