A Trip into Richard Elfman’s ‘Forbidden Zone’ [Blu-ray Review]

Forbidden Zone

Last November of 2021 I had the pleasure of working on a movie with Richard Elfman (Bloody Bridget coming soon). While I knew the name I wasn’t at all familiar with his work. That experience, however, acted as the perfect primer for this, my inaugural viewing of Elfman’s most celebrated cult film, Forbidden Zone (1980). Elfman, the man, is a whirling tornado of excitement and vigor (and he also cooks the best salmon I’ve ever had in my life). He’s full of zany ideas and unbridled creativity—which is the very conceit behind his feature debut. Intended as more of a series of vignettes meant to highlight musical endeavors more than anything, there eventually was a narrative (of sorts) designed to string together all the pieces. The movie still plays like a fever dream, filled with illogic and trips to another “zone”.

Attempts to summarize the plot, like on Wikipedia, seem a fool’s errand because nothing you read will make a lick of sense; this is a film that has to be seen and summarily digested. An entryway to the Sixth Dimension, lorded over by King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) is hidden beneath a home belonging to the Hercules family and… you know what? No, this just isn’t going to work.

The movie plays like a series of madcap sketches, full of the kind of absurdist humor that might fit into a Zucker & Abrams film if they were on acid. There are elements of every genre present, and while hearing there’s so much inanity might sound like this is a little more than a frantic art experiment—which it is—there’s also something intrinsically magnetic about it. It’s a mesmerizing movie. I frequently had no idea what was actually happening. But it isn’t the sort of confusion that would inspire checking out. Your brain remains engaged.

One aspect for which the film is consistently praised is the score, here credited to Danny Elfman and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The main title theme is a wild ride, perfectly putting younger brother Danny’s future skills on full display. Elfman even remixed the theme for use in the short-lived animated series Dilbert (1999-2000). There’s a killer musical number late in the film featuring Danny as Satan, singing a rendition of “Minnie the Moocher”, that is maybe my favorite bit. It’s an infectious score and an ideal complement to the on-screen antics.

Forbidden Zone was previously released on Blu-ray featuring two cuts of the film: the original version and a new director’s cut. The latter colorizes the entire feature and sees the removal of some blackface characters Elfman says he always found distasteful. This new release contains only the director’s cut. While I can’t argue against a visionary such as Elfman wanting to tinker with his toys, from an artistic standpoint I do take issue with eliminating the original version. Yes, the film was meant to be in color, but the process by which Elfman wanted to do that (he explains in the extras) would have been too prohibitive in terms of time and cost. Creating a new version that can live as an alternative alongside the original is one thing. But burying it in the past doesn’t quite sit right.

The colorized 1.78:1 1080p image is an interesting one. The process leaves the image looking a little waxy, removing much of the natural film grain and giving the appearance of noise reduction or something artificial. It’s certainly a unique look. Elfman planned to hand paint all of the frames—and lord, does that sound like a massive undertaking. But thanks to computers this colorization was done in 2008 and apparently delivered the results he wanted to see. Now, do I wish I could have seen this in its original, glorious black and white? Absolutely. But since this was also my first viewing I don’t have a visual history with the film and wasn’t as bothered as longtime fans might be.

The English LPCM 2.0 stereo track offers strong fidelity and a nice presence, giving lossless life to the Oingo Boingo score as it pumps through the front-end assembly. Every song sounds loud and crisp. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, with no hissing, pops, or crackling. Subtitles are available in English.  

An audio commentary featuring Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright has been carried over to this new edition.

A new “Director Introduction” (1080p) has been recorded by Elfman. It is positively wacky and features a tease for “Forbidden Zone 2”.

“A Look into the Forbidden Zone” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 37 minutes and 17 seconds. It’s filled with old Mystic Knights footage and plenty of talking heads. This is a fairly comprehensive piece full of great anecdotes and information.

“Richard Elfman Beats Danny Elfman: Forbidden Zone” (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, Elfman and his lovely wife, Anastasia, perform the film’s main theme.

A series of deleted scenes (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 47 seconds.

Numerous outtakes (1080p) are included, running for 11 minutes and 18 seconds.

“Scenes from Hercules family” (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

A fascinating but short “Japan promo” (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 2 seconds.

Finally, the director’s intro from 2015 is also included, running for 3 minutes and 46 seconds.

Special Features:

  • High Definition (1080p) color presentation of the main feature in 1.78:1 aspect ratio
  • Audio: DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English Subtitles
  • NEW! Introduction by Director Richard Elfman
  • NEW! Forbidden Zone Theme: Richard Elfman Beats Danny Elfman!
  • Original audio commentary with director Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright
  • A Look into Forbidden Zone – extensive behind-the-scenes documentary
  • Original Video Intro by Director Richard Elfman
  • Outtakes and Deleted Scenes
  • Reversible Artwork
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Forbidden Zone: Director's Cut
  • Special Features


Weird, wacky, and nearly undefinable Richard Elfman’s cult classic defies all logic, carving out a singular place amongst oddity filmmaking. As a filmmaker he has every right to tinker with his vision – but this latest release comes at the expense of the original version best known to his audience. For that reason this may not be the ideal way to experience it, whether it’s your first time or hundredth. MVD has done a fantastic job of presenting the film as Elfman intended, and there are plenty of great bonus features to flesh out this forbidden world.  

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