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the Video Vault

From the Vault: ‘The Forbidden Zone’

Something best described as the misbegotten offspring of John Waters and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and best watched in an altered state of mind, writer-director Richard Elfman’s 1982 slice of bizarro cinema is masterpiece of, uh, well, something.

Equal parts artsy and vulgar, it functions remarkably well along the lines of cartoon logic applied to a surreal fever dream: The Hercules family moves into a house that contains a secret doorway which teenage daughter Frenchy Hercules (Marie Pascale-Elfman, the filmmaker’s wife) learns is a portal to the Forbidden Zone, a strange realm where King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize) and Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell) rule over minions who include the Kipper Kids, a frog-headed butler, and a princess (Gisele Lyndley) who’s inexplicably topless throughout the movie. Faust becomes infatuated, Doris is enraged, and Frenchy’s family and chicken-boy best friend lead a rescue party.

Wackiness ensues, as do drug use, violence, transvestitism, questionable use of blackface, aberrant sexual activity, low-budget Python-esque animation sequences, and song-and-dance numbers composed by The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. That last tidbit is worthy of special note: The band was founded by Richard’s brother Danny Elfman (who makes a cameo appearance as Satan) for the occasion, meaning the movie launched not only that band but also the career of one of the most talented and prolific TV and film composers of the modern era.

A disarming and impressive blend of unfettered creativity and unrestrained vulgarity, best watched with an open mind and warped sense of humor.

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About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.

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