Legend Films // 1980 // 74 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 3rd, 2008
For the First Time in Color!
There's something so bizarre about Richard (brother-to-Danny) Elfman's Forbidden Zone that the mind immediately attempts to understand it by combining experiences. The film is like a Betty Boop cartoon by the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's Cabaret on acid (minus the Nazis). It's a Jewish minstrel show (complete with blackface) putting on an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. It's all of these things, but none of these combos quite capture the unique, anarchic essence of Forbidden Zone. Shot over three years on a shoestring budget to bridge the stage show of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo with Danny Elfman's planned reincarnation as simply Oingo Boingo, the experimental narrative (which owes a huge debt to vaudeville and those aforementioned Betty Boop cartoons) led to a flop on initial release. Revived on the midnight movie circuit, the film became a cult hit.
After a long absence in the home video market, the film was released in its original black-and-white incarnation in 2004. Now it's 2008, and Legend Films has allowed Richard Elfman to go back to his cult film and follow through on his initial vision: this is Forbidden Zone in the hand-tinted color that Elfman originally intended but couldn't manage due to budget restrictions. Despite the fact that it's missing some of the great extras from the previous release, this version of Forbidden Zone in color is a solid entry into any cult film collection.
The Hercules family resides in a house which contains a door in the basement. This door leads to the Sixth Dimension. Bored one day with school, daughter Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman) decides to take a trip through the door. Once in the Sixth Dimension, Frenchy is made a prisoner of King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize, The Man With the Golden Gun). His Queen (Susan Tyrrell, Cry-Baby) doesn't like this one bit. From this point on, things get a little confusing. Frenchy's siblings come to rescue her, the previous Queen of the Sixth Dimension makes an appearance, and Danny Elfman plays the Devil. Did I mention that these bizarre antics are interspersed with musical numbers? Don't watch Forbidden Zone for the plot, but for the "Did I just see that?" quality of the whole show.
For many reasons, I don't say this often, but Forbidden Zone isn't a film, it's an experience. For Richard Elfman's first time behind the camera, he throws everything he can think of at on the screen. There are visual puns, musical numbers, stop-motion animation (of people, no less), and old-style cartoons. The tinting just adds another surreal layer to this already stuffed film. Of course there's also the abundant nudity. Seriously, if The Rocky Horror Picture Show was too straight-laced for you, then Forbidden Zone is your movie.
Showing its stage show origins, Forbidden Zone is really a series of vignettes. Some of them (like the classroom scene) have a fairly heavy sociopolitical message. Others, like Danny Elfman's turn as Satan, seem like pure escapist cabaret. However, underlining the entire film is a consistent obsession with issues of race, gender, and power. The film opens with blackface cartoons, the Jewish identity of the Hercules family is mentioned consistently, and there's a significant subplot about sex and power. All of this simultaneously contributes to the surrealism of the film, but also leaves the viewer with the sense that something more significant might be going on behind the scenes.
It's also difficult to judge the acting in the film. Danny Elfman is deliciously smarmy as Satan, and Ms. Elfman is wonderfully bewildered as Frenchy, while Hervé Villechaize deserves a nod as King Fausto. He's both vulnerable and intimidating as the ruler of the Sixth Dimension. Finally, Susan Tyrell puts on her performance like a woman possesed. The rest of the cast seem to inhabit the world, and they are relied on more for strange antics than for acting ability.
With that said, Forbidden Zone is not a good movie by any usual standards. The plot is ridiculously simple, but still takes a seemingly long time to resolve; there is no real character development to speak of; and certainly the film makes no concession to the viewer in terms of linearity, logic, or good taste. This movie is for those who are completely willing to suspend their usual viewing habits. However, for those brave enough to sit through the 74 minutes of surrealism, Forbidden Zone offers a memorable experience.
This tinted release of Forbidden Zone looks amazing. The print itself is in great shape, and the tinting always looks fairly natural. The transfer of cult films to DVD often lends them a clarity and sharpness that detracts from their atmosphere, but despite the clarity (and the tinting) the "look" of Forbidden Zone (which hearkens back to a 1940s aesthetic) is preserved. The audio, however, shows its age a little more. The 5.1 surround mix handles dialogue and music well, but doesn't "pop" quite as much as I'd like.
The extras on this release are pretty thin. We get an introduction from Elfman where he discusses his vision for the film. We also get some deleted scenes and an extended bit titled "The Passion of Squeezeit." For information on the film itself, we have a trivia track. Finally, there is some promotional material, including the film's theatrical trailer.
Forbidden Zone cries out for a more definitive DVD edition. While this release includes the film in color, the previous release by Fantoma had the lion's share of the extras. Missing here are a commentary by Richard Elfman and Matthew Bright, as well as a lengthy documentary and an interview with Susan Tyrell. Fans of the film really need both DVDs to get the complete package.
With its copious nudity and frequent use of racial and crude bodily humor, Forbidden Zone is obviously not for everyone.
Forbidden Zone is one of the most delightfully bizarre films I've had the privilege to view. Fans of cinema's wild side are urged to seek the film out immediately. This Legend Films release gives us Forbidden Zone in the director's intended tinted look, but gives up many of the extras found on the film's earlier release. Fans are going to want both discs in their collection.
Forbidden Zone is guilty of something, but if loving Satan and musical cartoons is wrong, then who wants to be right?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Introduction by Richard Elfman
* Pop-up Trivia
* Japan Promo
* Extended Scene ("The Passion of Squeezeit")
* Deleted Scenes in Color
* Theatrical Trailer in Color