Forbidden Zone

Forbidden ZoneSynopsis: Prepare to enter the Sixth Dimension, a deliriously insane world of frog butlers, topless princesses, machine-gun toting teachers, chicken boys, human chandeliers and the devil himself (Danny Elfman), all ruled by the lascivious midget King Fausto (Herve Villechaize-Tattoo on Fantasy Island) and his deranged Queen (Susan Tyrrell-Andy Warhol’s Bad). A feast of visual and aural delights, reaching new found heights of insanity, invention and questionable taste. Propelled by the incredible songs of the one and only Danny Elfman, Forbidden Zone is an experience like no other.

Forbidden Zone 7.75

eyelights: the campy performances. the Pythonesque animation. the unusual direction. the nonsensical script.
eyesores:  it’s a musical. it’s very low-budget.

Two words: Oingo Boingo.

If this doesn’t pique your interest or make you snicker inexplicably, then you may want to stay clear of ‘Forbidden Zone’, the campy, low-budget musical featuring the songs of Danny Elfman’s The Mystical Knights of Oingo Boingo.

Did I say Danny Elfman?

I sure did.

That Danny Elfman?


Before he became a Hollywood legend, in tandem with Tim Burton, Elfman was the frontman of an offbeat new wave band called Oingo Boingo (né The Mystical Knights of Oingo Boingo). His brother Richard Elfman, who was once the group’s leader before passing the mantle to Danny, was intent on transitioning to filmmaking – so they collaborated on ‘Forbidden Zone’, both to highlight Boingo’s music and to jumpstart Richard’s career.

Made on 55 grand over the course of three years, ‘Forbidden Zone’ is anything but a fancy, show-stopping MGM musical. If anything, it’s more akin to ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ – but done on the cheap, comparatively-speaking. It was filmed in black and white, there was only one paid actor, production had to be stopped midway to help finance it, and they had to come up with a variety of unusual techniques just to make the film gel.

In short, it was the product of ingenuity overcoming financial and technical limitations – it’s the kind of motion picture that likely isn’t exactly as its filmmakers envisioned at the onset, but that has been brought to life through creativity and an ability to roll with the punches.  Basically, if not for the Elfmen’s mad genius, this film would likely either never have been completed, or it would have been a total mess.

Instead, it turned out to be a semi-coherent, visually appealing, ADD-addled circus freak.

Well, one could certainly do worse.

Frankly, I find ‘Forbidden Zone’ rather entertaining. It’s all due to its quirks and its manic quality; it’s a nutty affair that doesn’t allow the viewer much time to be bored. Between John Muto’s outstanding animated bits, which were sometimes merged with the live action, the colourful cast of non-actors in all sorts of dress (and undress), the outrageously low-budget sets, the sophomoric humour, the peculiar (but not quite offbeat) musical numbers, and the wired editing, there’s always something going on to catch one’s attention.

What’s especially funny to me is just how camp the cast gets. I’m unsure if that was Richard Elfman’s intention all along, but Susan Tyrell totally chews up the scenery, Hervé Villechaize’s pronunciation is often completely off, and Marie-Pascale Elfman, Richard’s then-spouse, overdoes every motion and expression (her pseudo-French accent, however, was splendid – as was her comic timing). And that’s just some of the main players – most of rest of the lot were eager but largely inexperienced, thereby ensuring unusual results.

Unfortunately, in their zeal, the filmmakers churned out a picture that could easily offend political-correct and/or conservative crowds of all kinds (and has: they experienced a few problems when they released it back in 1982). For starters, there are the omnipresent topless young women, the frequent and ridiculous fully-clothed sex scenes, the blackface make-up, the caricatured Arab prisoners, the unpolished language, the gayness, the references to hard drugs, and all sorts of other fun for the whole W.A.S.P. family.

Personally, in a post-‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy’ world, I don’t see what the big deal is here. But it’ll no doubt offend someone somewhere. I guess I was able to overlook it due to the surreal aspect of the story, which takes a family of total weirdos into the 6th dimension – to which, conveniently enough, there happens to be a portal in their basement. I mean, just getting to the 6th dimension is a trippy affair, as the character pass through what looks like the bowels of Hell and spin around crazily.

Wait until they get there: it gets weirder.

Campy performances, a dwarf King, topless women, cable TV-style sets, b&w cinematography… hurrah! How can one not like Richard Elfman’s ‘Forbidden Zone’?

Now, why isn’t this a camp classic on the same scale as ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ already? Come to think of it, why isn’t it double-billed with ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ whenever the latter is played? It seems like the perfect fit to me.

…and I’m not even a fan of ‘Rocky Horror’; I don’t really “get” it.

Conversely, I know that will want to return to my ‘Forbidden Zone’ DVD again. It’s a bizarro, debauched, but amusing ditty that I think could easily be the life of the party. If one keeps somewhat odd company, of course.

Date of viewing: January 2, 2013

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