135. FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)

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“…[a] spontaneous creation without thought to logic, reason or consequences.”–Richard Elfman on Forbidden Zone

DIRECTED BY: Richard Elfman

FEATURING: , , Marie-Pascale Elfman, Phil Gordon, (as “Toshiro Baloney”), Viva,

PLOT: A curious girl wanders into the surreal “Sixth Dimension” located behind a door in her basement. There she encounters all manner of strange creatures and characters, including a lascivious dwarf king and his jealous wife, while her family members and a hapless schoolmate search for her. Numerous silly musical numbers are dispersed through their adventures.

Still from Forbidden Zone (1982)


  • Forbidden Zone was initially developed as a short film project for the cabaret performance troupe Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which included brothers Richard and Danny Elfman. They wanted to capture the essence of their live performances at their most grandiose; afterwards, their musical style and stage show moved toward a smaller-scale, New Wave sound (at which point they shortened their name to just Oingo Boingo and became especially popular on 80’s comedy soundtracks, but that’s another story).
  • Composer and singer Danny Elfman, who also appears as the Devil, eventually went on to become a highly successful film composer, known especially for his collaborations with .
  • Several of the songs are reworkings of jazz and swing tunes from the 1920’s and 30’s, including songs by Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker.
  • Marie-Pascale Elfman, who stars as Frenchy, was married to director Richard Elfman at the time, and also designed the playful sets and backdrops.
  • The violent, rowdy school scenes are inspired by Richard Elfman’s Los Angeles high school, which is located in the same neighborhood where Boyz n the Hood later takes place.
  • Warhol superstar Viva was convinced to play the small role of the Ex-Queen because she was able to write her own lines, which mostly consist of a drawn-out monologue about her imprisonment.
  • Hervé Villechaize was once roommates with co-writer Matthew Bright (who plays siblings Squeezit and René) and had dated his co-star Susan Tyrrell. He helped fund the film through its constant financial woes, and in fact most of the actors fed their paychecks back into the production.
  • The film was met with controversy upon release due to its use of blackface and Jewish stereotypes, but eventually it gained cult status.
  • Richard Elfman has mentioned working on Forbidden Zone 2 since 2005, but nothing concrete has materialized—yet.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A lot of scenes stand out in my mind, especially the musical numbers. While Danny Elfman’s “Squeezit the Moocher” sequence is a personal favorite, Susan Tyrrell’s solo song, “Witch’s Egg,” exemplifies a lot of the film’s visual ingenuity, sexual abandon, and lyrical fun.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Between the puzzling storyline, psychedelic sets and animated sequences, frequent gender-bending, old-timey jazz/new wave fusion musical numbers, lighthearted sado-masochism, laughably terrible acting, and strange creatures, it’d be more of a challenge to discuss what’s NOT weird about Forbidden Zone. Its cartoonish visuals, eclectic cast, and memorable musical sequences make for a compelling experience, peppered with utterly bizarre additives throughout.

Short clip from Forbidden Zone

COMMENTS: Opening on a lopsided two-dimensional house, Forbidden Zone‘s prologue explains in text-format that a dealer who stashed his drugs there was briefly thrown into a terrifying journey in the Sixth Dimension, and after his escape the house remained empty until the unknowing Hercules family moved in. Ma and Pa Hercules warn their daughter Frenchy to avoid that spooky portal in the basement but after a scary first day at school she can’t resist looking for an escape. The odd and sinister world she discovers is filled with menacing figures who abuse her, and as her friends and family follow after her they don’t fare much better.

On paper the film sounds like any of the numerous riffs on “” albeit with more adult overtones, but it manages to emphatically distance itself from any one recognizable source and become its own singular experience. For a film that cites the likes of Betty Boop cartoons, German Expressionist film, and Cab Calloway as influences, it is in many ways clearly settled within its early-80s milieu thanks to its wacky characterizations and sexual fixations. At times the misguided attempts at creating a live-action cartoon (which somewhat explains the ignorant use of blackface for one of the characters) and obvious obsession with breasts and putting men in drag betray the juvenile tendencies of the screenwriters, but such factors also contribute to the film’s perverse appeal, along with the scattershot narrative that keeps the audience guessing and questioning. The fact that all of the children are played by adults adds yet another level of disconcerting oddity.

The cast of characters is as bizarre as it is talented, with the gruff, lusty Susan Tyrrell leading the way as the dominating Queen and Hervé Villechaize smiling gleefully at all the hot women he gets to ogle. Marie-Pascale Elfman distracts with her over-the-top (but reportedly genuine) French accent and former vaudeville actor Phil Gordon swears and humps his way across the scenery. Co-writer Matthew Bright might get the most mileage out of his performance, playing the twin roles of Squeezit and René, with make-up smeared freely across his face, a wincing demeanor, and chicken-like posture. But it’s probably Danny Elfman who gives the most memorable performance in his one scene as the Devil, dressed in a Cab Calloway-esque suit and gleefully belting out his own version of “Minnie the Moocher” as his Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo act as a demonic back-up band.

Forbidden Zone‘s music is wonderfully addicting, with some songs riffing on old tracks from Josephine Baker, Cab Calloway, and the Three Stooges, and others throwing together animal grunts, synthesizers, and twisted lyrical metaphors. Though the film sinks into physical abuse, attempted murder, and weird sexual fantasies at some points, the creative musical numbers cast a transfixing, often comedic, sheen over the entire production. This, coupled with the imaginative, artfully DIY sets and costumes, make for wonderfully weird viewing. It’s a world where nothing makes much sense, but that doesn’t stop it from being consistently entertaining, at times wickedly so.


“For those interested in the truly bizarre, the strange visuals and story herein are must viewing.”–VideoHound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics

“…the strangest musical imaginable.”–Michael J. Weldon, The Psychotronic Video Guide

“You could toss definitions at this thing all day and never hit the bullseye. It’s Frank Zappa doing music hall. It’s a funhouse in a funny farm. It’s an MGM musical shot by depraved junkies. It’s Tiswas directed by the unquiet spirit of Ed Wood. It’s a punk rock Wizard Of Oz.  Mixing ‘30s jazz with German Expressionism and the Three Stooges with performance art, it’s camp, low-rent, crass and… utterly irresistible, actually.” –Ian Berriman, SFX

IMDB LINK: Forbidden Zone (1982)


Forbidden Zone Official Site – Includes news and videos, as well as a shop with t-shirts, coffee mugs and buttons

Intestinal Fortitude – Interview with Richard Elfman in the Tuscon Weekly on Forbidden Zone‘s “25th anniversary”

Richard Elfman: News and Events – News about the status of Elfman’s various projects, including a promo music video for Forbidden Zone 2

Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone Friday – Elfman drops some tidbits about the progress of the sequel in this 2012 interview in the Long Beach Post

Forbidden Zone Live – official site for the stage version, which ran in LA in 2010

Grooveshark has most of the soundtrack available to stream

DVD/BLU-RAY INFO: There are two DVD versions of the film: the original black and white cut released in 2004 by Fantoma (buy) and the 2008 colorized version from Legend (buy). The British company Arrow Video released a Blu-ray in 2012 (buy) that contains hi-def versions of both, along with a behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, audio commentary, and other extras, some of which are also found on the DVDs.

UPDATE 11/11/2015: Richard Elfman self-released a “Special Edition” DVD (buy) with a commentary track, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes, trailer, and a teaser for Forbidden Zone 2. This release is also available on Blu-ray (buy) and in an “Ultimate Edition” (buy) bundled with the soundtrack CD.

17 thoughts on “135. FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)”

  1. I have one disagreement with Alex: my choice for indelible image would be Forbidden Zone‘s human chandelier (a naked man hung from the ceiling, clutching candles in his hands and between his toes).

    It’s amazing how far under the radar this movie has fallen. It should be a huge cult classic. Readers who try it out are sure to be pleased; this is a weird movie the way weird movies were meant to be!

  2. I agree. In my experiences Fobidden Zone is one of those films that drives that annoying breed of bourgeoisie cult movie watchers out of the door. However, it is a proven successful method for ridding yourself of guests who have outstayed their welcome.

  3. Is it possible that this film lost out on true cult status because shortly after it was released, another movie came out called Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone? It’s a totally different kind of film (and as far as I can remember, it isn’t much good, which is probably why I can’t remember it very well), but I can see why a movie this obscure might get mixed up with it in vague word-of-mouth descriptions, especially as they both feature a horny villain with a major disability lusting after multiple women.

  4. Otto: I imagine at the time it was more that it had a limited release and met with a lot of backlash due to its controversial content. I haven’t seen SPACEHUNTER in a while but I feel like it was aimed at a different audience? I never thought about the connection in their names though, that is an interesting thought!

  5. Oh, I’m sure it had a limited release – this is the first I’ve ever heard of it! I’m not sure if it’s my kind of movie, but I’m going to have to have a look at it now! Anyway, I’m not suggesting that these two movies are in any way similar. What I am suggesting is that, if somebody rambled on to me in the way that people do about some movie that’s allegedly “incredibly weird” that I’ve never heard of, bearing in mind that (as the “What Was That weird Movie?” thread demonstrates) sometimes people think a film is “weird” if there’s a guy in it who keeps his hat on during sex or something, well, if a few months later I encountered a fairly obscure sci-fi movie with certain weird elements that had exactly the same title only with some extra words stuck on, I’d assume it was the same film this fellow had been going on about.

    Isn’t Spacehunter the one where several scantily-clad women get trapped on another planet with Michael Ironside, who isn’t a very nice man, and furthermore, he has four prosthetic limbs and a metal penis? If round about 1983 somebody had given me a garbled description of Forbidden Xone and then I’d seen that, I’d automatically have assumed it was the same movie, and any scrambled details were due to my informant being stoned when he saw it.

    People do thinks like that – I knew a guy who went to see The Kiss of the Spider Woman under the impression that it was some kind of X-rated superhero movie! I even told him what it was really about before he went, but he thought I was winding him up and went anyway. And I knew somebody else who went to see Rumble Fish under the impression that it was the retitled British print of Piranhas 2 – Flying Killers and spent most of the film wondering when the man-eating flying-fish were going to show up.

    I’ve never done anything like that, though I admit that I fully expected Troll 2 to be in some way about trolls. But I bet there were quite a few people who in 1983 were told to see Forbidden Zone but didn’t because they assumed they already had. Moral: never give a weird film an unimaginatively generic title! Call it something weird – not Something Weird, obviously, because that one’s already taken, but something that won’t end up sounding like a perfectly normal space cowboy shoot-’em-up.

    Reservoir Dogs was a great title because any other remotely similar movie that happened to come out round about the same time would obviously have a title that in some way reflected the generic tough guy heist action in the film; and what were the chances of anybody coincidentally making a movie that really was about killer canines infesting the public water supply? (Actually it might be amusing to make Reservoir Dogs 2 on that very theme, and not about failed jewel robberies at all – sort of Troll 2 in reverse.)

    So Forbidden Zone should obviously have been called something like Flying Sheep. Not only would there have been no possibility of confusion, but all the weird film buffs would still be debating the significance of the non-appearance of any flying sheep. just like Buckaroo Banzai’s totally irrelevant melon.

    PS – I have just ordered a rental copy of the movie. Naturally, I was automatically presented with two choices in case it was Spacehunter I really wanted but had gotten it muddled up with this musical dwarf nonsense.

  6. Forbidden Zone was released in 1980, not 1982. IMDB had it erroneously listed as 1982 until recently.

  7. Can’t believe I never commented on this one before! It’s in my top ten favorites.

    Incidental to my researching vintage roadside signs for a project, I ran back across the Chicken Boy restaurant sign in L.A. It’s so popular that it has its own fan site, yes, just for the sign:


    …and what with this movie being so smitten with L.A. pop culture, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the references to Squeezit Henderson as “Chicken Boy” and having a chicken motif are references to this in some sideways way.

    The thing *is* kind of freakish, almost reminds you of Blood Freak (1972). What’s more, it’s a repurposed Muffler Man.


  8. Wow oh wow! This was amazing.

    I haven’t had an ear to ear beaming grin of wonder and amazement like this for some time.

    Just shot after shot of wonderful. It was like a movie that was made for people who like weird movies but have watched so many weird movies that there is now generic-weird movies and they crave the good stuff, that thrill of when they see something “Weird”.

    I’m on a high after watching that. Blown away.

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