BLU-RAY REVIEW: FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)
FORBIDDEN ZONE is the definition of a cult classic, inside and out, as it was about as underground a film as one can get, with its cast and those involved with the project. The truly sad thing about this film which was made in 1980 is that I had never
seen it before, but had heard plenty about it. I believe what turned me off to actually going and seeking out a copy of the film and viewing it was that I thought it was going to be too fucking artsy-fartsy, avante garde, full of too much surrealism, trippy, chaotic, plotless, and pointless. Basically, I felt I might be watching some hipster underground art crap that I would neither interpret, understand, or “get”.
Astonishingly enough, a film that not only incorporates a great deal of musical within it, and what many interpret as comedy, I found fairly enjoyable. The plot of the film is as bizarre and strange as one would expect from an underground film full of unconventional ideas and structure, but a story that was quite easy to follow along. The film starts off with a drug dealer/pimp/slumlord entering a vacant house that he owns and goes to stash his drugs in the basement. He finds a door to an alternate universe known as the Sixth Dimension. This freaks him out. He quickly runs out of the house and sells it to the Hercules family. Daughter Susan B. Frenchy Hercules ( Marie Pascale-Elfman, HOT TOMORROWS) and brother Flash (Phil Gordon, BACK ROADS) head to school, running into Squeezit Henderson (Matthew Bright, FREEWAY) whom is sitting in a garbage can. The two siblings talk to him and he tells them that he has this weird vision of his transgender sister Rene who had fallen through the door into the Sixth Dimension via the Hercules’ basement. This vision occurs while Squeezit was being beaten by his mother. That is when strange visions occur, isn’t it? While being beaten by ones’ parents? The curiosity of the Sixth Dimension is too much for Frenchy to handle so she decides to check out this door into another dimension. She falls through the forbidden door and for the next 74 minutes odd insanity ensues, filled with dance numbers, singing, sexuality, nudity, violence, art, creativity, and a linear plot that I was neither confused over nor bored with. I was able to follow the film with ease and found myself really enjoying it, especially the soundtrack and original music from Danny Elfman (PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE). This film was Danny’s very first film he composed music for. If one is not familiar with Elfman’s contribution to the world of movie soundtracks either movies are rarely watched in your household or one is blind to the credits displayed afterwards. Elfman is definitely one of my favorite soundtrack composers.
FORBIDDEN ZONE was originally shot in black & white, which is included on the Ultimate Edition of this blu-ray that I am now reviewing, and I watched it first in b&w and then in color. It really looks fabulous in both b&w and color. There were elements that were ideal to me in both formats. I felt that the b&w version was more “underground” and “arty” looking, as many films made in the age of color that chose to shoot in b&w format were going for that artistic look. The b&w format sometimes gave it an edgier look, as sometimes preferred when making a film noir-ish type movie. Since the sets of FORBIDDEN ZONE were primarily hand-crafted, much like how a play would look like in a theater, sometimes the b&w gave the set a more polished look to it.
This film would never have come to fruition if not for director Richard Elfman and his music theater group The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Many of you may be familiar with Oingo Boingo, especially Danny Elfman on vocals (as well as rhythm guitar) from 1975 up until the mid-90’s, especially such hit songs as “Weird Science” and “Dead Man’s Party“, both songs in popular hit films from the ’80’s: WEIRD SCIENCE and BACK TO SCHOOL. Around 1979 the music theater group transformed itself from a traveling theater troupe with a bunch of props and stage equipment to haul and into a rock band that was much more mobile and lead by Danny Elfman. The band, with the shortened name Oingo Boingo, they recorded a rock/new wave single “I’m Afraid” which appeared on a Rhino Records rock and new wave compilation, with the Oingo Boingo E.P. to follow on I.R.S. Records. I found it extremely interesting reading about all the different musicians and theater performers that comprised up of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo: nearly 20 members throughout the band’s lifetime.
A huge perk that is included in the Ultimate Edition of this film is the complete soundtrack on an audio cd. Fans of composer Danny Elfman, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and Oingo Boingo will all hear different elements and influences throughout the various songs. I was reminded of a carnival-like atmosphere and visions of a traveling circus while listening to it. The music distinctly complements the action going on within the film the entire time, not only in the musical numbers prevalent throughout the entire 74 minutes.
There are also so many notable names and pieces of talent associated with FORBIDDEN ZONE, and this usually is the case when talking about a cult film. The film was directed by Richard Elfman, founder of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and Danny Elfman’s brother. The story was written by Richard Elfman, and the screenplay’s credit was shared between Richard Elfman, Matthew Bright, Nick L. Martinson, and Nicholas James. Martinson has FORBIDDEN ZONE as his only official credit on IMDB.com, but Matthew Bright went on to write and direct feature films, one of the all-time favorites being the dark comedy FREEWAY, which was also Reese Witherspoon’s debut film. Bright directed and wrote the film, as well as a sequel (FREEWAY 2: CONFESSIONS OF A TRICKBABY) and 2002’s BUNDY and directed the following year’s TIPTOES, another incredibly so-bad-it’s-good film starring an A-List cast including Gary Oldman, Peter Dinklage, Kate Beckinsale, Matthew McConaughey, and Patricia Arquette about two brothers (one a dwarf, the other regular size) who the regular size brother freaks out when he gets his girlfriend pregnant and worries about if his child will be vertically challenged or not. Bright generally has been associated with some extremely off-beat features and I really wish he would make more films. Bright has not directed or written anything (according to IMDB.com) since ’04 and it’s a shame. The man has a great deal of talent and style.
The other writer credited to the screenplay of FZ is none other than Nicholas James (credited as Nick James for FZ), who has gone on to work in the sound department as a sound and dialogue editor (as well as other roles in sound production) on more than 90 films, some of which include huge blockbusters such as INDEPENDENCE DAY, TOTAL RECALL, JACKIE BROWN, and YOU GOT SERVED. The list of talent associated within FZ continues as we get down to some of the key acting performances within the film.
Probably one of the most notable performances due to the notoriety of the actor has to be everyone’s favorite dwarf from the popular late ’70’s television show Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize, who played the loveable Tattoo on the show. Villechaize was Danny Elfman’s roommate. In FORBIDDEN ZONE, he plays a somewhat loveable King Fausto of the Sixth Dimension, who just happens to have a whole dungeon of slaves/prisoners whom he considers his favorite and usually are imprisoned at the request of his bitchy wife, Queen Doris (portrayed by the incredibly unique and “one-of-a-kind Hollywood gypsy” Susan Tyrrell, FAT CITY). Tyrell has so much screen presence and really carries the film along at every given point she is given screentime. Having been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance of a “cynical, low-life boozer girlfriend” in FAT CITY acting opposite Stacey Keach, her skills bring the quirky film up quite a few notches and give the movie some serious validity in the acting department.
Also of notable performance was actress and ex-wife of Richard Elfman, Marie-Pascale Elfman, who plays Susan B. ‘Frenchy’ Hercules, one of the lead characters who offers not only her acting skills to the feature but also her artistic eye and craftsmanship, as she designed much of the sets for the production. Only one actor actually was paid to be cast in FZ and all the others that actually did get paid some sort of wage ended up taking the money and putting it back into the production because the wanted the film to see its completion. Herve Villechaize even came in to the set on Saturdays to help paint set pieces.
Much of the cast were not actual actors and actresses, such as the beautiful and topless Gisele Lindley playing the Princess, running around in nearly transparent undies sporting a full bush beneath. She really has some remarkable stage presence in FORBIDDEN ZONE and not only because she had some very perky nipples and an attractive figure. One of the writers, Matthew Bright, also does a stellar job of portraying Squeezeit and his transgender sister Rene Henderson (as Toshiro Baloney). He sings, he acts, and he has some of the most ridiculous lines of dialogue ever within in a film. Everything about his performance was memorable.
Some of the other names involved with the production are Danny Elfman playing Satan, as well as the soundtrack composed for FZ being his first movie soundtrack credit. Another well-recognized name in the film is Viva, one of Andy Warhol’s former superstars. She has a somewhat small role with some lines of dialogue delivered but she came up with her own lines does a decent job when onscreen. She plays the Ex-Queen of King Fausto and with just a few scenes she does make an indelible impact and engages in an interesting fight with Queen Doris. Speaking of Queen Doris, I can’t mention Susan Tyrrell’s performance without mentioning that she is also part of the nudity, intentional or not, because her busty costume allows for her breasts to slip out fully on occasion, if not just various segments of her nipples and areolas. It just fits along with much of the other nudity of cute girls galavanting along throughout the movie, topless with breasts free to bounce to and fro.
With the sets and stop-motion effects at times resembling with German Expressionistic films from the 1920’s, but with a soundtrack bringing viewers back into the glorious ’80’s, the film has no rules and adheres to no particular style or type of movie. Weird is really the only word that aptly describes a great deal of what is going on in the film. The animation sequences are credited to John Muto, who went on to working as a production designer on such films as GLEAMING THE CUBE, HOME ALONE, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, and RIVER’S EDGE. He also dabbled in visual effects on STRANGE INVADERS, NIGHT OF THE COMET, and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. The animated sequences really did a wonderful job of giving the film its truly zany and unique look and feel. I think the film would have suffered poorly without there being any animation of sorts within FORBIDDEN ZONE.
As for weird, it does not get any weirder than The Kipper Kids (played by Brian Routh and Martin von Haselberg), who most of the time are seen standing next to each other wearing jockstraps and nothing else. Of note, these two contemporary artists add a flair of uniqueness to the film and not outspoken in any particular role within the film, they are merely serving as odd eye-candy to this viewer. I just read that they also are in the film UHF, starring Weird Al Yankovic, another favorite of mine. These two guys have cornered the market on weird.
The film, with its satirical use of “blackface” in various segments within the film and joking nature towards the Jewish faith had Richard Elfman labeled a racist and the film had trouble playing anywhere, even in smaller movie theaters. Threats were made against the filmmakers and violence and arson even threatened. The film was full of controversy. Aside from the extreme nature of all the characters in the film, like the pimpish black students in the crazy classroom scene, hustling and playing cards in the back of the room looking like super pimps and playing into their stereotype of the times, all the naked women prancing around have no character development and look to just be there as sex objects. I enjoyed the nudity throughout the film and it’s not just attractive girls with athletic physiques because there are some quite portly women in their underwear just hanging around, waiting for men to hump them when feeling the need. There are many scenes where the women simply serve as a sexual outlet for the male characters’ within the film.
This new Ultimate Edition from MVD Visual is not the only edition of the film out there on blu-ray, as Arrow Video released two editions as well, but neither Arrow edition contains a second disc with the audio soundtrack of the film nor the 16-page booklet (which was not included in my retail screener), and for those of you whom have purchased the Ultimate Edition blu-ray and DID NOT receive the 16-page booklet, it was an error by MVD and they have an email set up so consumers can get a booklet free of charge. The insert booklet contains original screening posters, Elfman family photos, and an essay by director Richard Elfman. Just email email@example.com. for a booklet (the email address was provided on Blu-ray.com and I cannot confirm nor deny its validity) and hopefully one will be mailed to ya! It’s worth a shot if you are missing the booklet.
The extra features contained on the disc include a very entertaining audio commentary with director Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright, an extensive behind the scenes documentary with Richard Elfman and select cast, both black & white and color transfers of the film, a new video by Richard Elfman about a alleged sequel to FORBIDDEN ZONE, outtakes and deleted scenes, a trailer, and the 16-page booklet.
The sound is Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 and DTS Mono. The audio cd was in DTS 5.1 as well. I had no complaints with the audio quality at all. It sounded superb. The picture quality was great too in 1080p and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with an original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There were no subtitles to this film. The 2-disc blu-ray retails for $39.95 but can be found for under $30 on various websites throughout the internet.
If one has seen the various formats of this famous cult film prior and would like to revisit the film with an upgrade in sound and picture quality, as well as hear the entire soundtrack on an audio cd in great sound, I command thee to pick up this upgrade in MVD’s Ultimate Edition. The extra features on it are worth it alone!