The Hercules family recently purchases a house from a drug dealer who warns them to never open the basement door that leads into, what he calls, the Forbidden Zone. Curious about the secrets the Forbidden Zone holds, the beautiful daughter, Frenchy, accidently finds herself in the Sixth Dimension, a subterranean word ruled by King Fausto and his sadistic Queen Doris who superintends the torturing of half-naked prisoners. Having laid his eyes upon for Frenchy for the first time, Fausto is instantly enamored with her beauty and the Queen, jealous beyond reason, along with her sadistic daughter, Princess, seek to destroy Fausto’s newest concubine. Frenchy’s brother, Flash, and their mentally invalid grandfather dive into the “Forbidden Zone’s” gonzo world to try and save Frenchy only to find themselves in a labyrinth of skimpy-cladded slaves and nonchalant sex. All hope seems lost for the Hercules family until a deal with Satan might become their only way to salvation.
Remember that opening blurb in my recent review of Richard Elfman’s “Aliens, Clowns, and Geeks” where I state my only regret in watching Elfman’s zany 2019 sci-fi comedy was that I didn’t priorly and properly experience his cult classic, the “Forbidden Zone,” first? Everything makes sense now in regard to Elfman’s fascination with the harlequin, his esoteric humor, and a knack for ridiculously unconventional in a direct pull of inspiration from his and his brother’s, Danny Elfman’s, time performing with the musical stage troupe, the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, which would later evolve, at the behest of Danny Elfman, into a popular 80’s ska-band with a reduced name simply known as Oingo Boingo. Richard Elfman wanted to take that stage presence of the Mystic Knights and transpose it to the silver screen, effectively doing by penning and helming a microbudget musical complete with series of extremely detailed and cockamamie cutout animation blended with morbid sideshow talent and performances tuned to the over-the-top theatrics of a well-oil, low-budget, far-out comedy. “Forbidden Zone” became the stepping-stone for script cowriters Matthew Bright (“Freeway”), Martin Nicholson (“House II: The Second Story”), and Nicholas James and was produced by Elfman and James along with executive product Gene Cunningham under the limited production of Hercules Films.
“Forbidden Zone” isn’t your normal run-of-the-mill musical feature as an assortment of styles coursing through what results as an eye-widening breach of political correctness. A smidgen of arthouse, a true to form vaudeville, and wall-to-wall crude comical carpeting would be a challenge to any actor set to play any role in this farcical natured fantasy, yet with the help of the Mystic Knights and Elfman’s madman charm, “Forbidden Zone” lands just the right cast to pull off a production this barking mad, beginning with the casting of Elfman’s then wife, Marie-Pascale Elfman, as the principal lead and anti-damsel in distress, Frenchy. Dredging for comprehension through Marie-Pascale’s thick French accent proved to frustratingly difficult to a linguistical layman’s ear, but her performance is light, fluffy, and defiant against the stark contrast of a brutish, no-nonsense Susan Tyrrell (“Butcher, Bake, Nightmare Maker”) as Queen Doris. Tyrrell is phenomenally “Rocky Horror” in prosaic seething and in dive-bar dress while having her Sixth Dimension King be played by her real-life lover off screen, “Fantasy Island’s” Hervé Villechaize. The chemistry between Tyrrell and Villechaize is more than natural even in Elfman’s pasquinade light. A few of my personally favorite performances are in the grandfather and grandson dynamic duo of Gramps and Flash. Phil Gordon wears a hilarious propeller hat and boy scout uniform overtop his older older-than-the-rest-of-the-cast body and though Hyman Diamond doesn’t say one single world in the entire film, as the former Jewish wrestler, Gramps, his antics are far funnier. Danny Elfman, undoubtedly, has a role in his brother’s debut feature, reprising himself in essentially a reoccurring role from his stage acts as Satan. His brief time on screen solidifies the presence of the Mystic Knights with the musicians taking bit parts playing instruments as Satan’s hooded minions. “Forbidden Zone” fills out the cast with executive producer Gene Cunningham as Pa Hercules, Jan Stuart Schwartz as the servant frog Bust Rod, writer-producer Matthew Bright playing twins Squeezeit, the chicken boy, and Rene, Squeezeit’s crossdressing brother, Gisele Lindley as the topless Princess, Kedric Wolfe as a crossdressing teacher and a chandelier (Yes, you heard right, he plays a chandelier), Virginia Rose as Ma Hercules, Viva as the former Sixth Dimension queen, Joe Spinell as a drunken sailor, and the performance artists Kipper Kids, who I remember seeing briefly from Weird Al Yankovic’s “UHF.”
Creative control is everything and with total control, total madness (or genius) can takeover to recreate a bastardized version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” that follows a young girl falling down into a curvy intestine chute and come face-to-face with anthropomorphic creatures, a dice-decorative land (parallel’s “Alice in Wonderland’s” playing card theme), and a Queen with a strict and haughty dominion over her terrified subjects. I also wonder if the Mickey Mouse hats worn by many of the characters in the Sixth Dimension is also a direct connection or an Elfman homage to the Disney rendition of Carroll’s story. The “Forbidden Zone” should be explored, should be experienced, and should be enamored as a cult favorite amongst fans of not only Through the Looking Glass but also of Terry Gilliam, “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. With a barebones production value but with immensely vigorous performances that bring to life the extraordinary and flamboyant in all walks of life characters, Richard Elfman materializes a vision, his own vision, of transpiring a feature length film platform for his founded street theatre group, the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo. At the time, did the film change the troupe’s musical journey for the better or skyrocket Danny Elfman’s evolutionary, new wave band? That remains ambiguously unclear, but the project certainly places Oingo Boingo, in all its moniker and various bandmember forms, on a pop culture map and on everyone’s weird science fiction radar with an unforgettable, unimaginable chthonic comedy spurring laughs and gasps of content.
After watching “Aliens, Clowns, and Geeks,” we had an inkling that Richard Elfman was an ass man and looking back at “Forbidden Zone” only confirms our theory of a cutout animation poop-chute characters pass through entering the Sixth Dimension and the continuous Kipper Kids’ vocal raspberries and revealing jockstrap ass cheeks. If you like big butts (and cannot lie), then you’ll like the weirdness of the “Forbidden Zone” on a new Blu-ray director’s cut from MVD Visual, presented in its more recently colorized version of its 35mm stock with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Retouched with a few Richard Elfman enhancements to the video quality and special effects, the Blu-ray display a remarkable durability of film transfer that show no sign of deterioration or damage. Natural grain goes unobtrusive and there are any detectable egregious enhancements to circumvent any flaws in the used film stock. The audio is a slightly different story in the English language LPCM 2.0 stereo that often feels lossy, muted, and hissy at times. The musical numbers are bore a static underlayer that’s faint but there. This never inhibits the dialogue or other audio tracks in anyway but can be a nuisance. English subtitles are an available option. Special features include a new introduction from director Danny Elfman, a new music video of Richard Elfman beating a bongo drum to a tune to a Danny Elfman score with his wife, Anastasia, thrusting her daisy-duke clothed crotch, and a guised band playing behind them, the original audio commentary by Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright, A Look into “Forbidden Zone” featurette from a few years back, prior to Susan Tyrrell’s death, that showcases interviews with the cast and crew looking back at the film, black and white outtakes and deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. “Forbidden Zone” is an ostentatious ornament that’s larger than life in many regards and remains a cult classic to this day with a niche fanbase and tribute theatre productions still being done to this day.