When it comes to midnight movies, the cult classics that are best seen at a late night screening with friends, Forbidden Zone would be a contender for the top prize. This film was directed by Richard Elfman (brother of famous film composer Danny Elfman) and also acts as a project of their band, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
First, I should get this out of the way before continuing: Forbidden Zone is trash. It is by no means what anyone with taste would ever call a “good movie”. Also this is where I should state that I loved it. I had an absolute blast watching this film. There were times I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.
Watching Forbidden Zone is like watching bizarro fiction on the screen. Coming out a few years after the most famous of midnight movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Forbidden Zone is another attempt at a zany musical film. Rocky Horror was a studio film, with great music, and a much tighter plot, and completely deserves the popularity it still has today. Forbidden Zone is a much more independent effort, with only one actor actually receiving pay for his work. It’s absurdity is at such a level as to make Rocky Horror look tame and normal.
Everything about this movie is zany, over the top, ridiculous and campy. The plot is basic and nothing special: in the basement of the Hercules household is a portal to the Sixth Dimension. Frenchie Hercules decides to explore and is kidnapped by the royal family. Her brother and grandfather attempt to rescue her, with help from the school dork Squeezit Henderson.
The Sixth Dimension itself is never really built upon, and from what is seen is simply a world of caves populated by the royal family and chained up slaves. There seems to be a recurring dice motif, but they don’t play any role besides decoration. Slaves are everywhere, chained to the walls, in cells, and even in a torture chamber. Not much else of the Sixth Dimension is really seen, and it doesn’t come off as a highly populated place at all.
The characters are what really make the movie, and there really isn’t a single one approaching “normal”. Frenchie studied abroad in France and now speaks in a French accent, her brother Flash is a middle-aged man in a Boy Scout uniform and propeller hat who likes to hump every woman he comes across, Squeezit Henderson is a wimpy and pathetic chicken-boy, Rene Henderson is a masochistic tranny prisoner, King Fausto is a 3 ½ foot King who is obsessed with Frenchie, the Queen is a jealous amazon, the Princess runs around topless and whipping everything she can, Bust Rod is a frog-headed butler who constantly capers around, Satan is a sharply dressed Danny Elfman, and if the cast of characters doesn’t sound bizarre enough wait until you see the school classroom. Susan Tyrrell (playing the Queen) and Hervé Villechaize (King Fausto) seem to be the just about the only professional actors in the film (although Joe Spinell makes a cameo), but Tyrrell has the best performance, although it is way over-the-top (which is completely intended).
There are a few fun musical numbers in the film, the standouts being a song or two by the Queen and Satan singing an old Cab Calloway tune. The music doesn’t play as big as a role as I expected, and is a slight disappointment compared to the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s outstanding soundtrack. It’s still enjoyable in its own, more avant-garde way, but most of the music doesn’t stick with the view like Rocky Horror’s more normalized tunes. The biggest disappointment for me is that Elfman only appears as Satan in one scene. It’s an awesome scene, maybe the best in the movie, but afterwards he’s not seen again, with only a throwaway reference to him. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that in his scene it is made out that he will have an important role in things to come.
Besides the goofy characters, and the few weird musical numbers, what makes this film really catchy is the cartoonish feel of the entire movie. Most of the sets are painted on the walls, the slapstick is punctuated with cartoon sounds, and some scenes are actually cut-out animations reminiscent of Monty Python. Overall the effect is that of real actors living out a cartoon, albeit a twisted one that is definitely not for the kids.
So why did I enjoy this movie, even though it was trash? It was the laughs, and the sheer weirdness. In one scene a bigger, goofy-looking man in a Mickey Mouse hat (the slaves/prisoners seem to have to wear them) stands and sings, although the mouth doing the singing obviously belongs to someone else and has been superimposed onto his face, which is completely blank. What really happened was that the kid playing the part forgot his lines and just froze during shooting, and the director decided to superimpose another actor’s lips on his face, inadvertently creating a hilarious effect. In one scene Flash spins his propeller hat and soars into the air. Squeezit, who walks around like a chicken most of the movie, is decapitated only for his head to grow chicken wings and fly around for the rest of the film. You don’t often get weirdness like this that also manages to be so laughably entertaining.
Overall, from a critical standpoint, it could be very hard to find many positive aspects of this movie. But if you are looking for a fun, completely insane movie to watch with your friends, Forbidden Zone just might be the perfect movie. Tons of laughs will be guaranteed, and it’s safe to say that finding a movie that approaches it in weirdness would be no easy feat.
Arrow Films has an amazing blu-ray edition, which includes the original black and white version of the film, along with the 2008 colorized version. Definitely a nice edition if it’s a film you’re looking to own.
Have you ever been to the Sixth Dimension? What were your thoughts on this film? Comment below.