Delving Into Richard Elfman's Brightly-Colored Forbidden Zone

Delving Into Richard Elfman’s Brightly-Colored Forbidden Zone

In late 2002 I stumbled into the downtown Palace Theatre in Los Angeles for a 72-hour punk rock and shock film festival titled “Shock-o-Rama a Go-Go”. With a very liberal “bring your own booze and sleeping bag” policy, the festival featured all-night-and-all-day films, performances by bands such as the Nervous Return and 400 Blows, and general creepiness – all within the confines of the lovely (albeit rotting) Broadway district theatre. The highlight for me was a screening of The Forbidden Zone, a cult film by Richard Elfman starring Herve Villechaize as King Fausto, with Richard’s brother Danny Elfman playing the devil. (Richard, if you did not know, is the original founder of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.) The screening was followed by a Q&A with the director himself. Six years later, The Forbidden Zone has now been restored, the sound remastered and the film colorized. It will screen at the Egyptian on Wednesday, July 30, again with a Q&A with the director, and we’re stoked to give you the chance to win tickets to the screening at the end of this article. But first, a few brief questions with Richard regarding his film, his legacy, and Los Angeles.

I caught you and the film at a 72-hour punk festival back in 2002. What’s the kookiest place or festival you’ve ever personally attended a Forbidden Zone screening – any good stories? What should or shouldn’t we expect at the Egyptian?

Modesty and gentlemanly discretion prohibit me from discussing that particular night in 2002. In terms of the Egyptian screeing July 30, not much happening. Naked beauty-pageant mud-wrestling begins at 5 pm. Then unlimited free drinks for an hour while my brother Danny jams with Paul McCartney and Sting. Then the ritual slaughtering of the of the boars, subsequent barbecue and demented mass orgy dance. And then the screening begins at 8pm. (Susan Tyrrell, Matthew Bright, animator John Muto and other cast and crew will be joining us.) After the screening, we will all sit and relax, as we enjoy a reading of Homer’s Ulysses (in the original Greek), followed by a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. And then we can have a wonderful discussion about the two Ulysses. Hopefully it will all be over before the following night’s screening!

The parts I’ve seen in color look great. What was the primary impetus for colorizing (and remastering) the film?

I always intended to colorize the film. The plan was shoot it black and white, ship it off to China, and have the frames hand tinted… a process done in the 20’s on certain art films. I went broke long before the film was completed. We were lucky to get it remastered and colorized recently. It never looked and sounded as good as now.

How involved were you with the process?

Totally involved. The folks at Legend Films worked with me to get the colors just right (along with an army of helpers in India). They respect the artist at Legend.

Long intro on this one, bear with me. George Lucas purportedly rallied against the colorization of B&W movies some time prior to making and releasing digitally-enhanced “special editions” of his original Star Wars trilogy. To quote: “I am very concerned that the films that I watched when I was young and the films that I watched throughout my life are preserved, so that my children can see them.” (source: IMDB) Admittedly his new “special editions” contained enhanced sound, cleaner footage and improved visual effects, but ironically, he also tinkered around with portions of dialogue, portions of plot, added brand-new elements under the guise of continuity and, in some cases, completely replaced the faces of the actors in the original movies with newer actors. Much to the dismay of his core fan base, he then refused to restore and release the original versions of the films as well, ultimately offering them as a non-anamorphic bonus material on the new DVDs (source).

What’s your take on permanently altering movies? Do you feel the need to keep both versions circulating out there, or will one suffice at this point? (Is this a “special edition” ? Is Hayden Christenson’s ghost digitally superimposed over one of the original characters, or did you leave it with color and sound?)

Every case is different. Also, film is a collaborative medium– in Citizen Kane, Orson Wells shared his title credit card with brilliant cinematographer, Gregg Toland. So it’s many hands working on a director’s vision. Anyway… just like taking a great Duke Ellington recording from the 30’s and using MODERN TECHNOLOGY to bring the dynamic range out, so can color enhance the story of an older film. I’m not talking Ted Turner cartoon color, but Legend Film uses top artists and the latest technology. They enhance the films the work on. With the exception of something like Psycho, where Alfred Hitchcock chose to shoot in black and white, the old timers never had the choice available. Technology has caught up with that now. And again, it all depends on the artistic skill and integrity of who’s doing the colorization. I was lucky with Forbidden Zone.

We can’t wait. Closing now with a question I asked you at the Shock-a-rama a go-go festival. (It was 130am and I was slightly inebriated…) Regarding Los Angeles freeways: What’s your favorite and why? What’s your least favorite?

Favorite: I like that mile high turn going east from the 105 to the 110 after leaving LAX.
Least favorite: Traffic on the 405.

Thanks Richard! See you at the screening.


The Forbidden Zone

American Cinematheque
Egyptian Theatre
Wednesday, July 30 – 8:00 PM

If you’ve never seen the film, where to begin? Frogs, Frenchies, intestines, song-and-dance routines…lordy, just see it already!

Beautiful young “Frenchy” (Marie-Pascale Elfman) slides through cosmic intestines into a subterranean world ruled by horny midget King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) and his jealous Queen Doris (Susan Tyrrell). “Chicken-boy” (Matthew Bright, director of FREEWAY) comes to the rescue, only to have his head cut off by the soul-singing Devil himself — played by Danny Elfman and the original Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Frog butlers, topless princesses, and rioting school kids sing and dance in unforgettable musical numbers by Danny Elfman, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker and others.


Be sure to include your first and last name. Good luck.