Flesh Gordon: 50th Anniversary Edition (Mediabook) (German Import) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 31, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Flesh Gordon: 50th Anniversary Edition (Mediabook) (German Import) (Blu-ray Review)


Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm

Release Date(s)

1974 (February 22, 2024)


Graffiti Productions/Mammoth Films (Turbine Medien)
  • Film/Program Grade: N/A
  • Video Grade: C-
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: B


[Editor’s Note: This is a Region-Free German Mediabook import.]

When George Lucas decided to follow up American Graffiti with a science fiction epic, he initially wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie with all the trimmings, but he couldn’t get the rights to the characters. So, he crafted his own story and characters instead (albeit ones that he borrowed heavily from previous works like Dune and The Hidden Fortress), and the rest became history when Star Wars finally opened in 1977. A few years prior to that, enterprising adult filmmakers Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm had set out to make an X-rated parody of Flash Gordon, and since there was no earthly way that anyone was going to grant them permission to do so, they didn’t even bother asking in the first place. (To avoid having that fact bite them later on, they added a disclaimer in front of the film stating that it was intended as a parody). Their 1974 film Flesh Gordon didn’t exactly make history, yet it’s still an important part of cinematic history, and not just in regards to the adult market, either.

That’s due in no small part to the talented group of young technicians that that they hired to execute the visual effects, a group that included the likes of David Allen, Doug Beswick, Rick Baker, Jim Danforth, Dennis Muren, and Joe Viskocil. Not all of them are credited in the final film (Danforth, who was an established name at that point, opted to take credit in reverse as Mij Htrofnad). Yet their work still shines, combining miniatures, stop-motion animation, traveling mattes, forced perspective, matte paintings, and other classic techniques in order to create some impressive settings and creatures. The sheer quantity of work that they contributed is astonishing; there are plenty of science fiction films from that era that were made for ten times as much money as Flesh Gordon’s meager $470,000 budget that have barely a tenth as many effects shots. Flesh Gordon may be an adult science fiction parody, but it’s also a love letter to Ray Harryhausen, Willis O’Brien, the Lydecker brothers, and the classic serials of old.

That love extended to the main unit, since Benveniste and Ziehm intended Flesh Gordon as a direct parody of the Universal Pictures/King Features Syndicate Flash Gordon serials from 1936. Benveniste contributed the script, and his story involves Emperor Wang the Perverted (William Dennis Hunt) of the planet Porno beaming his dastardly Sex Ray toward Earth, which drives people into an uncontrollable sexual frenzy. Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams), Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields), and renowned scientist Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins) team up to travel to planet Porno on Jerkoff’s homespun spaceship, hoping that they can put a stop to Wang’s sex madness. Before that can happen, they have to face off against Wang’s minions, rabid Penisauruses, lesbian Amazon warriors, and a stoner elder god whose interest in Dale Ardor is not quite of the platonic sort. Yet not even an unexpected intermission can stop the intrepid heroes from saving the day. Flesh Gordon also stars John Hoyt, Candy Samples, Mycle Brandy, and Nora Wieternik. (Craig T. Nelson makes an early uncredited appearance as the voice of what’s arguably the mellowest monster in cinematic history.)

There’s some genuinely funny dialogue in Flesh Gordon, from the hilariously po-faced exposition by Dr. Jerkoff (“I’ve got the power of pasties, and I know how to use them”), to the various responses that the minions give to Emperor Wang’s commands—“O Great Impotentate,” “Your Protruberance,” “Degenerate One,” and “Your Assholiness,” among others. Plus, Flesh calling Dr. Jerkoff by his last name never gets old. Is that juvenile? Yes, but it’s amusing nonetheless. Speaking of which, while there’s an abundance of frontal nudity in Flesh Gordon, the sex is primarily is of the simulated variety (save perhaps for a few briefly-glimpsed extras at Wang’s palace who really got into their parts). It may be X-rated, but it’s not really a hardcore film. According to Ziehm, he did shoot some hardcore material, but it ended up being confiscated by the LAPD. That may be true, but while the film ran 78 minutes in its edited form, the supposedly uncut 90-minute version still doesn’t include any of that footage aside from the Method-acting extras. It’s likely that the extended version simply restores footage that Ziehm cut back in 1974 in order to pick up the pace of the film, with the confiscated footage being lost forever.

Sorting out fact from fiction with Flesh Gordon isn’t always straightforward, since the only extant histories of the film are oral ones (so to speak). There wasn’t a behind-the-scenes crew on set in order to document everything for posterity. Ziehm does seem to have kept his own detailed records, however. Regardless, as a Maxwell Scott once said, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. (The fact that Scott is a fictional character only makes the famed quotation even more appropriate in this instance.) Flesh Gordon may not have made history, but it’s a fascinating artifact of a bygone era, and a legend of its own time. Or perhaps a legend in its own mind, as the case may be. Either way, it’s funny, and sometimes funny is enough.

Howard Ziehm served as his own cinematographer for Flesh Gordon, shooting it open-matte on 16mm film using Éclair NPR cameras with spherical lenses. Ziehm used fine-grained Kodak 7252 reversal stock in order to facilitate blowups, and theatrical prints were indeed 35mm framed at 1.85:1, but the process of getting to that point was a bit more complicated than for most other 16mm blowups. In this case, the effects unit produced their own work on 35mm film, so any live-action elements that they incorporated had to be blown up to 35mm first, and then optically composited with the native 35mm material (which added another optical stage with the associated generational loss). That means that theatrical prints were at least partly fifth generation elements, going from 16mm negative to 35mm blowup to interpositive to internegative and finally the prints themselves. Needless to say, prints of Flesh Gordon never looked particularly good, even in 1974.

There’s no information regarding the source that was used for this high-definition master, but it’s probably one of the remaining prints rather than being from an intermediate stage like the IP or IN (changeover marks are clearly visible, although that’s not necessarily proof). The image is rough and lacking in detail, with heavy and very uneven grain from shot to shot. It’s not always clear why there’s such a variance, but it’s inherent to the source, so there’s nothing to be done about it (and it’s not just the optical composites, either). There are also scratches, density fluctuations, and other signs of damage and/or age. The contrast range is naturally somewhat limited, and the colors are adequate if a little flat at times. It’s unlikely that any of the original elements still exist for Flesh Gordon, so this is probably the best that we’re going to get. It’s nothing to write home about, but by the same token, it’s still an improvement over standard definition.

Audio is offered in German and English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional German and English subtitles. (There are actually two different sets of German subtitles, one for the English audio, and the other for the German dub). These were clearly derived from the optical tracks on the German and English prints, with limited frequency range and occasional pops and crackles at reel changes, but not much in the way of background noise or hiss. The dialogue is clear, however, and all of the most hilarious lines are perfectly comprehensible.

Turbine Medien’s Region Free Blu-ray release of Flesh Gordon is a two-disc set that includes a second disc of extras. They’re currently offering four different Mediabook versions, each with different cover art that’s based on different theatrical poster art. Some of them are sold out already, while others are in short supply, but Turbine is also planning a standard release for July. The Mediabook versions include a 64-page booklet titled The Journey to Porn: When Sex Came into Space that was written and designed by Christian Genzel and Ingo Strecker. The text is in German, but it’s filled with plenty of production photographs and artwork. The following extras are included:


  • Introduction by Jason Williams (HD – 1:09)
  • Audio Commentary by Howard Ziehm
  • Complete German Version of Flesh Gordon (HD – 89:26)
  • Comparison of the U.S. and German Versions (HD – 7:16)
  • Original Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:45)
  • German Trailer (HD – 1:48)
  • Trailers from Hell with Mick Garris (HD – 2:58)


  • Sex Rays & Stop Motion (HD – 134:23)
  • German Super 8 Version (Upscaled SD – 31:54)

The Introduction plays automatically after inserting the disc, and can’t be selected from the menu afterward. Williams is suitably tongue-in-cheek, arguing that the success of Flesh Gordon is the reason why Star Wars got made, and he says that he probably had more fun making the film than you’ll have watching it. In contrast, Howard Ziehm’s commentary is thoroughly businesslike. He’s reading from prepared remarks, so it’s not a scene-specific track, but rather an oral history of the making of the film. It’s a pretty exhaustive one, too, and since Ziehm isn’t speaking off-the-cuff, he has all the details at his fingertips. He opens by describing his background, including how he ended up becoming a filmmaker, and his partnership with Michael Benveniste. They were both responsible for Mona, The Virgin Nymph in 1970, which was one of the first feature-length narrative hardcore films to get real distribution. (He also talks about working with Bill Hunt, but trust us, it’s not the same Bill Hunt!) Ziehm doesn’t hold back in his opinions of Benveniste, producer Bill Osco, and members of the effects crew (he says that many of them wanted their names off the project). Note that this track was originally recorded for the 2000 DVD release from Hen’s Tooth Video, and while that was the uncut version of the film, Ziehm may have timed his commentary for the shorter one since it ends at about the 78-minute mark.

While the main feature does offer the German dub, the Complete German Version also adds the German inserts for title cards (like the intermission) and for other on-screen text. Obviously, while that will be of interest to Turbine’s primary audience in Germany, it’s of less utility for English-speaking audiences. The Comparison of the U.S. and German Versions is a montage showing the differences between the two.

Sex Rays & Stop Motion is an online conversation between author Rolf Giesen and filmmaker Christian Genzel. Genzel has spent years working on a documentary about Howard Ziehm called Finding Planet Porno, and Giesen (aka “Dr. Horror”) has written numerous books about fantasy films, animation, and special effects. They’re not afraid of sharing their knowledge, either, since their talk runs a whopping two hours and fifteen minutes. There’s a ton of great information here about Flesh Gordon, the effects techniques that were used, and much more. Their chat is in German with optional English and German subtitles. Finally, the German Super 8 Version is an interesting example of the ways that feature films were cut down for distribution to collectors in the days before home video. In this case, two thirds of the film was eliminated, but the final results still manage to retain most of the highlights while not losing track of the story.

That’s pretty much all of the previously available extras, save for a few Still Galleries that were available on other releases, but some of that material is covered in the booklet included with this Mediabook. While many of the extras will be of limited interest to anyone outside of Germany, Ziehm’s commentary and Sex Rays & Stop Motion are both informative, so they offer plenty of value of their own. It’s another great release from Turbine Medien, and if you can get your hands on one of the Mediabook versions, it’s a handsome one, too. If you’re open minded and willing to look past the vagaries of extremely low-budget fantasy filmmaking, then Jason Williams is wrong—you’ll have plenty of fun watching it.

- Stephen Bjork

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