Saturday, August 19, 2006

"The Forbidden Zone" (1980)

Every once in awhile I am reminded that cultural transmission of a certain artifact is woefully insignificant. Last night I went to a get-together at a friend's house, and typically, folks wanted to know if I would bring over a DVD to watch. I put a lot of thought into what movies I will share, depending on the context and the people that will make up the audience. This particular group of friends are fairly broad-minded, so I had a lot of latitude. At the same time, I knew that there would be a lot of talking and interruptions, so I didn't want to bring anything that required too much sustained attention. I picked a few things from my shelves and headed out.

When it came down to making my ultimate selection, I was particularly drawn to The Forbidden Zone. I've watched this 1980 Richard Elfman-directed film numerous times, and on each viewing I am further astonished that it's not better known. In a perfect world, it would supplant The Rocky Horror Picture show as the archetypal "midnight movie". It stars "the midget's midget"- Herve Villechaize (best known as "Tattoo" from Fantasy Island). He plays the King of the netherworld referred to in the title. His Queen is Susan Tyrell, whose credits include a panorama of entertainment including Warhol's Bad, and Fat City. These two were actually lovers offscreen as well- a fact that gives one pause. But the driving creative force behind the film was The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.

Richard Elfman shared membership in tMKoOB with (among others) his more-famous sibling Danny Elfman and Matthew Brite (director of the excellent and almost equally underappreciated Freeway) . Danny would go on to transition this theatrical troupe into the much more notorious 80's rock band known as "Oingo Boingo" (remember the hit "Deadman's Party" and the theme song to Weird Science?). But before all of this, and his extensive movie soundtrack career, he starred in his brother Richard's production, playing the role of Satan himself.

Forbidden Zone is unlike any film you've seen. It was made in black-and-white, with animation sequences, a man in a frog costume, a collection of jive-talking soul brothers, a flying man-turned-chicken's head, topless slaves, and the strangest pair of brothers you're ever going to see (and I am not referring to the Elfmans). It's a musical with songs that include Danny's demented versions of classics by Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker. The set decorations were created by the cast, and the outlandish imagination displayed in the creation of the sets belies the low budget Elfman had to work with. Admittedly the acting is never consistently professional, and the plot is somewhat disjointed, but if you sit back and take it in without too much critical analysis... then you are in for one hell of a ride. I laughed out loud during several musical numbers, and I notice something I missed with each subsequent viewing.

If you are drawn to the truly strange, and possess sensibilities that are not easily offended, then this will be a great treat for you. If you like the sort of inane and cliche toilet humor that passes for comedy in Hollywood today, then you might as well take the title at its face-value, because it is not for you.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was at this my second viewing of the forbidden zone, and i really must say that some of the best images are from the actors themselves as they discuss the film and its origins.
fascinating stuff , once again mr. grim enlightens and amuses us all as the messenger of the strangergods.
thanks D.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

D. passes on his gratitude for your kind words.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great flick.
Infinitely quotable.
I was aghast when Danny recycled the theme song for the "Dilbert" tv show.

3:57 AM  

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