Monday, February 13, 2012

Lookalikes #20: Flesh Gordon & Flash Gordon


It's hard to say which version is camper (or sexier): Flesh Gordon, a 1974 soft core porn spoof of the original 1936 Flash Gordon TV series, or Flash Gordon, made in 1980, which often seems like a parody of Flesh Gordon. Flesh Gordon has surprisingly high production values for a porno film, but this was the early 70s, when porn threatened to go mainstream with films such as Deep Throat (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) and Emmanuelle (1974).

In Flesh Gordon, earth becomes infected by a 'sex ray'; Flesh, Dale Ardor and Dr Jerkoff set off in a penis-shaped (well, aren't they all?) spaceship to planet Porno to defeat the evil Emperor Wang (though his original name, Emperor Ming, sounds ruder). There is much nudity and sexual innuendos throughout. The impressive special effects were created by Mike Minor, Greg Jein and Rick Baker, who, between them, would go on to design effects for key sci-fi films of the 70s including Star Trek, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rick Baker would become most successful as a special make up effects designer, earning an Oscar for An American Werewolf in London and working on many films including Videodrome, The Howling, Gorillas in the Mist, Ed Wood, Batman Forever and Men in Black. Memorable special effects in Flesh Gordon include the penisaurus and the hilarious Great God Porno (a monster with personality!), both created using stop-motion animation, recalling films such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. Indeed, the similar use of animation makes the effects look like Ray Harryhausen's with a hard on. And it's worth noting that the Great God Porno's unofficial name is Nesuahyrrah (which is Harryhausen spelt backwards. Harryhausen is also the name of the restaurant that gets vaporised in Monsters Inc.).

The special effects and acting in Flash Gordon are possibly worse than its soft core cousin – but that's part of its charm. Based on the comic (rather than the TV series) and written by Lorenzo Semple Jr who wrote the equally-camp Batman TV series (though, inexplicably, he also wrote the excellent – and serious – films The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor), the film performed great in the UK but really badly everywhere else. Also inexplicably, it was directed by Mike Hodges, who made the hard-as-nails Get Carter (though before Flash Gordon he'd directed a sci-fi film, The Terminal Man, and would go on to make the moronic Morons from Outer Space).

A decent cast (amongst the bad acting), including Max von Sydow as Ming, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed and Robbie Coltrane, did not extend to the eponymous lead, played by Playgirl magazine model Sam J. Jones, who had all his lines dubbed by another actor in post-production. But Jones' hunky looks suit the role, his dumb blonde persona a perfect foil to the British (or European) thespians, who all look like they're having a great time. The whole film is pure over the top fun; a pop art cartoon, kinky, gaudy, with a great Queen soundtrack and terrific, sexy costumes.

Brian, bless him; Sam, a Flash in the pan

Since its initial relative flop and negative reviews, Flash Gordon seems to have been reappraised on the web as a cult classic (Flesh Gordon was always, inevitably, going to be a cult classic). And Sam Jones' performance may have even contributed to some people's sexuality; well, he does approach his execution wearing just handcuffs and a pair of leather trunks – that kind of image is going to affect certain young, male, sensitive souls. In my case, I was exposed to Flesh Gordon far too young (aged 8), though what the long term psychological consequences of that are, I'm really not keen to speculate.

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