Stuff We Love: The Wood Beast Test from Flash Gordon

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Thanks to a particular scene in Flash Gordon — Mike Hodges and Dino De Laurentiis’ 1980 Queen-rocked space opera — I learned early on that manly proving grounds are no place for this man. That’s a valuable lesson for a 6-year-old, and one that has kept me out of stupid competitions ever since, particularly those performed with one’s extremities being poked down the passageways of a hollow stump filled with a deadly alien scorpion, aka the Wood Beast.

If you love Technicolored camp, and you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Flash Gordon, the film based on Alex Raymond’s King Features comic strip, then you really need to remedy that. It’s 114 minutes of perfect entertainment that follows Flash (Sam Jones and his oddly brown brows), quarterback, New York Jets, and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and their adventures on the planet Mongo, where Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow and his imperial eyebrows) rules with a red-gloved iron fist. Alas, when Flash and Dale are brought before Ming, he sentences Dale to sex-slave duty, and Flash to death.

Fortunately, Ming’s got a very sympathetic and horny daughter, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti, the queen of this writer’s pre-adolescent dreams) who springs Flash. Unfortunately, she’s got a boyfriend, Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton and his dapper mustache), whose realm of Arboria is apparently the only place Aura can safely take Flash. But safety goes out the window when the Prince, being ever the jealous type, challenges Flash to the Wood Beast challenge, which seems more like a game of Who Dies First.

Barin: “The Beast lies somewhere in the stump. Choose a passage.”

Flash: “No way!”

At which Barin heroically submerges his hand into the belly of the Beast’s stump, from the POV of the likely-lurking, dangerously poisonous creature within.

Not this time, though! Barin cheats death, pulls his arm free, and calls Flash a coward for not following suicidal suit. Which is all it takes to get Flash to risk his life too.

Since I love everything about the film, I also love the way Flash gets out of this poisonous pickle. And it’s not just that he ingeniously tricks Baron, as you can see in the vid below, it’s that he proudly declares as much while doing so. That’s heroic stuff, perfectly suited for a toned and blond savior of the universe, aka someone far less scared of deadly alien insects than me.  

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