Music and Movie Moment: Forbidden Zone

Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo — Forbidden Zone (title song)

Forbidden Zone (Richard Elfman, 1980) starred the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, later to be renamed just Oingo Boingo, wild gypsy cult genius Susan Tyrell, Viva — Warhol’s Blue Movie Superstar, believed to be the first non-anonymous performer to have sex on screen — and Hervé Villechaize, better known as Tattoo (“Zee plane!”) on Fantasy Island, as the king of the Sixth Dimension. Also, award-winning composer Danny Elfman plays Satan.

It is a wonderful, unforgettable mess. It begins with a title card informing us that, while on a mission to retrieve some heroin from the basement of one of the vacant homes in the Los Angeles basin where he also makes his living as a slumlord, a pimp named Huckleberry accidentally discovered a portal to the Sixth Dimension, which, once he cleaned the drugs from, he then sold to the Hercules family, who are the main Earth-side characters in the film.

(The frog is named Bust Rod. Later, he has sex with a topless Princess. He is pretty fly for a frog. Think about it: when is the last time you banged a panties-only Princess? See? Fly.)

“Oey vey — the Yiddishe Charleston!” Gene Cunningham and Virginia Rose play Ma and Pa Hercules, although Cunningham is credited under his actual name only as playing the role of the pimp, Huckleberry Jones — for his role as Jones’ tenant, and pere to the Hercules clan, he is listed as Ugh Fudge Bwana.


Matthew Bright plays Squeezit, one of the film’s protagonists and classmate to Flash Hercules and the lovely and talented Miss Susan B. Hercules, aka “Frenchy.” Frenchy is arguably the lead character of Forbidden Zone, and her journey into the Sixth Dimension is the impetus for the majority of the film’s action. Oh, my stars and garters, could Squeezit possibly be a reference to masturbation?? Perish the thought. Bright also shares writing credits for the screenplay.


At the time the movie was filmed, Marie-Pascal Elfman (nee Saboff), who plays Frenchy, pictured above and below, was married to Richard Elfman. She is the mother of Bodhi Elfman, who is Jenna “Dharma” Elfman’s husband. Jenna and Bodhi met waiting on line to audition for a Sprite commercial.

Ms. Saboff Elfman served not only as the star of Forbidden Zone but was also responsible for the majority of the sets, which she designed and erected inside two separate sound stages. The Expressionist sets feature dice motifs, forced perspective, and stippling. They were mainly painted by hand on to paper which she then hung all around the sound stages, changing the backdrops as scenes required it.


Some examples of the animation sequences and production design. The design was heavily influenced by pre-WWII cartoons and the work of Max Fleischer and the Fleischer Brothers’ Studios, the best examples of whose animation you probably know being Betty Boop and Popeye. Together with a soundtrack that, besides original songs performed by Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and “the Kipper Kids,” featured music by Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker, the movie’s design and feel really harkened back to the 1930’s, despite dealing with weirdo modern wonderfully cultish themes.


The picture takes a dim view of a) Los Angeles and b) the sad state of public schools. Well-viewed, picture (well shone, Moon), but I think the movie’s overall Expressionist, 1930’s cartoonish artistic glory is really not intended as a plot-driven vehicle for social commentary so much as it is an endless parade of visuals that will stick with you for life. Any knowing send-ups of modern convention are virtually coincidental. The movie is like an acid trip through a Hollywood backlot. The number “Swingin’ Through the Alphabet,” from which the above screencap comes, was inspired by the Three Stooges short “Violent is the Word for Curly.”



…A respectful fan asked Mr. Elfman “What the fuck were you thinking?” Elfman replied that he was trying to capture on film the spontaneous creative energy of his legendary band “the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.” In the 70s they performed all kinds of crazy performance music theater, a kind of tripped out cabaret in L.A and NYC.

(“Review of Richard Elfman’s cult masterpiece FORBIDDEN ZONE in color!” MacDermot, Hal. 20 July 2009. Quiet Earth.)

“Frenchy” lands in the Sixth Dimension and King Fausto falls in love with her. This makes Queen Doris, played by Susan Tyrell, understandably upset. So she has Frenchy thrown in prison. Don’t you wish you could do that to people? “Send her to jail.” “Um, what’s the charge?” “She looked at him.” Very Red Queen and yet legitimately reasonable. As Psycho McJealouspants, proud holder of a degree in Flipping the Fuck Out (minor in Coming Unglued with special concentration in Keying Your Car) from Sex-Makes-Me-Crazy State University, I totally approve.


The animation was done by John Muto, who at the time was virtually an unknown. He has gone on to work on some of my favoritest movies, including Night of the Comet, Heart and Souls (I am a sucker for Robert Downey, Jr. every time), and Wilder Napalm (as a closet pyro, that movie is so hot to me).

For my money, one of the main reasons to watch is the Princess, here, but that’s just the type of predatory, untrustworthy, ulteriorally motivated person I am.

Outre freaky musicals are fun to watch and fascinating as cultural artifacts, yes, but can we not also agree that way cool as well are tiny blondes, and when they are topless, so much the nicer for us all?

I am unafraid to make that statement. I also like lemon meringue pie. I consider the preferences of equal harmlessness. Alert the media.


The insane “Kipper Brothers” [do] a mad musical number as boxers which involves punching themselves and blowing raspberries, and evolves into a Rumba sung by a fat kid with a Mr. Ed talking mule superimposed mouth effect, and the adorable Frenchy dancing with Mr. Bust Rod.

(MacDermot.)



Actor Hervé Villechaize was the only actor with a paid salary. (the wiki)

Getting paid to get yelled at by your ex-girlfriend is I guess better than having to do it for free, yes?


TW: The Kipper Kids, who, for those who don’t know, are notorious, diaper-wearing, soccer-hooligan, lip-farting performance artists.

RE: Yes. The Kipper Kids. You know, it’s Presley, Sinatra … the Kipper Kids. Great vocalists can do so much with a number.

(DiGiovanna.)



He wrote, directed, produced, choreographed and generally supervised all aspects of “The Forbidden Zone.” It took 21 days on a sound stage scattered over ten months – including a number of weeks in a garage with animator John Muto. Elfman’s wife, Marie-Pascale Elfman designed and painted the paper sets (with help from Villechaiz) and co-starred Elfmans 29-year-old brother, Danny (leader of a musical ensemble known as Oingo Boingo), wrote the striking music and played Satan.

(“The Man Behind ‘Forbidden Zone’.” Rense, Rip. August 18, 1982. L.A. Herald-Examiner.)



Chicken: You know the chickens are always ready to help you any way we can. But as you know…
Squeezit: What can chickens do?
Chicken: Precisely.

Squeezit thinks he is a chicken. It’s a problem a lot of boys have.



The cast includes Toshiro Baloney, The Kipper Kids, Viva and someone called Ugh Fudge-Bwana. “This is actually a phonetic spelling of his name, which is Swedish and difficult to pronounce,” explained Elfman. (Ibid.)


“Call it a bizarre comedy with music. If I could describe it better, I’d be a journalist,” said Elfman. He might be. Elfman is certainly documenting some aspects of modern American culture, however idiosyncratically. This movie does indeed defy more specific quantification. (An hour-long earlier version entitled “The Hercules Family” was refused by numerous distributors as “Being a threat to national security.”)

(Ibid.)

Oh, my god, Elfman fed that dude for the Herald-Examiner so many lies and half-truths. What a trip. It’s cracking me up.


After escaping the septic tank, Flash and Gramps come across a woman who tells them that she was once happily married to the king, until Doris stole the throne by seducing her, “even though she’s not my type.” The ex-queen has been sitting in her cell for 1,000 years, and has been writing a screenplay in order to keep her sanity.

(the wiki)



Tuscon Weekly: Aside from the Kipper Kids, the biggest star in the movie was Hervé Villechaize, who plays King Fausto. How did you get him?

Richard Elfman: Matthew Bright was his roommate. His ex-girlfriend was (Forbidden Zone co-star) Susan Tyrrell. Herve and Susan were already exes when the film was being shot, and periodically, they’d have tremendous fights. And it was comic/tragic, because she had a voice box from the Lincoln repertory, you could hear her from 2,000 yards away. And Herve had a small voice, so you could hear him squawking and hear her yelling.

(“Intestinal Fortitude.” DiGiovanna, James. March 31, 2005. Tuscon Weekly.)


The truly bizarre Forbidden Zone features among its wealth of surrealistic imagery the late Hervé Villechaize as the libidinous king of the sixth dimension; expressionistic production design that would drive Dr. Caligari to distraction; and Richard’s brother Danny, more recently the composer of virtually every modern film score you truly enjoy listening to repeatedly, as a Cab Calloway-fetishizing Satan – all of whom live in the basement, sort of, of the extended Hercules clan.

(“I Know That Voice.” Savlov, Marc. July 30, 2004. Austin Chronicle.)


Far different from the brother Danny-fronted Oingo Boingo of “Weird Science,” this multi-Elfmaned project (alongside Danny there’s Richard’s wife, Marie-Pascale Elfman, as heroine Frenchy) is a genuine curiosity, part vaudeville act, part borderline softcore raunch, and completely, utterly weird in the best sense of the word. (Ibid.)

Following the film’s color release on DVD from Fantoma and Legend Films, it was announced that a sequel was in the works. With an allegedly slated release date of 2010, Forbidden Zone II: Forbidden Galaxy has the following imdb summary, written by Richard Elfman himself.


Ma and Pa Kettle leave the depressed Dust Bowl with their kids, Stinky and Petunia, and drive their old jalopy down to Crenshaw in South-Central Los Angeles. Stinky is a hyper-active 12-year-old; Petunia is a lumbering 13-year-old; Ma is a corn-cob pipe-smoking inbred, and Pa is a craven, drunken carnival geek…with a bad disposition…even before his carnival job folded after the last dust storm. Together, they hope to find a better life in California. Unfortunately, the little shack they rent has a basement connected to the Sixth Dimension, ruled by a horny midget king who is growing an army of dead zombie babies…to take over Earth.

Coming soon to a theater near you?

Most stills courtesy Pilar Sama and you&me via the Nostalgia Party No. 2 community on the lj. Thanks!

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