'Zone' for those who live in another dimension

By Robert W. Butler, the star's arts and entertainment editor
Kansas city (Mo.) Star, March 4, 1983

How It Rates
* *

Forbidden Zone, a musical fantasy, contains nudity, profanity and sexually suggestive material. ( Audience rating : R) Now showing at the Fine Arts Theater. Produced and directed by Richard Elfman; written by Richard Elfman, Matthew Bright, Nick L. Martinson and Nicholas James: and released by the Samuel Goldwin Co. With the following principal players: Herve Villechaize, Susan Tyrell, Marie-Pascal Elfman.

For those fringe cases who find "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" passe and "Eraserhead" to conventional, we now have "Forbidden Zone." Its a bizarre effort from director Richard Elfman that resembles a drug-soaked collaboration of Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Busby Berkely and the Three Stooges.

This camp classic has Been booked as the midnight show on Fridays at the Fine Arts Theater. It's tasteless but surprisingly sophisticated, given the budgetary limitations, and although it cannot be recommended for mass consumption, "Forbidden Zone" is so weird it might become a cult film.

Filmed in grainy black-and -white stock using obviously a minuscule budget (most of the sets are made of painted cardboard in the surreal style of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"), the film features Susan Tyrell playing the role she was born for, a wacky sound track by Danny Elfman of the group Oingo Boingo that blends the worst music of the Depression with rock instrumentation, enough raunchy humor to keep a burlesque house in material for years, wall-to wall naked women and art direction that echoes the kitsch graphics of the 1950s.

The plot is an excuse for a variety of odd set pieces. The heroine is teen-aged Frenchy Hercules ( Marie-Pascal Elfman, whom one suspects is the director's wife, because she is virtually the only female on the cast to remain clothed, and her acting talent is limited to licking the brig of her own nose). She has returned to Venice, Calif., after spending a year in Paris, where she picked up a nearly incomprehensible French accent. One day in the basement of her family's house, Frenchy discovers the doorway to the 6th dimension-the Forbidden Zone. She is made captive by the monarchs of this creepy kingdom, King Fausto ( Herve Villechaize, the co-star of television's "Fantasy Island"), who wants him for his harem, and the jealous Queen (Susan Tyrell) who wants to torture her into babbling dementia.

Frenchy's brother, Flash (played by Phil Gordon, a 50-ish burlesque comic wearing a Cub Scout shirt and flowered boxer shorts) and grandfather ( Hyman Dimon, a huge man wearing a fake black beard that makes him look like the heavy in a silent film) enter the Forbidden Zone to retrieve her, along with an introverted schoolmate named Squeezit ( Toshiro Baloney.... don't blame me, folks, that's what it says on the credits) who think he's a chicken.

The humor is scatological, sexual and ethnic ( Yiddish accents and black street jive), but like an old-time burlesque show, it becomes more benign the more you listen to it. Danny Elfman's score (he also makes an appearance playing Satan in a spoof of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher") is like the worst 1930s musical ever written, but with enough tongue-in-cheek lyrics and thudding electronic-bass lines to make it not only palatable but downright catchy.

There are a couple of cast-of-hundreds production numbers, including a factory sequence that must have cornered the Los Angeles market for Zoot suits, and some Decent dancing. Several far-out animated segments by John Muto are first rate.

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