B&W, 1980, 78m. / Directed by Richard Elfman / Starring Susan Tyrell, Hervé Villechaize, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Matthew Bright, Viva, Kedric Wolfe, Danny Elfman / Fantoma (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

One of the key early '80s midnight movies, Forbidden Zone felt like something of an odd-man-out upon its release thanks to a fixation with retro Fleischer visuals, stark black and white cinematography, a catchy and frantic clutch of Oingo Boingo songs, and a Dennis Potter-style propensity for characters bursting out in lip-synched unison to vintage tunes like "Minnie the Moocher." However, the eventual public assimilation of Monty Python and Tim Burton makes this labor of love from the Elfman family much more accessible.

After a blackfaced drug dealer vacates a ramshackle house, the building - which houses a doorway to the mysterious Sixth Dimension - is inhabited by the dysfunctional Hercules Family. Young Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman) attends school with her brothers and tries to make friends with the quirkyk Squeezit (future Freeway director Matthew Bright), a sexually confused boy living in a garbage can whose sister (or brother in drag?) has gone missing. Inside the classroom, machine gun-toting schoolteacher Miss Feldman (Wolfe) tries to keep order in a class filled with jive-talking gangs and mass pandemonium. Back at home, Frenchy accidentally slips into the Sixth Dimension and catches the eye of the kingdom's diminutive leader, King Fausto (the late Villechaize, a.k.a. Tattoo from Fantasy Island), who falls for because "she's French, and therefore one of the Master Race." Needless to say, Fausto's wife, Queen Doris (Tyrell), is less than pleased and decides to make life a living hell for poor Frenchy, especially after her family enters the Sixth Dimension as well to save her.

A plot synopsis really can't quite capture the delirious experience of watching Forbidden Zone, which contains a frogman in a tuxedo, a human chandelier over the royal table, hordes of topless concubines, two bald henchmen in jockstraps, and future composer Danny Elfman as a singing and dancing Satan with a chorus line of ghouls. In a weird sense, this film plays like a dirtier precursor to Elfman's massive holiday musical project with Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas, whose format and plot owe more than a nod to this quirky cult item. Many fans will agree that this is largely Tyrell's show; rarely given center stage, she attacks the role of Queen Doris with a ferocity that's joyous to watch. Oingo Boingo fans won't be disappointed either, especially with the catchy title song and Elfman's showstopping solo number. (Yep, this is technically Danny's first film soundtrack, years before Pee-wee's Big Adventure).

Nearly impossible to find for years, Forbidden Zone gets a glorious digital facelift on Fantoma's DVD. Enhanced for 16:90, the crisp black and white visuals on display here outclass the smudgy theatrical prints and blurry videotapes by a mile, and the 5.1 audio remix wisely keeps the music in the front channels with a few nice surround effects thrown in (check out those main titles!). The feature also includes an isolated music track (in 5.1!) and audio commentary with Richard Elfman and co-writer Bright in which they discuss the film's genesis, production history, and insane art direction.

Forbidden Zone first began as a homemade 16mm "Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo" project entitled "The Hercules Family," represented here by two complete musical numbers, "Minnie the Moocher" (performed by Elfman again but this time in suspenders) and "Johnny," a soon-to-be excised swanky cabaret number for Frenchy. (And the lip synching here is even dodgier than in the feature film!) You also get eleven deleted scenes and outtakes, all brief, expandable, but interesting (such as a flashback showing how the Hercules family bought the house). The biggest extra by far is "A Look into the Forbidden Zone," a new 35-minute documentary in which the director chats with Marie-Pascale Elfman, Danny Elfman, and Susan Tyrell (who reveals she became lovers with Villechaize during filming and lived with him for a year) interspersed with huge helpings of archival shot-on-video footage of Oingo Boingo performing live shows related to the film, including another version of Danny's Satan routine. Other goodies include "Private Life," an early, ultra-low budget Oingo Boingo music video shot in one room, and the great theatrical trailer ("Just keep saying to yourself it's only a movie - that will have you living in the Sixth Dimension!").

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