I am fascinated by the way in which the internet has facilitated the development of various unusual and oddly specific subcultures. Best of all are subcultures that are tiny but distinct subsets of other groups, or subcultures that exist in the intersection of an unlikely Venn diagram, like the overlap between the "SCAdian" circle and the "BDSM" circle where the Goreans exist. That's a whole bunch of alphabet soup that basically boils down to "Renaissance Festival enthusiasts who enjoy female slavery role-play." There were folks living the Gorean lifestyle before the rise of Second Life, but it's hard to debate the fact that this kind of tool is highly useful for people who want an immersive place to safely act out kinky scenarios.
The fact is that I know a lot more about the Gorean lifestyle and how it plays out online than I do about the twenty-nine fantasy adventure novels that inspired this community. Reading a novel requires a commitment of time and brain-space that doesn't match my mild curiosity. Movies, on the other hand, are a whole 'nother cup of tea. I frequently find myself with a spare couple of hours to devote to miscellaneous weirdness. It was in just such a fit of curiosity that I found myself dialing up the 1987 film called "Gor" that is handily available on Netflix Instant.
Adapted from the first book in the Gor cycle, John Norman's 1966 novel "Tarnsman of Gor," "Gor" follows mild-mannered academic John Cabot (played by Urbano Barberini of Argento's "Opera") as he is transported to a magical pantsless wonderland where he has to save an oppressed tribe from an evil warlord played by Oliver Reed.
With the proceeds from this film, I will be able to drink for HOURS!
Allow me to sidebar for a moment, please. Movies that adopt this kind of Good Tribe Versus Bad Tribe structure are problematic. When the outsider is plunked down in medias res, it's assumed that whatever group saves his bacon in the initial encounter is the Good Tribe and that whatever group is wailing on those people is the Bad Tribe. What if the culture that saves the hero is being eradicated because they make it a habit of sacrificing babies? What if they just got done exterminating and cannibalizing a neighboring group? Think about these movies through this lens and they'll be forever ruined for you. You're welcome!
Good thing none of our vital abdominal organs are protected by this armor.
So yes--returning to "Gor." John Cabot is a truly awful university professor who becomes a successful warrior after the application of a training montage and the off-taking of his trousers in favor of a deerskin loincloth (perhaps that imbued him with the requisite fury). He teams up with a sexy princess and a team of warrior rogues to free the princess' father from the grips of the wicked Oliver Reed warlord character. Along the way, Cabot learns important lessons about manhood, like "hit stuff with swords until you get your way," and returns to earth as a newly-en-machoed man (though presumably he's still a truly awful university professor).
The movie is a ridiculous mess that could have been a ridiculously entertaining mess had it fully embraced its exploitation potential. A not-insignificant portion of the movie focuses on the slaving practices of the evil city-state that Cabot is helping to overthrow, and those practices are predictably kinky. Female slaves sport shackles and skimpy animal-hide bikinis (along with enormous 80s hair and heavy eyeshadow) and wrestle for the entertainment of their masters. There's branding and flogging and interpretive dance galore, and I'm sure the goings-on were eye-opening to many twelve year old boys, but this is just... not... sexy. Interestingly, co-producer Harry Alan Towers had financed erotic films in the early 70s including Jess Franco's "Venus in Furs" and Massimo Dallamano's "Dorian Gray," so it wouldn't have been out of line for him to finance a similarly graphic adaptation of what's essentially an elaborate framework for kinky slavery scenarios. "Gor" is passable enough as a sword-and-sorcery adventure (even if it falls apart in the last scenes in its attempts to set up the sequel, which was given the MST3K treatment), but it seems somehow disingenuous to play it off as such in light of the books' reputation.
Oh, and did I mention that this movie prominently features "Wandering Around in the Desert?" Well it does. A lot of it, which means the movie is not-sexy as well as frequently-boring.
Sword and sorcery completists will sit through a lot of crap in their search for a "Conan the Barbarian"-like high. A lot of crap like "Gor." Fortunately, unlike other not-"Conan" movies, "Gor" features the talents of Oliver Reed, who acts the hell out of every role he plays, even when he is wearing silly hats and not permitted the common dignity of trousers.