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One From the Vaults 

Forbidden Zone is the lost Monet of cult films

Wednesday, Aug 25 2004
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Forbidden Zone is the lost Monet of cult films. Originally released in 1980 by screwy auteur Richard Elfman, the has-to-be-experienced-to-be-believed plot concerns a family who happen into a portal in their basement and become trapped in a surreal Sixth Dimension ruled over by a lusty midget king (Herve Villechaize, aka Tattoo from Fantasy Island), a jealous queen (B-movie cupcake Susan Tyrrell), and a topless princess with an unnatural yen for her pet giant frog. And don't even get me started on half-man/half-chicken-boy Squeezit, the cameo by Warhol superstar Viva, the almost entirely underwear-clad cast, and the delectably freaky soundtrack, composed by movie-music impresario Danny Elfman (Richard's brother, who also plays Satan).

Richard Elfman's loopy masterpiece was roundly reviled upon its emergence -- the movie's rampant ethnic goofs pissed off PC types. "At the college theaters we got arson threats!" says Elfman, who lost the house he'd mortgaged to fund his work and fled to France after his critical and popular drubbing.

Meanwhile, bootlegged copies of Forbidden Zone were beginning to make their way to independent video stores around the country, with new fans converted by word-of-mouth and frequent illicit screenings of the flick on the USA Network's '80s late-night music video show, Night Flight. Knowing none of this, Elfman was shocked when he put up a personal Web site a couple of years back and was deluged with thousands of e-mails from rabid fans begging to know what became of his ultra-obscure movie.

Those enthusiasts will be delighted to hear that Forbidden Zone's back from extinction, with a pearly new 35mm print showing at Landmark Theatres' midnight movie screenings around the country. A deluxe-edition DVD from groovy local distributors Fantoma Films is also set for an Aug. 31 release. Rocky Horror -- watch your back.

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Joyce Slaton

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