Strange Cinema: Forbidden Zone (1980)

A personal goal of mine has always been to watch as many weird movies as I possibly can. I used to take suggestions from friends, but I recently came across a fantastic website that introduced me to the strangest movies ever made: The staff over there subject themselves to some painfully bizarre stuff, but they definitely take their movies seriously. They’ve begun making a comprehensive list of what will eventually be the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. The list hasn’t quite broken 200 films yet (and I don’t believe it can be easily completed), but it’s quite a feat. So basically, all credit for finding these films goes to the guys at 366 Weird Movies.

I decided to make the list a challenge for myself. My goal is to watch every single movie on this list. And for your reading pleasure, I’m going to document my journey into strange cinema. This is an ongoing review series that scrutinizes each film on the weird movie list. On top of giving you my opinion of each film, I’ll score them based on how strange they are. Why? Because I love weird movies and so should you.

Forbidden Zone (1980)
Director: Richard Elfman
Starring: Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Marie-Pascale Elfman, & Danny Elfman

What’s it about?
Frenchy Hercules and her family move into a house with a portal to the Sixth Dimension in the basement. After falling in, Frenchy is captured and held prisoner by King Fausto and his queen, Doris, who plan on taking over the entire Galaxy.

Is it any good?
Forbidden Zone has gained cult status, and for good reason. It’s cheesy, amateurish, and incredibly vulgar, but that’s the brilliance of it. During my first viewing, I found it difficult to get into. I guess it was because I kept trying to find some sort of logic to hold on to (a mistake with any movie on this list), so I got frustrated when the plot kept moving too fast. Thankfully, most of the characters (along with a few helpful title cards) get you up to speed in a fairly blunt way.

Not only is this film a musical, but most of the soundtrack is performed by new wave band Oingo Boingo. Recognize the name Elfman up top? Richard and Danny Elfman were originally in the musical theater/art punk troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, later shortened to Oingo Boingo when the band’s sound shifted into alternative territory. Forbidden Zone is actually based on the group’s stage show, which is equally as bizarre. Danny later went on to become Tim Burton’s go-to guy for film scores (and provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas).

But let’s just look at this film as a musical, shall we? Musical numbers are supposed to move the story forward. They’re kind of like entertaining monologues that would seem a bit out of place in any other type of film. Amazingly, the songs in Forbidden Zone sound out of place, and this is meant to be a musical. Most of them don’t really contribute to the plot, but they’re definitely entertaining. “Witch’s Egg” and “The Alphabet Song” are standouts, but the reworked version of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” is to die for. Danny Elfman as Satan is honestly the highlight of this film for me. Unfortunately, he only appears in one scene, but there are other great characters to make up for that (including Squeezit and his “sister” Renee).

The film was originally released in black and white, but was rereleased in color in 2004. I’ve only seen the color version, but based on the black and white clips I found on YouTube, I think it works better in color. There’s a bit of whimsy that’s lost without the garishly bright sets and costumes, but I can see how color wouldn’t be needed based on the cast’s enthusiasm.

Forbidden Zone, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is a cult movie based on raunchy fun. It’s not for everyone, but the film’s extensive following just proves any movie can captivate the right audience. And look out for the sequel sometime in the near future!

Grade: B+ (for excellent use of Oingo Boingo music)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to warrant a sequel)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]


One thought on “Strange Cinema: Forbidden Zone (1980)

  1. Pingback: Strange Cinema: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) | Culture Vault

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