Flesh Gordon (1974)
Directed by Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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While the Earth is being devastated by a mysterious sex ray, which is causing people to go wild with carnal desire, strip naked, and have sex, Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams) and Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) meet on an airplane. Soon afterwards, the plane is struck by the sex ray, and the pilots leave their posts to fornicate with the passengers. Flesh tries to fly the plane himself, but when he realizes he cannot, he parachutes out with Dale in his arms. The pair land in a forest, where they discover Dr. Flexi Jerkoff 's (Joseph Hudgins) secret laboratory. Fortunately for them, the good scientist has invented a spaceship capable of reaching the stars. Once Flesh has overcome Jerkoff's initial suspicions, the three head off to the planet Porno, the source of the sex ray. This, they learn, is being controlled by the hideous and impotent Emperor Wang the Perverted (William Hunt). Whatever the tyrant's inadequacies, as soon as he sees Dale, he is overcome with lust for her and decides to make her his wife. First, however, he orders that Flesh be killed. The brave hero, luckily, is desired by Wang's sister, Amora (Mycle Brandy), who rescues him and provides him with the chance to join a band of rebels led by Prince Precious (Lance Larsen), the rightful ruler of Porno.

Although Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm's Flesh Gordon may not be the most clever or the most well made of films, it is still wonderfully entertaining.

Regrettably, the movie is not consistent in quality. The acting is almost universally bad, the script, though occasionally comic, is frequently juvenile, and the nudity is funnier than it is sexy. All of that said, the film is not without its virtues. It is often a successful parody of the much earlier Flash Gordon serials. A number of the special effects are pretty good, and the sets, though sometimes of very low quality, are sometimes remarkable.

Flexi Jerkoff's phallic spaceship is amusing. Wang's palace, with its tall spires and great domes, is sumptuous and impressive (except when its cheaply built interiors are shown), and several of the paintings used to depict backgrounds on Porno are bewitching, mysterious, and grand. There are even moments of real beauty, as when Queen Amora's swan shaped flying ship floats above the clouds in front of a full moon.

Such elements are hardly the only things in the movie able to engage the viewer. Some of the special effects are so bad they are actually fun to watch, while others are surprisingly accomplished. In particular, the idol that Wang awakens at the end of the film, and that promptly kidnaps Dale, strips her so it can look at her breasts, and carries her to the top of a tower, where it fights off attacks by Flesh, who is circling the fiend in an airplane, is brought to life with stop-motion animation that is just as impressive as is some of Ray Harryhausen's work. Even those effects that are not as well done as is this creature can add to Flesh Gordon's appeal. The penisauruses, giant penises tipped each with an eyeball and brought to life with stop-motion animation, are a hoot, as is a similarly realized mechanical fighting beetle, while the rape robots, with their whirling phallic drills, have a bizarre, nostalgic yet obscene charm.

As nicely done as many of the film's elements are, the moviegoer should not think that Flesh Gordon is anything other than a goofy parody. The story is absolutely packed with sexual innuendos, absurd situations, and general silliness. Upon arriving on Porno, Dr. Jerkoff steps out of his ship, takes a deep breath, and announces that the planet has oxygen. Later, Flesh and his friends are flushed down a giant toilet and shown (through a cross section) hurtling through the plumbing below Wang's palace. At other points, one or more of the protagonists use Queen Amora's power pasties as weapons, are captured by aggressive lesbian revolutionaries, or join up with libidinous, and very fey, gay revolutionaries. The film is never serious, and although it is rarely hilarious, it is always amusing.

If a number of the items noted above sound as if they might be sophomoric or downright dumb, that is because they are. Fortunately, the film's very badness adds to its appeal. The abysmal acting, the adolescent sex jokes, and the like give the whole movie a joyous campiness.

Flesh Gordon is hardly a cinematic masterpiece, but it is tremendously fun to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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