"Forbidden Zone" plays like the ultimate cult underground 'Midnight Movie'. Though strangely neglected for many years -- until DVD facilitated a new lease of life -- this uniquely outlandish, gratuitously offensive musical comedy belongs in the same wayward category as other film paradigms of the unusual and the strange; films such as David Lynch's "Eraserhead" or John Waters' "Pink Flamingos". It will also be of renewed interest to fans of the film composer, Danny Elfman; showcasing his first film music score, and a bizarre cameo acting role which has him playing a jazz-singing Satan! The film came about as an attempt to record on film the music and attitude of Richard and Danny Elfman's musical-theatrical group, the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo. At the time, with Danny about to go off to start his own New Wave group, brother Richard wanted to find some way of preserving the anarchic spirit of their absurdist stage troupe. So, together with another founder member of the Mystic Knights, Matthew Bright, he came up with a crazy script that presaged the taboo-busting disregard for good taste that characterises Bright's later, outrageous, and sometimes disturbing films ("Freeway"; "Confessions of a Trick Baby"); channeling their "fuck you" attitude & antiestablishment brio through a dizzying host of film influences, ranging from German Expressionism to the Marx Brothers by way of the classic, Black-&-White cartoon style of Max and Dave Fleischer. The seventy-minute film that results is a disorientating and relentless voyage into Frank Zappa-esque musically inventive insanity and surreally puerile humour. "Forbidden Zone" is a film that is hard to like, but which just has to be seen ... if only in order to believe that such a mutant creature could ever have existed!
One day, the freakish Hercules family find a portal to the 'Sixth Dimension' hidden in the basement of their Venice Beach home. After a troublesome day at school -- where her drag queen teacher is involved in a machine-gun shoot-out with her class' pupils! -- Susan B. Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman) goes home and enters the portal to escape her humdrum existence. The portal sends her down through some intestines that expel her between some two-dimensional buttocks into the cavernous Sixth Dimension: a bizarre place full of freakish oddballs presided over by the diminutive King Fausto (Herve Villechaize), who spends most of his time having creepy midget sex with his jealous wife, Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell) beneath a human chandelier! Intruders are rounded-up and tortured by the couple's beautiful topless daughter (Gisele Lindley) and a dinner-suited dancing frog. The place is also populated by obese handmaidens, retarded skinhead twins (the Kipper Kids) and Satan himself (Danny Elfman) -- who spends his time conducting a jazz band of cowled zombies in spirited renditions of Cab Calloway classics!
When King Fausto falls in love with Susan, Queen Doris and the Princess send her off to be electrocuted with a cattle-prod; but help is soon on its way in the form of Susan's twelve-year old Jewish brother, Flash (Phil Gordon) and the savage caveman-like 'Gramps' (Hyman Diamond). Also tagging along is a weird school friend called Squeezit (Matthew Bright): an abused boy who was raised as a chicken by his drunkard prostitute mother; and who wants to find his twin sister (also Matthew Bright) who is also being kept prisoner in the Sixth Dimension. Helped along by Danny Elfman's original New Wave rock-opera score and a selection of classic standards by the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker, life in the Sixth Dimension only gets crazier, profaner and funnier as war breaks out between Queen Doris and her many enemies who are led by the ex-queen (Viva) set free by Flash & Grampa.
With a cast made up of non-actors, the Oingo Boingo members, and a host of cult icons such as "Fantasy Island" and "The Man with the Golden Gun" star, Herve Villechaize; Andy Warhol starlet, Viva; the outrageous Susan Tyrrell; the iconoclastic Matthew Bright; and the king of cult cameo roles, Joe "Maniac" Spinell; how could the film be anything other than a completely unique and bewildering experience. Visually, it brings the stark Black-&-White photography of "Eraserhead" to the cartoon, Mark Brothers antics of actors Phil Gordon and Hyman Diamond; the septuagenarian Gordon playing a twelve-year-old boy scout with a slapstick Yiddish humour, while Diamond stumbles around battering anything and anyone who crosses his path with a wooden baton. The humour is prurient and childish from start to finish and the film is marked by a determination to offend every minority (indeed, every majority) with its knowing take on every sexual, racial and cultural stereotype known to man. The two dimensional painted sets recall the classic German Expressionistic style -- although out of necessity more than intention -- and were designed by lead actress, and then wife of director Richard Elfman, Marie-Pascale Elfman, with dwarf star, Herve Villechaize (then dating co-star Susan Tyrrell), helping to paint them (along with the rest of the cast) every night before the next day's shooting. Along with its strange mix of Ed Wood-style D.I.Y. and the inventive fantasy surrealism of Jean Cocteau combining in odd but clever fashion, Richard Elfman also includes the animation of John Muto, which is obviously heavily influenced by the work Terry Gilliam did for "Monty Python". The film keeps up its frantic, unrelenting pace and atmosphere of unhinged musical madness for every second of its running time and will surely find a whole new cult audience thanks to this extras-laden DVD Special Edition.
The UK DVD from Arrow Films includes a fantastic high definition widescreen transfer including a remastered 5.1 surround sound audio track plus an irreverent audio commentary by director Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright. Special features include a thirty-six minute documentary, "A Look into the Forbidden Zone" hosted by the amiable, cigar chomping Richard Elfman, which features interviews with many of the film's stars, and archive footage of the Mystic Knights performing live. There are also outtakes and deleted scenes, excerpts from Elfman's 16mm "lost" film, "The Hercules Family", plus a music video by the Oingo Bongo in their '80s New Wave rock group guise. A great haul for a film whose dubious cult reputation seems certain to increase with coming years.