Stephen reviews: Wizards (1977)

wizards_1Starring Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers, Susan Tyrrell, Mark Hamill

Directed by Ralph Bakshi


Wizards did pretty damn well at the box office for its first few weeks, and that was going head-to-head with Disney’s Fantasia. But it had the terrible misfortune of releasing just a few weeks before the premier of Star Wars (which is interesting since Mark Hamill also plays a minor character in Wizards). I’ll let you do your own research to find out which of those films got pulled from the theaters to make more showtimes available for the other. Since then, the film has developed a cult following, and I’ve been curious to see what was so special about it. It turns out that despite its obvious low budget, the film has a visual style like nothing else, and I can easily see why people became so enamored of it.

The story itself is nothing new, and it is very typical of an epic fantasy story. The good wizard Avatar is pitted against the evil wizard Blackwolf who has revived ancient war machines and is out to conquer the world. What sets Wizards apart is its use of varying art styles. The characters themselves look rather generic and ordinary, but the backgrounds vary greatly between locations and have some wildly contrasting styles to the character art. A lot of early rotoscoping is also used in this film, and not in the conventional way, either. The rotoscoping was drawn off stock footage in stark minimalist tone, and the film cuts back and forth between these stylized and mismatched animations with the more traditional line art. Straight live-action stock footage is also thrown about in the backgrounds and even spliced into the animation. The effect is truly bizarre, and if you’re into visually unique storytelling, then this is going to grab you and never let go.

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Forbidden Zone (1982)

forbiddenzoneStarring 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!

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