Forbidden Zone (1980)
Release Date: March 21st, 1980 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Richard Elfman Actors: Herve Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Jan Stuart Schwartz, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Virginia Rose, Phil Gordon, Danny Elfman, Viva
avering on the very border of artistic and vulgar, Richard Elfman’s cult classic “Forbidden Zone” strives conspicuously to be in the same realm as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” If there were such a genre as “atypic psychosexual horror musical,” both films would fall into that category. “Forbidden Zone” is a collection of shocking oddities, catchy tunes, and eccentric characters all dumped into patchwork sets and spontaneous, musical song-and-dance sequences. Needless to say, audiences should know what they’re getting into before giving this film a shot.
The local pimp, narcotics dealer, and slum lord, known as Huckleberry Jones (Ugh-Fudge Bwana), stumbles upon a door in his basement that leads to the sixth dimension – the Forbidden Zone – where King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize) and his jealous queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell) rule over an assortment of lunatic minions. After escaping and becoming understandably distressed, Jones sells the property to the Hercules family. Soon, curious daughter Frenchy (Marie Pascale-Elfman) wanders into the Forbidden Zone, only to become a prisoner of the princess (a permanently topless Gisele Lindley) and a fancy for the disloyal king. The queen learns of his infatuation with the new concubine and arranges her death – so it’s up to Frenchy’s family to rescue the hostage. Her brother Flash (Phil Gordon) is a reasoning yet easily sidetracked man-child; Gramps (Hyman Diamond) is a speechless, overweight clog that has to be tied down to the dinner table; and Pa (also Ugh-Fudge Bwana) is a tar pit worker who no longer values life. Along with Frenchy’s doltish family, abused chicken-boy Squeezit (Toshiro Boloney) also decides to assist in her mission.
“Forbidden Zone” is a movie that must be watched with an open mind, or a hankering for the most bizarre characters and events fused with splashy musical numbers ever to jolt the big screen. A frog-headed servant (literally), excessive use of bright colored makeup, talking chickens, a human chandelier, and random aberrant sexual activities partly compose this outrageous film. Drugs, machineguns, blood, transvestites, and blackface are similarly regular occurrences. Prisoners in Cell 63 are forced to wear Mickey Mouse hats, composer Danny Elfman makes an appearance as Satan, heads are lopped off, ears are severed in “Reservoir Dogs” fashion, and the princess is always half-naked. “Weird” can’t possibly cover all of the peculiarities that frequent the sixth dimension.
Spontaneous choreography, unruly sound effects, lip-synching, stop motion animation with live action characters, superimposition, zippy music, traditional animation, and painted backgrounds are also standard methods of storytelling in “Forbidden Zone.” Oftentimes the film is so abnormal that it’s hilarious, but most of the time it’s just plain crass. Since the film was based on the stage performances of the comedy troupe Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and realized as an opportunity for a transition in the members’ interests and styles, it’s graspable that non-fans will be in for a shock (and that the result is something less than cinematic). If viewers can make it through the opening scene, in which Gramps unexpectedly vomits into Flash’s lap, it’s safe to say they’ll be prepared for the appalling singularities that follow.
– Mike Massie