Before his incredible collaborations with Tim Burton, before developing a cult-favorite band new wave band with such hits as Weird Science and Dead Man’s Party, Danny Elfman was part of a musical theater group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. I do not have words to explain just how strange they are so here’s a clip from The Gong Show
Danny’s the one wearing a rocket.
After having watched that, it should come as no surprise to you when I say that when these people decided to make a feature length movie, they created one of the most disturbing things ever captured on film.
Forbidden Zone is nominally about the Hercules family after they moved into the former residence of a heroin dealer named Huckleberry P. Jones, which is exactly what I plan to name my first child, regardless of gender. The basement of the house features a doorway to “The Sixth Dimension,” a land of utter madness.
After having watched this movie several times, I have come to the conclusion that the Sixth Dimension is-in fact-HELL. Frenchy Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman) decides to check out the Sixth Dimension and finds, among other things: King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) , a few torture chambers, a frog person, some concubines, The Princess (who never puts a shirt on), the Kipper Kids, a number of cross-dressers, and Danny Elfman himself as Satan... doing a Cab Calloway impression.
Still with me?
This movie doesn't have a plot so much as a bunch of connecting segments between musical numbers, which consist of original songs by the Mystic Knights, and older 40's-style recordings to which the cast lip-syncs. Admittedly, I am a big Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo fan, so I may be biased, but I really love the music in this picture. This was the first film Danny ever scored.
The film’s director, Richard Elfman (Danny’s older brother), made Forbidden Zone with almost no money, and it shows. He shot the film in black and white not for artistic reasons, but because he couldn't afford color. The sets, predominantly two-dimensional Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-esque paintings by Marie. Most of the cast were not professional actors and yet were encouraged to ham up their performances as much as possible. Furthermore, at any given moment, the film switches to animation a la “Monty Python.”
These factors contribute to the movie’s overall charm, which it has in loads. It’s just hard to notice that charm, as the film offends the senses on almost every level. To begin, there are more bodily fluids, nudity, and/or sexual situations here than most porn films. As the director explains on the commentary track, “I love to put people in their underwear. Be they beautiful, young ladies or mature gentlemen playing 12 year old boy scouts.” There are also situations that he claims are not meant to be racist, but come off-well...let's just say the film begins with Huckleberry P. Jones being played by a white man in blackface. Amusingly, Forbidden Zone has also been criticized for being anti-Semitic, despite the Elfman clan being Jewish.
Forbidden Zone is a semi-animated nightmare that keeps me up at night whenever I watch it. After just watching it now, I am still flabbergasted. While I can't recommend it highly enough, I can never seem to get anyone to watch it.