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Forbidden Zone (1980)

1 rating: 4.0
A movie

Words like "delirious" and "bizarre" simply don't suffice to describeForbidden Zone, director Richard Elfman's 1980 musical fantasy that makes its DVD debut after two decades as a cult favorite. Conceived as an extension of the avant-garde theater troupe/music … see full wiki

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1 review about Forbidden Zone (1980)

Over the Top, Bizarre, Outrageous ... Yet I Couldn't Look Away

  • Jan 1, 2006
You've probably already noticed that I've given this film four-out-of-five-stars. But for a film like Richard Elfman's "Forbidden Zone," a ranking doesn't quite apply; this experimental black and white musical/comedy so blatantly offbeat and bizarre that any level of verification would be pointless and subtracting. Elfman's use of abstract, kooky, German Expressionist-type imagery made it obvious that this was something he wanted to have stand alone, free from traditional methods of filmmaking. If this was, in fact, his intention, then it worked. It certainly succeeded in being an original film. (I ask you: how often have you envisioned a cross-dimensional journey through a set of intestines? Or a dancing frog butler?)

But being original also made for a rather jarring experience. This movie isn't afraid to revel in its quirkiness, and if you're not prepared for it--or at the very least not open to it--then you'll only come away feeling confused, angry, disgusted, or any combination of the three. Conventional moviegoer mentalities need to be put aside if one hopes to be entertained. An affinity for Oingo Boingo doesn't hurt, either.

Just try to imagine this: the basement in the home of the Hercules Family has a secret door that leads to the Sixth Dimension. Frenchy, the daughter (Marie-Pascale Elfman), is warned never to go near it; this is because her classmate's brother (or possibly sister) has already gone through and disappeared! But as sure as the sky is blue, she gets a little too curious for her own good and takes a peek behind the door. A cartoonish descent (through the aforementioned intestines) into the Sixth Dimension follows, culminating in Frenchy's expulsion from ... well, let's just say the non-oral end of the digestive tract. Her arrival heightens the interest of King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize), who can't seem to keep his lustful eyes off of her despite his depraved ownership of topless concubines. Would it surprise you to learn that the two fall in love anyway?

Frenchy also manages to get the attention of Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell), Fausto's authoritarian wife. Along with various moments of explicit sexuality, a cameo by composer Danny Elfman as Satan, and the attempt to rescue Frenchy in the midst of unabashed wackiness, the rest of the film deals with the Queen's rapid decent into jealousy and how she makes destroying Frenchy her top priority.

It may be an overly strange attempt at a plot, but it's a plot nonetheless. It's the final ingredient in this cinematic stew, and it's just quirky enough to satisfy even the most seasoned cult film fanatic.

This would no doubt be a horrendous film if it were analyzed through a conventional filter. But as I said earlier, conventional doesn't even come into play here; how can it when Elfman's interpretation of the "real" world is just as twisted as his vision for the Sixth Dimension? The two worlds might as well have been one and the same, considering some slight scenery changes were the only things indicating a difference. Thank God Elfman quickly reverted to a catchy musical number to distract me from this problem.

It's a quick-and-dirty film, and one would certainly expect it to be loaded with inconsistencies, goofs, and oddball attempts at cohesion. "Forbidden Zone" certainly delivers in this area, even if they weren't intentionally created. For one, why is Father Hercules thirty to forty years younger than his own son? Furthermore, why was Satan included when he didn't really add anything to the movie (other than singing a twisted version of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher")? Why did it have to be so unnecessarily sexual? And what in God's name was the deal with Squeezit Henderson (also known as Chicken Boy)? I'm well aware of how irrelevant these questions are, but I really can't help asking them. I guess I'm too used to straightforward plotlines and traditional character studies to let such things go.

Still, I have to admit that I was entertained by this movie. Of course, that didn't prevent me from thinking, "What the hell did I just watch?" by the time the end credits started to roll. The fact that this made it into theaters alone is beyond me; the target audience is so limited that it would be a miracle if it managed to break even. Then again, financial success may not have been that elusive. One look at the cardboard sets and student-film-quality camera tricks gave me a rough budget estimate of, oh, three hundred dollars (with maybe an extra dollar added for the black marker; they needed something to draw doors and windows with). The production design amounts to nothing more than a cheaply produced high school play, a quality that was both fascinating and annoying. Was there really nothing else to work with, even on a shoestring budget?

I'm sure those of you reading this don't know how to take this review. Is "Forbidden Zone" a good film or a bad film? I don't think I can answer that, despite my four star rating. Maybe that's because this isn't exactly a movie; it's more of an experience, one that demands at least one viewing. Its willingness to be different was both refreshing and repulsive, which is probably why I was unable to turn away from it. If I may be allowed an overused simile, it was like watching a train wreck. But what a disturbingly glorious train wreck it was.

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