The filmmakers of Flesh Gordon spent so much effort lovingly recreating the look and feel of the original Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s that they actually created a soft porn movie with real (if very modest) cinematic worth. In fact, it’s in some ways superior to the original Gordon flicks – particularly its special effects – with an extensive and surprisingly good use of stop-action animation.
Fortunately, sub-par acting is common in both porn and the old serials and this adds to the authentic feel of this parody. But there is also some genuine acting going on too. The best actors in the movie deliberately over-play their roles to wonderful effect. Emperor Wang and Dr. Flexi Jerkoff brilliantly recreate the essence of Emperor Ming and Dr. Zarkov. Craig T. Nelson gives the voice of the monster a kind of laid back (yet lewd) sophistication. It’s a voice that reminds me of Bing Crosby, which makes the scene just plain weird.
What makes this film work is that instead following the usual porn formula of using the plot as a mere device to show sex, Flesh Gordon uses sex as the fundamental source its humor, enthusiastically blending the rather banal soft-core porn of the seventies with the hackneyed storylines of the thirties. The sex takes the hackney out of the story, and the story takes the banality out of the sex scenes.
Is this movie a masterpiece? Clearly… OBVIOUSLY… not. But it is distinctive and original. Flesh Gordon is an unusual case where the quite good and the very bad somehow manage to complement each other and average out to make a very entertaining movie.