The first time I watched Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone, I lasted 13 minutes and 32 seconds. I know this because I made sure to jot it down when I turned it off. The movie isn’t horrible by any means — in fact, it's a rarity of cinema worth your time — it just takes a bad motherfucker to watch it in its entirety in one sitting and without any hard mind-altering substances. (I did end up finishing the movie sober and hoo-boy, what a ride it was.) You will get your chance, soon.
Elfman’s Forbidden Zone is a movie that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before unless you’ve seen Elfman's Forbidden Zone. It’s the wackiest, most deranged movie — a freak show anomaly only the weirdo movie buffs will have on their movie shelf, right in between David Lynch’s excellent Eraserhead and John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. On a scale from 1 to What the Fuck Is This?, Forbidden Zone is off the charts.
This year, the film turns 35, so the historic Texas Theatre is screening the director’s cut in style. Elfman is coming for the showing and is bringing a big bag of fun with him — a special performance with two of Dallas’ most delicious burlesque dancers Black Mariah and The Dirty Blonde right before the film’s screening being just one of the treats.
When the screening is over, there's also going to be an after party full of psychedelic surprises and Richard wants you there, so don’t be late. The whole thing is only $16 and the full lowdown can be found here. Let’s get weird with the brother of Danny Elfman, one of the great music composers of all time responsible for the music behind the best Tim Burton films, a slew of cult hits, and a personal favorite film of mine: Peter Jackson’s tragically underrated The Frighteners.
Before we start, here’s an interview we did with Richard about the movie and its controversies (there are, well, a lot), along with the event on the 10th and what to expect.
Don’t mean to fan boy out but I’m going to fan boy out: You made Shrunken Heads! I remember watching that movie so many times as a kid on HBO or Cinemax or one of those channels. That movie always put me in a good mood.
“Never have I seen a head so small…to show a love so big.” ?—Lt. Col. Aristide Pierre Lafite Sumatra of the Ton Ton Macoute, ret.
Forbidden Zone was made 35 years ago and it still pulls in a crowd. What’s that feeling like?
Both odd yet heartening — the seemingly cheapest and least commercial thing I ever did ultimately became the most popular. Forbidden Zone did a summer of midnight shows then disappeared … or so I thought. Around ten years ago when I put my first website up I got thousands of emails from around the world from Forbidden Zone fans, most younger millennials who weren’t even around when it first came out. Holy shit! Life is strange but in this case we count our blessings. I WILL HAVE AN ARMY OF ZOMBIES!!
You made the film reportedly because you wanted to get out of theater, but the film is full of musical numbers and looks and feels like a play. Was that the idea (for the film) from the beginning?
My brother Danny [Elfman] and I had a musical theatrical troupe called the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which at the time was about to morph into the quirky rock band, Oingo Boingo. I wanted to preserve on film what we had been doing on stage. Forbidden Zone is actually the embodiment of the zaniness and hot music that we had in our stage shows.
This is the first film scored by Danny, who went on to do big things. How does it feel to be the one who launched his career as a composer?
Danny was an odd kid. Kind of a science nerd, not particularly into music. Didn’t play any instruments, no music collection, no garage band, never went to concerts. I think he was around 16 or 17 and we got him a guitar. A month later he could play all the notes of a ridiculously intricate Django Rheinhardt solo. Then we got him a violin and month later he could play the Stephane Grappelli violin accompaniment. Like a meatball hit him from the sky and suddenly turned him into fucking Mozart! I had some partners that helped me finish Forbidden Zone, I remember I had to fight and argue with them to use Danny as opposed to finding a “named” composer. Yeah, life is strange but I ain’t complaining!
Speaking of Danny, he plays Satan in the movie. Does that mean your parents loved him more and this was your revenge?
My parents had his horns removed as a kid — like Hell Boy. We did a 16mm precursor to Forbidden Zone called The Hercules Family, Danny also played the devil. At the end of singing "St. James Infirmary Blues" I made him fall backwards into a fetid, scum-filled pool. I screamed, “Mommy loved you more!!!”
One of the spectacles of the film is the set design. Which scene/set piece is your favorite?
My ex (Frenchy in Forbidden Zone) created the design, kind of a German Expressionist feel. My favorite sequence is Squeezit Henderson being led through the gates of Hell to Devil Danny. The band playing is actually the original Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
This is one of the most fucked up and strange movies I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a lot of fucked up and strange movies. For you, what are some of the most bizarre fucked up movies you have ever seen?
Ha! On Golden Pond, The Notebook, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Eraserhead, Bambi. You know the type!
Can’t go wrong with David Lynch or Sam Peckinpah.
So, you shot the film in black and white but converted it to color in 2008. What made you want to color it and why did you wait until 2008?
My original plan was to shoot the chingadera in black & white, then send it to China and have all the “Sixth Dimension” sequences hand tinted — like they did with art films in Paris in the 1920’s. I ran out of money long before the slow boat made it to China. Legend Films allowed to me to personally supervise the recent colorization — which is actually closer to my original vision. I much prefer the color to the black & white.
I’m sure no pets were harmed during the making of Forbidden Zone, but how many drugs were taking during the making of this film?
Actually, one of the chickens died soon after the filming. But drugs? I’m not at all a puritan per what my friends do, but wine and a good woman are already more than I can handle.
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I did have this one experience … I was 16 years old one summer, went to some wild party at a warehouse down in Watts or Compton, a band I’d never heard of called the Grateful Dead was playing, the bus out front said “Merry Pranksters.” Hot summer night, dancing down and dirty with a hot girl I met, and I just couldn’t get enough to drink — the damned Kool Aid cups were so small. By the time friends got me home the universe was an insane video game, I ended up in a fucking straight jacket. Not joking! Author Tom Wolfe later wrote a book about that night called the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, but I’m sure this had absolutely no influence on Forbidden Zone.
On a serious note: Forbidden Zone has a reputation for being offensive but it garnered a huge cult following. How did and do you handle the media and backlash surrounding the accusations on racism, sexism, and pretty much every -ism in the book?
Other than getting banned from hypocritical politically correct colleges and the arson threats to theaters (for real), there wasn’t really much backlash. I was accused of anti-Semitism over that super stereotypical Jewish money-changer in the film. I had to explain that this was my actual grandfather — and he wasn’t acting. I grew up in a mostly black part of Los Angeles, went to mostly black schools — was used to diverse groups getting along, keeping a friendly sense of humor about our differences. When Forbidden Zone came out some established gay press — The Advocate, condemned the “offensive gay stereotype.” But the underground gay press where among the strongest supporters of the film, which has had a large gay following to this day. (So I guess like anyone else, the homos aren’t all homogenous.)
You are making Forbidden Zone 2. What can you tell us that isn’t already out publicly and when can we expect to be able to see it?
All the humor, zaniness and unforgettable music you found in Forbidden Zone 1, but BIGGER, BADDER and BOLDER. Get ready to laugh, to cry, to wet your pants! Here’s a little the Forbidden Zone promo teaser.
For folks not familiar with your work, what should they expect from the show on July 10 at Texas Theatre?
I’m putting on a little pre-show before the film (so come early). I’ll march in with the “Mystic Knights of the Forbidden Zone.” Stars of the Dallas Burlesque “Black Mariah” and “The Dirty Blonde” will heat up the house … oh, and Mrs. Anastasia Elfman will add some sizzle — a gal so hot and luscious that I look at my ugly face in the mirror each morning and worry that she’s just an hallucination, and the guys in white suits are coming to take me away … again.