Intestinal Fortitude

On the 23rd '25th anniversary' of 'Forbidden Zone,' Richard Elfman heads for the Loft to talk to Tucsonans about some really strange stuff

The Forbidden Zone is probably the best movie ever made about an underground realm ruled by a French midget king and his topless concubines. Describing it to someone who hasn't seen it would be like describing sex on acid to a straight-edge virgin, but if you tried to imagine a live-action version of a 1930s Warner Bros. cartoon, only with better song-and-dance numbers, that's accessible only by going through the digestive track of a buried giant, you'd begin to get close. Luckily for you, it's showing at the Loft this Friday, April 1, and director Richard Elfman will be there to talk about it. If you're too shy to ask him questions, you can use the following as a guideline:

Tucson Weekly: So this is the fake 25th anniversary of Forbidden Zone, right?

Richard Elfman: Yeah, it's listed with a 1980 release date, but we really started showing it in 1982.

TW: But the hype says it's the 25th anniversary.

RE: There are P.T. Barnums everywhere

TW: And there's a new DVD release.

RE: There was a previous DVD, which was just cheap copy off a used VHS, with no extras at all. People should look for the Fantoma DVD. We remixed the sound, and we did a new high-definition transfer off the original 35mm negative. It has interviews with cast and crew, and (screenwriter) Matthew Bright and I do a commentary on the film. Also, the film was based on a 16mm short called The Hercules Family, so we took a few scenes from that and put them on the DVD.

TW: Did the film come out of your theater work?

RE: Forbidden Zone was probably the first time that I did pretty much spontaneous creation without thought to logic, reason or consequences. So it was just everything I liked, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (Elfman's music/theater group, and the precursor to new wave band Oingo Boingo) was very much a potpourri as well, of very divergent musical styles. The Mystic Knights was a bit of reaction to the hum-drum fare of the '70s, and the rule I had was that I wanted to either re-create something old that people could no longer get live, or to do music that was completely crazy and avant garde that my brother wrote. And the only rule was to do nothing contemporary, although eventually the music business fixed that.

TW: And the soundtrack to the film is played by the Mystic Knights.

RE: Yeah, with a little help from Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker and our esteemed friends ...

TW: The Kipper Kids, who, for those who don't know, are notorious, diaper-wearing, soccer-hooligan, lip-farting performance artists.

RE: The Kipper Kids. You know, it's Presley, Sinatra ... the Kipper Kids ... great vocalists can do so much with a number.

TW: Aside from the Kipper Kids, the biggest star in the movie was Hervé Villechaize, who plays King Fausto. How did you get him?

RE: Matthew Bright was his roommate. His ex-girlfriend was (Forbidden Zone co-star) Susan Tyrrell. Herve and Susan were already exes when the film was being shot, and periodically, they'd have tremendous fights. And it was comic/tragic, because she had a voice box from the Lincoln repertory, you could hear her from 2,000 yards away. And Herve had a small voice, so you could hear him squawking and hear her yelling.

TW: And now you're planning a sequel?

RE: We're talking Forbidden Zone 2, and Matthew Bright is going to co-write it, and he's going to reprise his role of Renee. Now that he's older and more mature, he feels he could do a better job playing a woman. We'll see how well he can still squat and run around like a chicken.

TW: The re-release opens in New York City on the same day it opens in Tucson, but you'll be speaking in Tucson rather than in some stinking cesspool on the Hudson River ... why is that?

RE: I happen to like Tucson very much, No. 1, and I'm not in control of things.

TW: You've got a couple projects coming up: Brave New Rosenberg and Trio.

RE: Brave New Rosenberg is a wacky thing, similar to Forbidden Zone: Two private eyes, one like Woody Allen, one like Cantinflas, and they work at the Rosenberg Detective Agency, and they couldn't catch their shadow. They're hired to track down a missing woman who appears and disappears in their neighborhood, and when they find her, she disappears through a brick wall into another dimension in a musical number.

TW: And they come out the end of an intestinal track?

RE: It's not quite the same as Forbidden Zone, but this is a really wacky movie. Trio is a larger-budget, more Stephen King sort of thing.

TW: And your mom wrote it?

RE: I co-wrote it with my mother, and she's doing the rewrite now. And she works with me on the magazine. I keep her hard at work. She's only 79; she's got a lot of working years left in her.

TW: Your son is in Brave New Rosenberg?

RE: Yes, Bodhi Elfman plays the shyster lawyer.

TW: And your son is 15 years younger than you?

RE: Yeah, something's wrong there.

TW: So you were a young father ... did that have an effect on your creative output?

RE: That was my creative output! But I was a Latin percussionist, and got into theater by default. I was in an Afro-jazz group, the only Caucasian, and we signed with Capitol, and they didn't know what to do with us, so they sent us to Vegas to get things together before we cut the album. So we were playing the lounge at Caesars, and they wanted us to create a show to go with it, and I wound up creating a song-and-dance revue. One day during rehearsal, there was a fistfight, and I'm a boxer, and I know how to break up a fight without getting hit, and well, the guys in Vegas liked my style, and the next thing I know, they have me directing transvestite musicals in San Francisco.

TW: So you've been a boxer, Afro-Latin drummer, filmmaker, food critic, and you have a novel ... is that out yet?

RE: No, I'm looking for an illustrator. It's a vampire story called The Schlemazl of Sebriem. This guy gets bit and has to find his way back to righteousness. And on his quest, he has to go a temple where there was a rabbi who could do a reverse vampire ritual, but he's long gone, and only his pet rat is there.

TW: Pet rat?

RE: Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

TW: Right.

RE: I'm Jewish, but I know I'll get into trouble on this one.

TW: Trouble?

RE: With Forbidden Zone, I was attacked on every level, including being accused of anti-Semitism, because of the old Jewish moneylender, even though I protested that it was played by my grandfather, who wasn't acting. And the blackface, and feminists ... we were kicked out of theaters; there were arson threats ...

TW: So it was anti-Semitic, racist and sexist ... the Trifecta!

RE: Well, the truth is, it's none of them, and someone can always take something out of context, and attack those who find humor in life and want to share it.

TW: Tell me about it. Anyway, it's actually a celebration of those things, plus what it is to be short and French.

RE: Yes, exactly. The master race!

TW: Will Forbidden Zone 2 involve the same characters?

RE: We're not sure; we're working that out now. As in Forbidden Zone, it will have a core of a dozen hot musical numbers, and it will take place underground, but an army of zombies will break out. Hervé Villechaize is an original, so instead of finding someone who looks like him, I'll be looking for another original. So I'm not sure how closely we'll follow it.

TW: And your brother Danny Elfman will do the music?

RE: Some of it. And I'll ask him to play the devil again.

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