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