It’s hard to reconcile our current image of Danny Elfman as the composer of the scores for Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland et cetera with the Danny Elfman of yesteryear. As the lead weirdo in the proudly juvenile neo-cabaret act The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, Elfman’s schtick used to be quite, uh, different. Elfman, his brother Richard and his bandmates made Forbidden Zone to try to encapsulate what their act, which features characters in blackface and cannibalized elements of vaudeville (“Your buns smell like lox, honey, I can smell them from here.”), was all about. Today, it’s a time capsule of that long-ago time when it was very hip to be deeply confusing.
Originally filmed in black-and-white and colorized in 2008, Forbidden Zone assaults viewers with an increasingly nonsensical scenario. The Hercules family has a gateway to the Sixth Dimension in their house. Though Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman, Richard’s wife at the time) is warned by her parents not to visit that strange, over-sexed land where Fantasy Island star Hervé Villechaize and Susan Tyrrell rule with a lecherous fist, she goes anyway. When she is inevitably captured and thrown into a dank prison cell, brother Flash (Phil Gordon) enlists the aid of his deaf-and-dumb wrestling grandfather (Hyman Diamond) to rescue her from the clutches of the jealous Queen and the horny King.
Though I’m partial to the scene where a singing masseuse performs “Yiddishe Charleston” before getting blasted into oblivion by a ray gun, the highest high point of Forbidden Zone is probably Danny Elfman’s show-stopping version of “Minnie the Moocher.” As the Sixth Dimension’s version of the Devil, Elfman launches the film into its own pantheon of strange. Don’t believe the titular opening number: a line like “Everything looks different but nothing has changed” will never be true about Forbidden Zone.