Reviews - The Forbidden Zone

Review by Blunt Instrument

The Forbidden Zone, from which this site evolved its name, is a film of many parts: it is a family film (Danny Elfman wrote the score, his brother directed, his brother's wife of the time starred..), a Mystic Knights film (much of the music and many characters come from the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo ensemble), and it comes across as a cross between The Rocky Horror Picture Show (film version 1975), early 20th century German expressionism and surrealism, Python, bad farce, and an amateur pantomime (say hello to Mr Toad and the fairytale evil queen). More influences and nudges crowd the film, and this probably qualifies it to cult status more than the obligatory poor acting, low budget and quotable lines. Also there is much to entice the average student drinking party: raspberry blowing, dry humping, nudity, French accents, (terrible acting again - is Frenchie reading cue cards?!), weird (Gilliamesque?) animation, blacked-up Romeos, black-and-white, sado-masochism, swearing, all-female kissing and fighting, classroom facism (violence, mild anti-Semitism, peer-pressure, homophobia...), terrible make-up and cheesy effects.
Elfman's score is similarly mish-mash, which in a way is a good thing, since it helps to link the Cab Calloway jazz to the synth-and-electric guitar-heavy main theme. In fact he delves deeply both into Mystic Knights material (handily exhibited on the DVD's documentary), with scat jazz, 30's cabaret, folk-simple and even world music styles, and looks forward to the emerging weird 80's pop-rock traits of Oingo Boingo. Film fans should not discount this early work only as a mere oddity, though, since some of these styles look forward to his future work on the big screen. The varied stylistic originas are essential to understanding the adaptability of his compositional inspiratio; the jazz elements are present to varying degrees in film scores such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Dick Tracy and Chicago; the simple synth underscores such as the Satiesque Love Theme (notable for its inclusion in Music For a Darkened Theatre [Vol.1]) look forward to the playful-plaintive approach to scenes in Pee Wee and Beetlejuice; the saxophone oddities link with Face Like A Frog; thumping dissonances and chanting permeate his basic scoring methods, from the Pee Wee main titles to Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (boat scenes). Let us not also forget that it featured Danny's singing voice in the guise of scary jazz man (see both Tim Burton stop-motion features), and that the tritone theme was more recently adapted for the animated TV series Dilbert.
More than a curio: an essential window into Elfman's early scoring style and technique (working to a tight schedule, he operated mainly with themes here due to the experience of the ensemble, with Steve Bartek arranging where necessary). The quality of the music may lack the finesse and density of his mature film work but it fits neatly with the style of the feature.
Ratings: * * * * (film) / * * (CD)

Review by Benevolent General Hershnov

Forbidden Zone is a very interesting blend of Danny Elfman's early rhythm oriented comedic scores (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, etc.) and the wild, eclectic sounds of the early Oingo Boingo albums. Certainly more appealing to Oingo Boingo fans than to Elfman's filmmusic fans, Forbidden Zone shows a bizarre mix of tribal chanting (Later reprised for Danny's theme to Shrunken Heads), and an odd sound that can only be described as Spazz (Speed + Jazz.) If you've heard the piece from this on the first Music For A Darkened Theatre album, you will be surprised to learn that the rest of this album is very, very different from that sad, soulful piano solo. It's more akin to Face Like [a] Frog (Also on the Darkened Theatre album) with a bit of a 40s jazz sound thrown in. On tracks such as Battle of the Queens, and the latter half of The Alphabet Song Elfman explodes in a fury of electric guitars and quickly played sax solos that is a sudden change from the mechanic stylings of such tracks as "Hercules" Family Theme, Factory, and Cell 63. There's also an added bonus for you Elfman historians out there, both Marie-Pascale Elfman, and R. Yossele Elfman make vocal appearances on this album. Another nice addition is the solid synthesizer piece, Chamber Music, which is almost Bach-esque, and a trip back to the early days of synth. music. All in all, this album is great for us Elfman/Boingo enthusiasts, but for others, it could grate a little bit.

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