7.21.2009

REVIEW: Flesh Gordon (Michael Benveniste & Howard Ziehm, 1974)

When the perverse Emperor Wang of planet Porno activates his dastardly sex-ray, the people of Earth become ravenously uninhibited. Only Flesh Gordon and his compatriots are daring enough to traverse the stars and stand up to Wang, who stirs plenty of obstacles in to their path. Released in an era of awakening, Flesh Gordon draws inspiration from the similarly named, hopeful hero of the late 1930's and answers a call for sexual freedom. When the sex comedy is far from old news and silicon has yet to conquer the female body, this flesh is fresh. Stand back! These film-makers have a cocky sense of humor and they know how to use it!

With characters like Dr. Flexi Jerkoff spouting lines such as "Sir, I've got a giant boner!" and zapping foes with nipple-armor called power-pasties, you know what you're getting in to. As opposed to plot points, the film relies on the introduction of a ballsy, cartoon-like gimmick with each scene. There's no tongue-in-cheek here; you're going to get licked. This parodic technique provides for an opening act with more belly laughs than you can shake your pet Penisaur at. Unfortunately, the constant, consistent and often clever humor leaves little room for cohesive storytelling. The film's midsection drags without a sense of dread, even when the female lead is captured by a buxom pirate wearing a half-bra to match her eyepatch. Only when Wang unleashes his Rapist Robots and, subsequently, his Craig T. Nelson-voiced monster does the experience begin again to live up to its potential.

Along with the kink, chimerical Flesh Gordon successfully captures the awe of contemporary science fiction. On occasion, it can be surprisingly subtle while simultaneously honoring and making light of its genre. For example, when our heroes arrive on Porno in their comically phallic spacecraft, the landing sequence is not only a decent scene in the realm of early 1970's space adventure but is also suggestively coital without becoming overly candid. At best, the film's effects nearly rival what they seem to be most influenced by - Ray Harryhausen's work on the incomparable Seventh Voyage of Sinbad - and that's more than can be expected from a relatively low budget piece of this sort.

As might be expected, Flesh Gordon treads deep through subversive roots and comes up with a handful of scenes that can be considered pornographic and in some cases, seem like something one might find on Cinemax at 3 AM. In fact, to this reviewer's knowledge the explicit content has only been topped in non-smut material by the Penthouse-produced Caligula, whose overt sexuality, of course, is of a vastly more sophisticated nature. To Flesh's credit, however, it is not afraid to indulge even in the case of same-sex relations and the more graphically liberal sequences only add to its unique prestige when all is said and done.

Step aside, Barbarella. Eat your heart out, Austin Powers. Accomplishing killer effects and major laughs, Flesh Gordon embodies its generation and sets the bar for irreverent, sci-fi sexploitation.

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