Onscreen text offers a semblance of linear plotting at the start of this adventure, detailing how a pimp stashed his haul of drugs in a strange house one day, only to return in pursuit of them and inadvertently stumble across a portal into the sixth dimension.

Our tale begins proper when the highly strung Hercules family move into said house, and their feisty French student daughter Susan (Marie-Pascale Elfman) falls into the aforementioned portal – prompting her sheepish parents to follow, in the hope of retrieving their child intact.

What they initially find is a world of bizarre parallels, not least of all in one of the most chaotic, jarring classrooms imaginable (and that’s just the teacher).

Beyond that, they encounter weird twin pugilists with a yen for singing strange ditties and a butler cursed with a frog’s head. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, in this absurd galaxy governed by King Fausto (Herve Villachaize) and the jealous Queen Doris (the always excellent Susan Tyrell).

There is much, much more in store for them – and us – during FORBIDDEN ZONE. It propels itself at an alarming rate from one dizzying spectacle of a set-piece to the next. But I’ve said enough: it needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

And, if you’re left scratching your head from this somewhat befuddled intro, that’s okay: I’ve seen the film several times, and I’m still waiting to fully grasp its wonder …

How, after all, do you describe a film like FORBIDDEN ZONE? A crossbreed of Mel Brooks, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Luis Bunuel? Ah, that’s just laziness on my part, surely …

It’s nigh on impossible to synopsise this film though, let alone review. A mix of screwball comedy, surreal drama, camp theatrics and musical numbers – it’s one barmy bastard of a film. But, it is shamelessly enjoyable from the beginning to the end of its blink-and-it’s-over 74-minute running time.

With lurid, hand-painted backdrops standing in for houses, landscapes and so on, the film is a flamboyant visual proposition even in its original monochrome variant.

Yes, it looks cheap. But it also looks stunning, with each and every scene overflowing with creative energy. At times, it’s all akin to a crazy Warner Bros cartoon, everything moving along noisily at 100mph and with no logic whatsoever. At others, it’s the stuff of pure nightmare: as twisted and disturbingly exaggerated as anything committed to celluloid.

Everyone overacts deliberately (Tyrell is fantastic), the songs – Danny Elfman’s tunes, ranging from 30s jazz to 70s rock - are rarely in tune and the story is pathologically incoherent. Who cares?! The blending of stop-motion, animation, songs, nudity and cheap sci-fi FX means that this is like nothing else out there – and we have no idea how to gage expectancies along conventional lines.

Ultimately, the film – a real Elfman family affair, having been written and directed by Richard - is enormous fun. It holds up to repeated viewings. You will see something different in it each time you view it, and both versions (the film was originally released in a black-and-white version, but a colour version persists) are well worth watching: Although the content is identical, the addition of colour really makes it a separate experience altogether.

Presented uncut here on Arrow’s world debut blu-ray disc, the film looks incredible in 1080p HD with natural grain prevalent throughout, massively improved detail and a completely healthy film-like feel to its visuals throughout. Both versions of the film are made available on the disc, and they both fare equally well.

Likewise, lossless Master English audio is very good indeed, boasting consistent and well-balanced, clean playback.

The disc opens with Arrow’s trademark promo reel, celebrating releases such as DAWN OF THE DEAD, MARTIN, TWO EVIL EYES and more.

From there, an animated main menu page contains pop-up menus, including the choice of watching either version of the film. Each version then carries its own a scene-selection menu offering access to FORBIDDEN ZONE via 12 chapters apiece.

Best of the nice extras on offer is a commentary by the Elfmans. Informative, witty and extremely fluent, this is a fascinating listen. It can, however, only be played in conjunction with the black-and-white version of the film.

Next up is the brilliant 37-minute documentary, "A Look into the Forbidden Zone". This letterboxed featurette has been made available previously (on Fantomas’ US DVD) but is still a vital, engrossing watch. A cigar smoking Richard Elfman is the host as we learn even more about the film’s making, see test footage and hear from more of the production’s participants (Danny Elfman; Susan Tyrell etc) as Richard interviews them.

11 minutes of outtakes are quite rough and scratchy looking, but it’s great to see them here anyway.

A quintet of deleted scenes comes in monochrome and with 16x9 enhancement.

5 minutes of scenes from "The Hercules Family" (a disbanded short film) follow, in black-and-white.

Oingo Boingo’s "Private Life" gets its own window-boxed music video. This clocks in at just under 4 minutes long, and is an entertaining slice of 80s alt-rock which features on the film’s soundtrack. Happily, this is more than just scenes from the film. It’s also good to see the A&M Records logo at the start of this.

A window-boxed Japanese promo runs for 4 enjoyable minutes, with Richard Elfman appearing on stage to cheerfully introduce the film in dual languages. It’s as madcap as the feature it promotes.

Finally we get the film’s original trailer, in monochrome and 16x9 enhanced. This clocks in at just 47 seconds in length, but manages to convey the film’s mixture of mentality and style well enough.

Not available for review but also included in this set are the customary Arrow additions of four choices of cover art, a double-sided poster and a collectors’ booklet.

FORBIDDEN ZONE won’t be to everyone’s taste. Personally I love the film, and I’m delighted to report that Arrow’s blu-ray is a winner.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review