Directors – Michael Benveniste, Walter R. Cichy & Howard Ziehm, Screenplay – Michael Benveniste & William Hunt, Producers – Howard Ziehm & Bill Osco, Photography – Howard Ziehm, Music – Ralph Ferraro, Special Effects Supervisor – Phil Hoege, Stop Motion Aninmation – Dave Allen, Jim Aupperle & Mij Htrofnad [Jim Danforth], Makeup – Ferraro, Rick Baker & Bill Hedge, Production Design – Mike Minor. Production Company – Graffiti Productions.
Jason Williams (Flesh Gordon), Suzanne Fields (Dale Ardor), Joseph Hudgins (Dr Flexei Jerkoff), William Hunt (Emperor Whang), Mycle Brandy (Queen Amora), Lance Larsen (Prince Precious)
Emperor Whang, the depraved ruler of the planet Porno, attacks Earth with his deadly sex ray, sending the populace into a maddened frenzy of copulation. Flesh Gordon and air hostess Dale Ardour are the only ones able to resist when the ray strikes their plane. They bail out of the plane, landing at the laboratory of Dr Flexei Jerkoff. They join Jerkoff aboard his rocketship as he takes off to head to Porno to deal with Whang. On Porno, Whang decides to marry Dale and throws Flesh into an arena with his Amazons. Rescued by the witch queen Amora, who wants him as her sex slave, Flesh makes his way across Porno, fighting Whang’s raping robots, lesbian revolutionaries and the monster in Whang’s temple, to rescue Dale.
The 1960s was a period when comic-books and superheroes lost their innocence. First there was tv’s Batman (1966-8), which sent up the po-faced seriousness and moral certainty of the original characters. Then came the delightful Barbarella (1968) in which comic-books literally lost their innocence. The next logical step proved to be Flesh Gordon.
Flesh Gordon brought out all the sexual undertows and Freudian symbolism inherent in the Flash Gordon comic-books and serials, which consisted of Flash Gordon (1936) and its two sequels Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). The old accusations of rocketships as phallic symbols are confirmed – here the rocketship is shaped like a giant penis and its emergence from its hangar looks exactly like a dick emerging from a zipper. The best thing in the film is the stop-motion animated temple monster, which becomes an explicit parody of King Kong (1933), muttering “Rip her clothes off” in a doleful voice as it snatches up the heroine.
Despite such moments of invention, Flesh Gordon often seems belaboured. The rest of the time the film is merely trying to find ways to conduct softcore simulations of every aspect of the original serials. (The script follows the 1936 Flash Gordon surprisingly closely). It gets very silly with Prince Barin being rewritten as a foppish gay man and scenes where Whang disposes of the heroes by flushing them down a giant toilet. The ghastly hamming of co-writer William Hunt as Emperor Whang is the film’s low point.
There is a small cult that exists for Flesh Gordon in some quarters, which seems to rest primarily on the professional quality of the effects. Flesh Gordon is perhaps notable for featuring many effects artists who went on to find considerable fame in better films – among the credits, one can see Oscar-winning makeup effects artist Rick Baker, stop-motion animators Dave Allen and Doug Beswick, Dennis Muren who became one of the founders of Industrial Light and Magic, model-maker Greg Jein who built the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and stop-motion animator Jim Danforth hiding under the pseudonym Mij Htrofnad (the reverse spelling of his name).
In the end, Flesh Gordon is a pornographic parody that is neither pornographic enough to work as erotica nor parody enough to amuse genre fandom, and as a result entertains neither camp. It did however begin a trend throughout the 1980s of films whose titles were X-rated take-offs of more innocent other models – the likes of Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (1978), Edward Penishands (1991), The Flintbones (1992), Beaver and Buttface (1995), The XXX Files (1995), The Erotic Witch Project (1999) and Dancing with the Porn Stars (2007) to name but a minor sampling. (For a more detailed overview see Erotica and Pornography in Fantastic Cinema).
Co-director Howard Ziehm later made a sequel Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders (1991). William Hunt was the only other returnee from the original.