Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 6 Beans
I should address, immediately, two objections some people might have to my reviewing this film here. Firstly, some would identify this film as pornography, which, since the "Dr. Vaselino" incident, most reviewers have agreed is not really appropriate for this site. To that, I would say that I'll keep the review suited to the dignified tone of "Bad Movie Night," and, as I'll discuss later, this film is only tenuously pornographic. Secondly, a flick called "Flesh Gordon" is obviously a sitting duck, and seems hardly worth the effort to review. To that, I would say, that this film-- both better and worse than one might expect-- is the sort of thing some people come to the site to read about.
Flesh Gordon, then.
Marketed as both soft-core porn and sci-fi comedy, the film's original ads proclaimed it "an outrageous parody of yesterday's superheroes!" The word "outrageous" reappears in the film's introduction, but by today's standards, it's fairly tame, and aimed at those who find the mere mention of sexual organs and bodily functions scandalously funny.
The movie begins with a disjointed, cheap-looking introduction. Earth, possibly in the 1930s, is being affected by a "sex ray" which causes unbridled passion and licentious behaviour. The film quality is noticeably worse than elsewhere in the movie. One wonders if the opening was made last, after they had spent the budget on special effects. Or perhaps they were trying to capture the cheapness of the old serials. In any case, this section really does not work. The comic and pornographic possibilities of a ray which causes people to become indiscriminately sexual are not fully exploited, which seems curious for a film of this nature. The attempts to suggest the time-period of the old serials further suggest a hasty, thrown-together quality. Some costumes and props are from the 30s/40s, while others-- and some of the hairstyles-- are rooted in the mid- 1970s.
This annoying introduction out of the way, we meet the film's knock-offs of Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov: Flesh Gordon, Dale Ardor, and Dr. Jerkoff. They shoot off in a cocked-up spaceship to the planet Porno, ruled by the evil emperor Wang, to stop the sex-ray. At this point, the film's key strengths and weaknesses become evident.
The entire mise-en-scene is very reminiscent of the old sci-fi serials. Minds clearly familiar with everything from George Melies to Gene Roddenberry were at work here, and costumes, music, models, and sets nicely recall a range of hokey media fantasies, especially the old "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers" serials. Some of the echoes are marvellously obscure. For example, the filmmakers model the (fortunately ineffectual) "Rapist Robots" on ones used in a few Republic serials of 40s and 50s.
Unfortunately, the negatives quickly overwhelm the film. The humour is of two varieties. Some jokes resemble the goofiness of "Mad" magazine and the Zucker Brothers' movies. Too few of these sort are made, however, and most aren't overly funny. The rest of the gags recall the locker- room conversation of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys. These grow tiresome very quickly. How many times can the average person chortle over some guy being named "Jerkoff"?
The acting stinks. William Hunt's performance as Wang the Perverted goes deliberately over the top, but the rest of the cast is merely wooden. I suppose I could be charitable and say they were echoing the old serials again, but even if that's the case-- and I doubt it is-- an hour-plus of wooden acting is not very interesting. The Princess of Darkness' orgasm is the closest anyone manages to a performance in this film.
Which brings me to the subject of sex. Those seeking an erotic experience should pass this one up. We get a lot of nudity in "Flesh," but the sex is neither explicit nor artistically-filmed. It says as much about the film as the reviewer that I fast-forwarded though the final orgy sequence. Curiously, the makers were more interested in their silly plot and spoofery than with sex, and the "adult" (which, in filmland, usually means "hopelessly puerile") elements disappear almost entirely as the film reaches its climax.
As a bad-movie bonus, the film features completely gratuitous, though relatively mild, homophobia, reflecting a time when the mainstream generally thought any reference to same-sex activity was a great laugh.
I doubt anyone making a soft-core porn/sci-fi spoof thinks he or she is creating a masterpiece. Still, "Flesh Gordon," despite some nifty touches, does not even rise to expectations.
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