“Friday, April 17, 4 p.m. — Venice, California. Huckleberry P. Jones, local pimp, narcotics peddler, and slumlord was seen entering a vacant house that he owned. While stashing some heroin in the basement, he stumbled upon a mysterious door. Naturally, he entered …”
So begins Richard Elfman’s 1980 cult classic, Forbidden Zone, as wild a concoction of deliberately politically incorrect outrageousness as can be imagined — a love-it-or-hate-it proposition if ever there was one. For the uninitiated, Elfman is the founder of theatrical troupe the Mystic Knights of the Oingo-Boingo, which would become the cult rock group Oingo Boingo (later just plain Boingo), led by his brother, Danny Elfman (now of soundtrack fame).
Forbidden Zone marked Richard Elfman’s first filmmaking venture — and it remains his best, perhaps because it sticks closest to the Elfman brothers’ shared enthusiasm for “pissing people off” (something this film could very easily do … assuming you don’t succumb to its weird charms).
On the surface, the movie just should not work. It deliberately sets out to be a cult flick, it looks like it was made for $1.95, and it was put together by a bunch of friends and relatives (even including an appearance by the Elfmans’ grandfather, Herman Bernstein — “What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing in the Sixth Dimension?”). What a recipe for disaster. But the amazing creativity of it all, combined with the weirdly eclectic enthusiasms of all those involved, makes it anything but — so long as you’re in tune with it.
Combining a mix of cheap sets, surprisingly good Max Fleischer-styled animation (and Fleischer references), old jazz (two Cab Calloway tunes and one Josephine Baker song show up), a fondness for the avant-garde (Andy Warhol Factory veteran Susan Tyrell stars, while Warhol icon Viva has a small role), a dose of perverse sexuality and a whole lot of bad taste, Forbidden Zone is a triumph of strangeness.
Largely taking place in the Sixth Dimension (that’s where the “mysterious door” leads), there’s a complete lack of anything like normalcy, which truly creates a world where anything can happen — and it usually does, often set to music. And anyway, where else can you see Danny Elfman (as Satan) perform Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” with specially altered lyrics for the occasion?
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Asheville Community Resource Center will screen Forbidden Zone at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4. Donations will be accepted. The ACRC is at 16 Carolina Lane, downtown.]