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I avoided this film for years even though I seek out movies that appear
to have been created by people with "unstable" minds (Jodorowsky, Ken
Russell, Lynch and Jess Franco). The problem was the box cover art. The
cartoon of Susan Tyrrell is so lurid and 80's it was really
off-putting. And the promise of "offensive" humor made it sound like a
low-rent John Waters movie. I've gone beyond "it's fun to be shocked"
movies and demand some quality.
How surprised I was when I finally gambled on this one! I had seen the last minutes on IFC or some cable station late one night while flipping channels. My first thoughts were probably like anyone's would be..."What. The. Hell?" There was "Tattoo" from "Fantasy Island," a bunch of tap-dancing bimbettes, dice, a French woman, a guy in drag, two bald-headed freaks in their jockstraps...and a guy in a gorilla suit (with a bra on, no less!) All jumping around singing, "The Forbidden Zone!" like they had drank about 6 quarts of caffeine! The image rivaled Fellini!
I finally rented the beautifully re-mastered DVD after still more concern about just what this movie WAS exactly. I was absolutely riveted for the entire running time. I can't think of a single movie in history like this one, and I've seen some real corkers! The opening musical number, using an old recording of the song "Some Of These Days" as a background track, is eye-poppingly brilliant. I still don't know how it was done, certainly not with the skills and technology of a low-budget filmmaker in 1980. But it speaks to me on an unconscious level, dark and brooding yet fanciful and jolly (the slick dancing butler who appears out of nowhere is one of the most delightfully ridiculous and satisfying surreal moments I've seen in years). I was very skeptical that the momentum and creativity could be sustained, and it never did reach that peak again (although the "Pico And Sepulveda," "Witche's Egg" and Alphabet numbers come close), but it couldn't have...I don't think it IS possible to sustain that level forever, it would drive the viewer away.
The plot, involving a family discovering a door that leads to the 6th dimension where a queen and king (the unbelievably game Ms. Tyrrell who deserves an award of some kind for her brave and perfect-pitch performance, and the charming Herve, who she was apparently dating at the time?), is absolutely superfluous, merely an excuse for the music and visuals, and I'd have it no other way personally. It's like "Alice In Wonderland." Any adaption that tries to assign a "story" to the proceedings has missed the point entirely; like a dream, there is an internal logic...but the rules and boundaries of reality are not welcome!
The film is creaky in places, of course...it shows it's no-budget roots frequently, the pace is so hectic as to be head-ache inducing in certain parts and most dismaying of all is the constant interruption of lewdness just for the sake of lewdness, as if the filmmaker's were all horny teens who wanted to get as much naughty sex and dirty humor in as possible (Hint: the probably were!) The acting is by-and-large, with the exception of the foul-mouthed, shrieking, Disney-queen-from-hell Ms. Tyrell, pretty amateurish, even though everyone throws themselves into the production full-force (the screen writer bravely spends the whole film running around in his underpants!) But what it lacks in maturity it makes up for in execution. I kept sitting there shaking my head...these are real dancers, the choreography is wonderful, the animation and effects are stunning...and you can't ignore the score!
I don't know how much tinkering has gone on with this re-master, but the things that Danny Elfman was doing with the film score, weaving it in and out with old 30's recordings and New Wave stylings, as well as his more familiar ska style of the 80's...it's just breathtaking. If you are any sort of fan of Elfman's work, soundtrack or otherwise, you probably already have this music. If you're still new to it as I was, you'll become an instant fan. You cannot deny it, Elfman is a genius.
Like anything that seems completely nonsensical at first (example, Fellini's Satyricon), a lot of things in this film probably make more sense the more you delve into it. The DVD features explain that the "tone" of the film is an attempt to capture the live performance style of Elfman and his early "Oingo Boingo" incarnation, as a theatrical troupe. There's the obvious reference to Fleischer/Betty Boop cartoons that don't get seen much anymore. I have no idea who "The Kipper Kids" were but I assume audiences at the time would have recognized them. Certainly Herve was recognizable, if hardly comforting, in the weird world of this film.
I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that the man at the helm of this film, Danny Elfman's brother, admits that he was not inspired to make this movie by the use of any drugs. All too often in today's world we are prone to assume that the only way someone can come up with something genuinely original, creative and surreal is to assume that chemicals are responsible. Certainly I can imagine the experience of watching this film in an altered state of mind would be a "trip." However, hats off to people who find and appreciate the merry lunacy and joyfully insane magic that can be found in the every day world...if you care to look! I'm sorry that the film didn't take the director anywhere, but not surprised...it's not something I would easily recommend to just anyone...but I'm glad Elfman seems to have enjoyed a revival of his project, and is getting some recognition
I first discovered this one during my early mania for the band Oingo Boingo
back in the early 1980's. I was expecting anything other than what I got: a
live-action Max Fleischer cartoon brimming with low-budget insanity!
FORBIDDEN ZONE is balls-out strange, and a hell of a lot of fun for those
with a taste for the odd. Truly unique in every way, it is sad to see that
more films like this will probably never be made again in this era of
big-budget drivel and rampaging political correctness.
FORBIDDEN ZONE follows the adventures of the almost indescribably weird Hercules family who have recently moved into a house whose basement contains the doorway to the 6th dimension. When their bathrobe-clad daughter Susan (who has been studying abroad in France, returning home with an outrageous French accent and now goes by the totally original nickname of "Frenchy") falls into the 6th dimension, all manner of looniness ensues. A tuxedoed frog-man, jockstrap wearing goons, animation that looks like it was done by an acidhead, a wonderful soundtrack that blends oddball rock and big band classics, the worst blackface makeup in film history, Squeezit "Chicken-boy" Henderson and his "sister" Renee, the funniest elementary school sequence in memory, Herve Villechaize as King Fausto, the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and Danny Elfman as the devil himself...All this and more (!!!) in a ninety minute tour de force of unbridled imagination. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!
Just about the strangest thing I've ever seen. THIS cult classic puts
"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to shame if you ask me! Danny Elfman and
The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo perform the music and they even make
a strange appearance in the movie. Elfman shines in his brief but
delectable role as Satan.
I'm certain that "Forbidden Zone" isn't for everyone, but its loopy, nutty humor will appeal to some folks... especially fans of Boingo. Give it a try! If you thought that Rocky Horror was weird, take a gander at THIS!!
No live-action movie has ever captured the anarchic feel of the rubbery
Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s better than "Forbidden Zone." It's
an LSD-fueled Betty Boop picture mixed with "Alice in Wonderland" and
"The Inferno," all filtered through David Lynch's kaleidoscope (or run
through R. Crumb's Cuisinart).
The story, such as it is, deals with the adventures of Frenchy Hercules, who lives over a doorway to the "Sixth Dimension," which is ruled by King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) and Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell) with sadomasochistic glee. The whole flick really fits the Betty Boop formula perfectly--a shapely heroine (who loves to rumba) falls from her own bizarre "reality" into an even stranger one. Much mayhem and cool swing music ensue, as Frenchy's brother and grandfather (playing the roles of Bimbo and Koko the Clown from the old Fleischer cartoons) try to rescue the unfortunate girl.
This strange mix of animation and live action really has to be seen to be believed--all very low budget and very imaginative (a quality sorely lacking in movies lately). Fans of Oingo Boingo won't want to miss this one (especially group leader Danny Elfman's Cab Calloway-like turn as Satan in the flick's best scene). There are racial and ethnic stereotypes galore, but since this movie seems to exist in an entirely different universe, it doesn't come across as offensive.
Not for everyone--but a "can't miss" for some. Worth seeing just for the musical numbers alone.
I love this movie, and I was lucky enough to be standing next to the filmmaker at an Oingo Boingo concert, so I mentioned to him that Oingo Boingo was a great band, but that movie they were in really blew! That put a smile on his face, especially when I said "just kidding, Richard" There is no way to describe this movie adequately. Yiddish humor, Cab Calloway and other oddball jazz tunes, sick animation, and totally fearless acting make this a real tour De force. There has never been, and will never be another movie even slightly similar to this one. So if you are a film or music buff, you need to see this, if only to realize the extent to which the medium of film can be taken by the most wildly creative and uninhibited minds. Now I want to learn more about this Elfman's body of work. His brother Danny's work I am familiar with and appreciative of. If anyone reads this and knows of more Richard Elfman films, won't you post the info for us please? Thanks!
I very much enjoyed this movie and watch it again and again. What can I say? It's artistic and enjoyable, very much the kind of thing I like in movies. Also the fact of its' bizarre, dark and surreal mood and humour toward the film. It's like David Lynch's take on Betty Boop, that's how good it is! The characters are insane and possibly on drugs, the King is a sex-addicted monster, yet somehow a gentlemen to the woman he loves, one of the characters is well, uh, a transsexual, another character is a frog. I couldn't recommend it more for it is a musical fantasy giving to us by Richard Elfman. Seriously, leave it to the Elfmans' to give us one of the greatest musicals ever!
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once said, "It never got weird enough for me."
With all respect and love to that late-great Gonzo God, I wonder if he
would eat those words following a viewing of this. This is truly one of
the weirdest movies ever conceived, shot, executed, whatever-ed. But
it's brilliance is in the fact that amid its chaos and delirious mayhem
is that it's not really all that incoherent. It may not be any more or
less crazy a piece of avant-garde experimentation than a super-obscure
picture like Pussbucket.
The difference, I think, lies in professionalism. In a small way I'm reminded of Russ Meyer; Richard Elfman is a very careful director with his camera, never making a shot unintentionally out of focus or deranged in masturbatory terms, and with his production designer (if maybe it was just him and his wife who also financed the picture) create madness that can't exactly be called shoddy in production value. Like it or not, and I can imagine people definitely NOT liking this, there's some art going on here.
It's also the kind of movie you can't peg down. I was laughing mad throughout, almost convulsively at one other step after another in the 'plot' (and yes, there is one, once checked into the 'Zone' and the 6th dimension and the annals of the Queen and the family going through the zone), but is it entirely a comedy? Actually - yes, it is. But what kind of comedy? There's a sensibility that borrows heavily at times from those delightfully insane cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s (Un Iwerks' obscurer shorts come to mind), but only at times like bits in that classroom singing old songs.
There's also characters in black-face (yes, black-face), obvious caricatures of black people and Jews, a little person (the actor from Man with the Golden Gun), a guy with a giant frog head and a suit, and Satan. Did I mention it's a musical shot in black and white and that it's also like if Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn't likable for its badness but was genuinely f***ed-up as a true cult hit?
Enough trying to explain it- this is cult in the sense of Eraserhead or Ichi the Killer, or even one of the real old-school guards of the avant-garde like Jack SMith. You really do have to see it to believe it, and understand how much of a mix of forms and styles work its way into it, of the obvious and joyfully exaggerated "characters" (just between that one Queen with the hair and the little guy it could be enough, but then what about the little guy's new French mistress?), of the sudden title-cards, of the animations from time to time with most prominent example a travel down an intestine.
Not to mention the music, which is some of the purest genius in the picture (this and Blues Brothers, both good for a double feature not too oddly enough considering one specific song I need not mention here, are great wacky musicals of 1980). There's two facets: the usage of old blues and show-tunes of the 30s, almost like speakeasy songs, and then the songs of Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman's equally weird band he had before becoming a composer. Needless to say he composes his first time here, and it's a great training ground for the likes of other great scores in Tim Burton's pictures; his one appearance as Satan is a howler, though overall he matches up to what his brother has to offer as a filmmaker of verve and daring.
How much you might respond positively to the daring of Forbidden Zone will depend on how seriously you take it. I don't think I got any profound life lessons, but if you can tap into the vibe of the picture then you got it made. It doesn't get much weirder than this, and I love it for it on whatever terms it makes as imaginative low-budget gonzo comedy.
Danny Elfman's outlandish 1980 film "Forbidden Zone" has to be seen to
be believed, and if you are not at least slightly demented you should
probably pass on the seeing part. Imagine a cross between "Alice in
Wonderland" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", with lots of animation
in the style Monty Python's Flying Circus and the rubbery Max Fleischer
cartoons of the 1930's (which probably inspired much of the original
Monty Python stuff anyway). Also deserving mention is the fact that
this relatively low budget black and white film is a musical.
There are a lot of characters and the story is somewhat hard to follow so here is what I hope is a helpful summary. The Hercules family (father, mother, son, daughter, and grandfather) live in a house with a door to the Sixth Dimension a/k/a The Forbidden Zone (think Wonderland). Their daughter Frenchy (think Alice) and son Flash (who looks like third stooge Joe Besser in a cub scout uniform) go to school one day. When a gunfight erupts in the classroom Frenchy runs home.
Tripping on a roller skate she tumbles through the door into a large intestine and ends up in the sixth dimension, which is ruled by a King and Queen of dice-used instead of wonderland's playing cards. There are a lot of half-dressed wonderland type characters down there although only the Frog Footman looks the same. There is a shapely princess who runs around topless, a living chandelier that eventually decays into just a skeleton, a devil (Elfman) who is like Cab Calloway playing the Cheshire Cat, and a rival queen.
Frenchy's family and one of her classmates go into the Forbidden Zone to attempt a rescue. The film is a mix of live action and animation. The editor deserves a lot of credit because the whole thing is sequenced quite well and even has a strange unity. There are racist stereotypes (generally too silly to be offensive), lively swing music, and sets that look to have been painted and constructed by a third grade art class.
If this whole wacky concept sounds interesting you should check it out.
"Forbidden Zone" is up there on the list of strangest films of all time. It's a hell of a lot of fun, even though it doesn't make much sense. The film was created by Matthew Bright and Richard Elfman from the 80's rock band Oingo Boingo. They also did the film's music. The story concerns a family who buys a house from a drug dealer. Little do they know that it has a door that leads to the sixth dimension. The film becomes a crazed B&W surreal musical of comical strangeness. Tattoo of "Fantasy Island" plays the king of the sixth dimension. There's a depraved queen, a giant frog, a topless princess, drag queens, gigantic dice props and other things that you have to see to believe. It's as if John Waters and Jodorowsky teamed up to film "the Wizard of Oz" in black and white. The funniest part of the film has to be the guys wearing jockstraps who make musical fart noises while boxing. This is definitely not your average musical!
How shocked was I when my friend popped this tape into the VCR and my eyes were glued to the screen, riveted beyond comprehension. This movie, a kind of 1930s musical filtered through Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Fleisher Brothers cartoons, and a bad LSD trip. This is one of the most inventive, hilarious movies ever made, and I can't say enough good things about it. Find it today and watch it over and over and OVER!!!
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