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Forbidden Zone: You Will Hate It

3 March 2010 One Million Watts 42,076 views 13 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

You won’t like the movie “Forbidden Zone” (1982). You shouldn’t even try to watch it. It’s filmed in black and white, offensive to little people, racist, homophobic, sexist and contains unappealing nudity. I am taking special care to mention that the nudity is unappealing, just in case you want to watch it for less-than-wholesome reasons. Nope. Don’t bother. You’ll be angry at me just for bringing it up. Even if you want to watch a bad movie, you’d be better off with “Patch Adams” or “Radio.” Movie along, nothing to see here.

For about 99% of the population, possibly more, what I just wrote is completely true. If I play the Vegas odds, I would have to bet that you will hate this movie. So, if any of what I’ve said so far sounds unappealing, don’t even bother reading the rest of this. This movie is not for you.

Ok, now that they’ve all left, lets talk about why this is a great movie! In fact, it may be my favorite movie. I am a rabid fan. In 1992 I bought a VHS copy for a dollar from a video store that was closing and my life has never been the same. The guy who sold it to me told me that multiple people had asked for their money back after renting it. I just liked the crazy cover with Susan Tyrrell and Hervé Villechaize.

At one point in my life I judged the relationship-worthiness of the women I was dating by what they thought of the movie. This was before I realized that I was lucky they would even talk to me.

I knew nothing about the movie except the cover when I watched it, and that’s how I would recommend you watch “Forbidden Zone” for the first time. This is truly a movie that was meant to be stumbled upon at 2 a.m. when you have a bout of insomnia and you’re tired of “Law and Order” reruns. But, if you want more context, I’m happy to supply it.

This movie is an offshoot of the the theatrical musical company The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo that would immediately after this movie become simply Oingo Boingo. Richard Elfman, brother of composer Danny Elfman, is the director and co-writer. At its most surface level, the movie is a live action version of Fleischer Studios cartoons.

The cartoon-simple plot connecting the musical numbers is that the Hercules family buys a house with a portal to another dimension in the basement. Their daughter Frenchie, tired of her humdrum life, walks through the portal into the Sixth Dimension and her family goes looking for her.

Who cares about any of that? This movie is a bunch of really creative and talented people with no budget creating a memorial for a time in their lives that was just about to pass. They had been performing as a large group of musicians, singers and actors doing shows for small audiences for years with complete freedom. If you watch the videos of them on stage you can see that their shows are absolutely electric and strange and consuming. This movie manages to capture that without stopping to explain what it’s doing.

The performers in the movie made the costumes, painted the sets and played the music. They were so devoted to what was going on they slept on the stage where they filmed, some of them slept in gorilla suits for warmth. And, like all groups of this type, their insular nature led to complicated real world relationships being played out in the art they produced. The only way to get that kind of passion is to make something that is such a singular vision without even a nod toward being a commercial success.

The highlight of the movie is Danny Elfman as Satan singing a version of Cab Colloway’s Minnie the Moocher with new lyrics. It’s a real rock star performance of a great song with surprisingly effective hellish imagery floating around him. Danny Elfman was the ring leader of the madness and he had outgrown the group. His performance is both a part of the movie and separate from it. His thoughts were already moving toward making the Mystic Knights of Oingio Boingo into Oingo Boingo the rock band.

The movie also features a surprisingly touching relationship between Susan Tyrrell’s wicked queen — who did this movie after being nominated for an Oscar in “Fat City — and the king, Hervé Villechaize. It’s worth watching the documentary just hear Tyrrell tell the story of how she met and fell in love with Villechaize. She also talks about how he would grow giant vegetables and pose in overalls while leaning against them. You can tell how much they adore one another through their performances and that truthful emotional core adds a whole other level of strangeness to the proceedings.

Many other people have written about “Forbidden Zone” in great detail, and I don’t want to repeat what they’ve already said — that the movie is weird, or sophomoric. All I can tell you is that I love this movie not so much for its art, but because I wish I’d been involved in making it. My advice is to watch the movie with your critical mind turned off completely, and to let yourself get swept away in the unstoppable force of a group of friends doing something they are passionate about.

If you can’t do that, I hear “The Blind Side” is great, and that Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar.

David Wahl

You can check out the NSFW documentary on the making of “Forbidden Zone” by clicking here.

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  1. It not only is one of my favorite movies I was moved to purchase an outrageously expensive autographed copy plus I went insane and plunked down the dough for the colorized version! Now I have three copies. It’s good to watch all three in a row, in case you miss something.
    I force all my family and friends to watch Forbidden Zone. Some of them hate me now. My spouse thinks I’m nuts, my reputation is shot. My dog hates me. I am trapped in the forbidden zone.

  2. Perhaps Forbidden Zone 2: The Forbidden Galaxy ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1461678/ ) will be just as bad/good.

  3. “Some of them slept in gorilla suits for warmth.” I only fear that it’s not possible for a movie to live up to the promise inherent in that sentence.

  4. the Forbidden Zone changed my life around age 14. It was a decade old by then, and I was probably too young for it, but I was already a hardened Andy Kaufman fan, so it wasn’t such a stretch.

    @Ken — man, I really hope they don’t do that. Sicko burlesque cinema is really a young person’s game, you know?

  5. I love Forbidden Zone! Or as Hervé Villechaize called it on the Howard Stern Show “Four-Bee-Ten Zone”. It took Howard several minutes and Hervé repeatting the title several times until he understood.

    The first time I saw it, I was mesmerized. I love the songs, especially “Pico and Sepulveda” (and Lee Presson and The Nails’ subsequent cover). I love the campy production. I love the costumes. I love the sub-par acting. I went to high school with the brother of the guy in the frog costume, for goodness sakes! What’s NOT to love about this film?

    It ain’t “Citizen Kane” and it never set out to be.

  6. I love this movie! I didn’t see it until 1997 when my future husband slapped it in the VCR and said, “You have to watch this with me”. Hey, maybe he had the same “relationship-worthiness” criteria you did, David? That might explain his lack of dates up until that point…hmmm. Well, I loved it, and I stayed. We’ve been married 13 years, so I guess the dating ‘weird-o-meter’ aspect worked.

    It’s such a freaky little film. And I love it for all the reasons you mention, and more. Every year or three we watch it again. And we just said the other day that we need to buy it in DVD before our VCR dies. Hey, maybe it’ll come out on Blu-Ray! LOL

    Thanks for a great review! And I can’t agree enough with your first two paragraphs. Most people should just walk away and resist the temptation to watch it.

  7. Almost everyone I’ve exposed to the mind-altering radiation that this movie emits has walked away seriously questioning their friendship with me. I think I’ve only gotten one person to watch it who liked it, and they changed their minds after the second viewing, calling it “weirdness for weirdness’ sake” and dismissing it as self-consciously trying to be a “cult” movie.

    But man oh man, do I love this movie. Love everything about it. I first discovered it on HBO or Showtime or The Movie Channel or something like that at the same time that I first saw URGH! A Music War, got a subscription to Trouser Press by accident (my grandmother bought one for me through our school’s magazine sales thing), and my little farm town life rapidly accelerated its spiraling descent into full-blown weirdness. I think I was 11 or 12, already obsessed with DEVO and horror flicks, and suddenly there’s a guy in a frog mask, a topless princess, the Kipper Kids and some fat kid in Mickey Mouse ears with a Clutch Cargo mouth singing “Bim Bam Boom” at me. That’s a pretty harsh scene for the pre-pubescent set. But I grabbed it by the lapels and have yet to let go. Zowie!

    Ultimately, I think that explains a lot.

    All that said, you’ve written precisely what I’d have written if I sat down to write about Forbidden Zone. So thanks for saving me the trouble! Now I can just point people this-a-way and say, “You see? I’m not the only one!”

  8. I had not heard of it before. What fun! It’s available on Netflix. It is now one of my favorite movies. Thanks! I used to require people to watch “Vernon, Florida”, this is now an alternate choice…

  9. I love that this post has taken on such a life of its own. Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    To those that watched it for the first time, you are now one of us. Spread the virus carefully!

  10. […] missed some excellent stuff. Including teaching English to mean kids in South Korea, our favorite movie you’ll probably hate, what we’ve learned from the internet, our owner’s memories of Fairfax Avenue in the […]

  11. […] David Wahl’s homage to “Forbidden Zone” here! var addthis_language = 'en';var addthis_options = 'email, favorites, digg, delicious, myspace, […]

  12. Forbidden Zone 2: The Forbidden Galaxy is on its way. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1461678/

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