Starring Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Gisele Lindley, Jan Stuart Schwartz, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Phil Gordon, Virginia Rose, Gene Cunningham, Hyman Diamond, Matthew Bright, Danny Elfman, Viva, Joe Spinell
Directed by Richard Elfman
Expectations: Moderate. I remember enjoying this quite a lot, but I’m not sure it’ll hold up on re-watch.
A lot of people throw out the term “cult movie” while talking about various films. Stuff like Escape from New York or The Princess Bride come up a fair amount, but while those films definitely cater to a specific audience I think it’s a stretch to call them cult movies. But Forbidden Zone? That shit is the real deal, Daddio, and an unsuspecting viewer would be lucky to make it past the first scene. To me, that’s the definition of a cult movie, and Forbidden Zone is one of the cultiest cult movies ever made.
So imagine a movie that opens with some introductory text about a heroin dealer mistakenly entering the 6th Dimension through a door in his basement. Upon his return, he sells the house and the Hercules family moves in. To say they’re dysfunctional is the understatement of the century. Also imagine the film’s child hero, Flash Hercules, is played by an old man in a boy scout’s uniform. As an aside, I have to wonder if Richard Elfman got this idea from watching Spanish-language comedy shows where old men regularly wear sailor suits and act like children. Anyway, one day Flash’s sister Frenchy hazards a peek into the forbidden 6th Dimension, but instead falls right into it! Flash and Grampa Hercules to the rescue!
Now that’s the coherent version of what happens, but it doesn’t accurately represent the movie at all. My best stab at a genre is “Comedic, LSD-inspired Musical Fantasy,” but it’s really a movie that defies explanation or classification. I’m sure someone could wrangle an underlying meaning out of the man-sized frog dancing around and fucking the King of the 6th Dimension’s always topless daughter, but it was lost on me. But honestly, I doubt there’s anything to get; it’s a man-sized frog and a topless girl, what further explanation is required? Forbidden Zone is not a film to be described; it’s one to be experienced.
Forbidden Zone has the look and feel of 1920s & ’30s cartoons turned into live-action, from characters in blackface to stylized animated sequences. Only the soundtrack gives away its production year as being somewhere in the ’80s, and even then it feels older, like a long forgotten “gem” unearthed and re-christened with a new synth score to draw in the kiddies (like they did in the ’80s with Metropolis).
My favorite aspect of the production is the set design, which is always impressive and quite inventive. It’s never about looking realistic, instead focusing on creating a visual style that transports you to another world. When they venture underground, the set’s walls are covered with some kind of black fabric or paper, crumpled to resemble rock tunnels. It looks great, and it shows how a little ingenuity and thought can elevate an extremely low-budget film to a look well beyond that budget. Other, more civilized rooms showcase full-set drawings on the walls, adding a stylized charm that further connects the action with its animated roots. These in particular work so well that I didn’t even notice the first instance of this until the whole thing broke apart in stop-motion and my attention was drawn directly to the set design and the drawings.
So I’ve said a lot about the film, but I’ve sidestepped around whether I liked the film or not. I’ve seen it once before, and I remember enjoying it a lot. So much so that I gave it 4/5 on Netflix. But now I find it essentially impossible to rate. I neither liked it or disliked it; I simply witnessed it. It’s something I don’t imagine I’ll watch again, but I did get quite a few big laughs, and its insane, WTF nature was more than enough to keep me entertained. But it definitely starts getting old around the 60-minute mark. So did I like it? Yes, but the film defies ratings. Any number or classification I gave this film would be pointless. I don’t think it’s possible to love or hate the film in degrees. It elicits a visceral response, one where the answers are binary and simple.
Forbidden Zone is one of the purest definitions of a cult movie that you’ll ever find, and I’d suggest that every film fan see it at least once in their life, if only to have your sense of reality tested and shocked as much as humanly possible in 73 minutes. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “You’ll never see anything else like it” a lot, but in the case of Forbidden Zone, really, you’ve never seen anything like this. There are retro elements and it feels similar in certain ways to Rocky Horror Picture Show, but as a total package this is as unique a film as they come.
Forbidden Zone was a Reader’s Choice selection from Karl of Xsmarkthespot.