The vast majority of my CD collection is devoted to film scores. If I were to list my favorite film composers, Danny Elfman’s name would certainly be in one of the top slots. I first came to know Elfman as the leader of the band Oingo Boingo…specifically from the band’s title track for John Hughes’ Weird Science and their cameo in Back to School. But the band’s history actually goes back much further, to when they were known as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The group was actually founded by Elfman’s brother, Richard Elfman. When his interest began to shift to filmmaking, he passed the reigns over to his younger brother. However, in 1980 the two brothers teamed up for a film inspired by the stage antics of the Mystic Knights. I guess you could say it represents Danny Elfman’s first foray into film scoring…1980’s Forbidden Zone.
Trying to describe the story of Forbidden Zone may be one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever attempted. It deals with the bizarre Hercules family who all live together in a tiny house. One day after school, Frenchy Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman) dares to go through the hidden door in the basement, which leads her through a set of animated intestines and land her smack dab in the middle of the Sixth Dimension. This land is ruled by King Fausto (Herve Villechaize), who quickly falls in love with Frenchy, and Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell).
When Frenchy’s brother Flash (Phil Gordon) realizes what has happened to his sister, he and Gramps (Hyman Diamond) head into the Sixth Dimension to rescue her. Later a schoolmate of Frenchy’s, Squeezit (Matthew Bright), also goes in after her. Along the way we have an anthropomorphic frog, a perpetually topless princess, a disembodied floating head, and an encounter with the Devil himself (as played by Danny Elfman). There are also a number of songs. Some are original Elfman compositions and others are old classics.
I had a bit of a hard time with Forbidden Zone. On the one hand, I admire, to a degree, its creativity and irreverent approach. On the other hand, it’s an incoherent mess! Unfortunately, I think the film gets a bit too caught up in doing crazy things than it does in actually making those crazy things entertaining. Every member of the cast is playing their character at full tilt, which has the effect of making the film very quickly deteriorate to becoming just a lot of noise. Really, the one member of the cast who seems to bring a degree of refinement to their performance is the one who went on to become the biggest name…Danny Elfman. His satanic spin on the classic Cab Calloway tune “Minnie the Moocher” is undoubtedly the film’s standout moment.
I did enjoy that the film uses several classic old novelty tunes that the cast members lip synch to. There’s a whole production number done to the song “Pico and Sepulveda.” The song is essentially just singing the names of LA-area streets to a latin beat. It was used as the opening song on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I listened to religiously in the 80’s. Also making an appearance is a version of another tune I first heard on the Demento Show, “Swinging the Alphabet.” The original version was done by the Three Stooges, and it’s much better than the one done here…but it was nice to hear the tune again.
The film also features some creative animation segments which are reminiscent of the style Terry Gilliam used in Monty Python. I should also mention that the film was originally produced in black and white…but the version floating around streaming services right now is a colorized print that was created just a few years ago. Oh, and Richard Elfman is trying to raise funds for a sequel. Personally, one and done is just fine for me. I had fun with the classic songs and the unique visuals, but the discombobulated story and manic performances were a bit too much.