Forbidden Zone (1980)

Somehow, Forbidden Zone was filmed in 1978 and 1979, but could really have come from any time after. It feels like a nuclear bomb that set off waves of influence well beyond and past its origination point. It was created by Danny Elfman and his childhood best friend, Matthew Bright, who would go on to make the two Freeway movies.

Based on the stage performances of the Los Angeles theater troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, this is the kind of movie that everyone believed in, so much so that every SAG actor — including Hervé Villechaize, who even painted sets — gave their money back to keep the movie going (with the exception of Phil Gordon).

This was Elfman’s retirement from popular music to scoring films, as well as Oingo Boingo’s move from cabaret-style music to New Wave. It’s also astoundingly weird, even 40 years or more after it was made.

Richard Elfman, who started the Oingo Boingo troupe, directed this (he also made Shrunken Heads for Full Moon and used the pseudonym Aristide Sumatra to make the martial arts movie Streets of Rage). It’s literally an assault on all that anyone could hold dear, made in a time when rallying against values wasn’t crass or used to shove into people’s faces. It was a different time, I guess. That doesn’t excuse some of the worry that you’ll feel with seeing blackface, one of the few things that Elfman would take back, telling Dread Central, “From today’s perspective, if I could go back forty years, I certainly wouldn’t have included the brief blackface bits in Forbidden Zone. It was just one of hundreds of visual absurdities not at all important to the film and not worth its particular hot-button reaction. Although I have grown up in and around the African-American community (and have a racially diverse family), I don’t claim to know exactly what it is like to stand in a black person’s shoes and feel the effects of their particular oppression over the centuries.”

Man, how do I even explain this movie, one that starts with a Sixth Dimension hole inside a drug dealers’ house that leads to the kingdom of King Fausto (Villechaize) and Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell)? I mean, for all the mindblowing things about this one, perhaps it isn’t even strange any longer to learn that Villechaize and Tyrrell had dated and warred throughout the making of this movie.

You get Warhol superstar Viva, a human frog, an apperance by Joe Spinell and Danny Elfman himself as Satan, all playing music from four decades or more before this movie was created. Marie-Pascale Elfman, who plays Susan B. “Frenchy” Hercules, also designed all of the sets and helped fund the movie by flipping houses with Richard, who was her husband at the time.

What started as black and white is now a colorized film that you can watch on Tubi. With it’s mixed of animation, song and dance, comedic violence and a willingness to offend in the most fun way possible, this is a movie worth setting aside time to view. Richard Elfman lost his house and all of his money making this happen, but after viewing it, I’m sure ypu’ll agree that it was all worth it.

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