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Cult Classics

Forbidden Zone (1980)

Rating: 4 stars

D: Richard Elfman. Herve Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell, Marie Pascale-Elfman, Gisele Lindley, Jan Stuart Schwartz, Phil Gordon, Virginia Rose, Ugh-Fudge Bwana, Hyman Diamond. 74 mins. (Legend Films, $19.95) 7/08

Your Phantom first became addicted to this utterly mad midnight musical during a period of extreme work stress. We were frantically trying to meet the deadline to finish our 1989 book The Phantom's Ultimate Video Guide while keeping up with several weekly columns and assorted other freelance commitments. After knocking off our daily labors at 2 a.m. or so, we'd pop the Media Home Entertainment black-and-white VHS into our player and escape into the Sixth Dimension for some surreal R'n'R, sometimes watching a reel or two, sometimes getting hooked anew and hanging on for the entire wild ride. Now Legend Films has issued Forbidden Zone on DVD in living color, repping one of those rare instances where the colorization process most definitely enhances a film.

Our story focuses on the mega-dysfunctional Hercules family-disheveled Mom (Rose), glum slapstick Swedish Dad (Bwana [aka Oingo Boingo's Gene Cunningham], a cross between El Brendel and a Bergman depresso), middle-aged son Flash (Gordon, dressed in Boy Scout short pants and propeller hat), feral former wrestler Grampa (Diamond) and, most central to our tale, foxy adventurous daughter Frenchy (Pascale-Elfman) who, in defiance of Dad (following a brilliantly choreographed rendition of Cab Calloway's "Some of These Days"), descends into the basement and through a door leading to the Sixth Dimension. There, diminutive King Fausto (Fantasy Island's Villechaize) and jealous Queen Doris (Tyrrell) hold sway over a bedraggled populace that looks like it relocated from Mortville in John Waters' Desperate Living. Among the realm's more colorful denizens are self-esteemless "chicken-boy" Squeezit Henderson and his captive sister (both played by FZ co-writer and future auteur Matthew [Freeway] Bright under the alias "Toshiro Boloney"), the chrome-domed performance artists The Kipper Kids, harried splinter-shaped schoolteacher Miss Feldman (Kedric Wolfe), the streamlined, perennially topless Princess (Lindley), Bust Rod the Servant Frog (Schwartz) and Oingo Boingo front-man and soon-to-be prolific movie soundtrack composer Danny Elfman as The Devil.

While through-lines take shape in Fausto's attempted capture of initially unrequited love object Frenchy and Flash and Gramps' subsequent subterranean rescue mission, Forbidden Zone's chief strengths lie in its indelible production numbers. Mixing infectious musical chestnuts like the Cuban "Bim Bam Boom," Josephine Baker's "La Petite Tonkinoise," "Pico and Sepulveda" and even a snatch of "The Yiddishe Charleston" with such energetic new tunes as "Witch's Egg" (penned and performed by Tyrrell) and "Queen's Revenge," all backed by brilliant choreography and linked by John Muto's underground cartoon-style animation, the film attains a level of sublime delirium unmatched by any other musical we've seen (most definitely including The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Add cameos by late, great character thesp Joe (Maniac) Spinnell as a horny sailor and Warhol superstar Viva as the ex-Queen and you have something for every offbeat taste.

Extras on Legend's deluxe disc include deleted scenes in color, a colorized theatrical trailer, an extended sequence ("The Passion of Squeezit"), a Richard Elfman introduction and a most helpful optional pop-up trivia track that answers many viewer questions about the production. And while we're at it, we heartily recommend the soundtrack CD (Varese Sarabande) as well (though, oddly, one of our fave songs, the above-mentioned "Pico and Sepulveda," is conspicuously absent). Withal, Forbidden Zone demands-and merits-repeat visits.

~ The Phantom