Monday, October 19, 2009



Below: Topless sphinxes, bald dudes in thongs, a human frog, and Herve Villachaize all in the same frame. Welcome to the mindfuckingly wonderful world of The Forbidden Zone.

1980's The Forbidden Zone was the brainchild of Mr. Danny Elfman, and served as something of an introduction to his band, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (later just Oingo Boingo). Directed by his brother Richard and starring an eclectic cast which included members of the band, homeless dudes, various L.A. drug casualties, and The Kipper Kids (below right, whoever they are), the movie is sort of an art house/comedy/musical/coke binge experiment, making little to no coherent sense but dazzling the audience with its use of ribald imagery, slick tunes, over-the-top costumes, and choreographed stupidity.

The film takes place (for the most part) in The Sixth Dimension, a place bearing passing resemblance to the works of Georges Lumiere, early Betty Boop cartoons, the animation of Terry Gilliam, and a giant checkerboard, in no particular order. It was a critical and commercial failure upon its release, and even stirred up a decent amount of controversy due to the appearance of actors in blackface. Midnight movie screenings, a VHS release, and a whole lot of stoned viewers have kept it alive through the years, though, and to this day The Forbidden Zone is considered a cult classic, sort of like an underground Rocky Horror, or The Apple, had it been stupid ON PURPOSE rather than on accident. In 2004, it was digitally remastered, and in 2008, it was colorized. For no good reason.


I'm not a big Oingo Boingo fan, but I do have to admit: The Forbidden Zone is the perfect vehicle for their particular brand of jerky, sinister New Wave, and what little affection I hold for them stems almost entirely from this film (and Back To School). It should also be noted that this soundtrack was the first ever from Danny Elfman, long before he scored classics like Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, or, um... Sweeney Todd. So there's that.

Above and below: Two examples of obscure, short-lived Forbidden Zone paraphernalia -- A full FZ lapel pin set, featuring the cast of characters (above), and the "Forbidden Zone Trap" (below), which, for some reason, came packaged with strange, ape-like action figures.

"The Alphabet Song" - ???:

Believe it or not, The Forbidden Zone DID follow something that sort of resembled a plot, and it ran thusly:

A local Venice Beach pimp/drug dealer/landlord, while in the process of stashing some heroin in the basement of one of his tenements, stubles accross a secret passage to The Sixth Dimension. Thinking nothing of it, he rents the building out to the Hercules family, which consists of Frenchy, Flash, and Grandpa Hercules (above left), a washed-up Jewish wrestler with a chip on his shoulder. Flash and Frenchy soon encounter Squeezit Henderson, who has also been to The Sixth Dimension and in fact lost his transgendered brother/sister, René, there. Then someone gets kidnapped, and then there's a bunch of weird music, and then Herve Villachaize shows up as King Fausto (accompanied by Queen Doris and the aforementioned human frog, Bust Rod), then there's some violence, then some people get stuck in a septic tank, and then a prison, and then Danny Elfman shows up as Satan and there's a big musical encore or something.
But like a good acid trip, you shouldn't let the plot concern you too much. Just kick back and enjoy the visuals.

Like almost all good renegade cinema, The Forbidden Zone has a completely patched-together, low-budget vibe, with the scenery appearing to be put together out of crayons and paper maiche and the cast consisting of mostly untrained, amateur actors. Reportedly, the only actor actually paid for his work in the film was Herve Villachaize (left, who you probably remember from The Love Boat). But despite its lack of coherence, budget, or adequate clothing, The Forbidden Zone is a Hell of an entertaining movie, conducive to any social gathering in which alcohol, illegal chemicals, or pervasive insanity are present.

Another clip:

And another:

Below left: Nils from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Below right: Danny Elfman as Satan.

Separated at birth?


Above: The entire cast (and probably crew) of The Forbidden Zone gather for the big musical finale (colorized version).

Netflix it here. Buy it here. And do it soon, because a sequel is coming in 2010. I shit you not.

1 comment:

Juan J. Espinoza said...

Actually Danny Elfman didn't compose Sweeney Todd. Cool page!