All right fiends, let’s get weird. Horror as a genre is an interesting one when you consider what it encompasses. From giant monsters to slashers to Giallo mysteries to devil worshippers, all these things make up our beloved genre. Sometimes Horror is also bizarre and odd, even if it is also very funny. Today’s recommendations are The Greasy Strangler, directed by Jim Hosking and co-written by Hosking and Toby Harvard, and Forbidden Zone, directed by Richard Elfman and co-written by Elfman, Matthew Bright, Martin Nicholson, and Nicholas James.
The Greasy Strangler is a slasher movie hidden inside a bizarre and sexual narrative with the sense of humor of Napoleon Dynamite. The story focuses on Big Ronnie and his son Big Brayden who live together and run a strange tour of disco spots in Los Angeles. The tour is odd because attractions will, for example, be a doorway that Big Ronnie claims was the exact spot the Beegees thought of the song “Night Fever,” as if someone could know exactly when a person thought of something. But the tour is the family business, and Big Brayden makes his father’s meals to compensate for living with him. The meals are usually sausage, and never quite greasy enough for Ronnie. It’s an odd father-son dynamic, to say the least.
One day on tour, a young woman named Janet takes an interest in Big Brayden. They begin seeing each other. Meanwhile, Big Ronnie goes out at night and murders people while covered in grease. After a while, Big Ronnie becomes jealous of his son and asserts his masculinity by stealing Janet and starting a sexual relationship with her. While Big Brayden tries to get back Janet, he also begins to suspect the greasy strangler is his father and that Janet may be the next victim. That may sound strange enough, but the movie continues to amp up the bizarre over the course of its run time.
Despite how clean and well-shot The Greasy Strangler looks, and how everyday relateable the settings are, the soundtrack, characters, and costumes are from another world. This movie looks great, not always the case in the cinema of the bizarre. Usually, the camera in this genre is obscured or strange, and the sets skew toward the bizarre themselves. Here, if you did not know it, there are moments that could be mistaken for a common drama. However, any accidental normalcy begins to deteriorate when the soundtrack kicks in, letting you know things are about to get weird.
The soundtrack might just make the film.
Then there are the characters.
Big Ronnie, the overly aggressive and sexual older man with an enormous penis. His son Big Brayden, a wimpy man-child, and Janet, the girlfriend who seems willing to have sex with anyone at least once, especially if they will, ah-hem, eat her ass.
Other eccentric characters include Big Paul, the blind disco man who runs a car wash all hours of the day, and the three tourists who stand around a hotel parking lot at night discussing the broken snack machine. And finally, there are the costumes – or lack thereof to be more precise. Yes, Big Ronnie and Big Brayden wear matching pink shorts and shirts, but they wear far less when they are home. Big Brayden usually wears only briefs, and Big Ronnie is usually nude with his massive member hanging free. He is equally bare when he kills unless you count the grease he coats himself in, which may be the least bizarre element to the kills. That said, I don’t want to go into any of them here and possibly spoil them. Simply put, The Greasy Strangler must be experienced first-hand to be believed.
The next film up, Forbidden Zone!
Forbidden Zone is a far less polished film than the first. However, with its musical elements and intentionally campy story and look, this one is perhaps more entertaining. The story surrounds the Hercules family, who have recently moved into a home in Malibu. The family consists of Ma and Pa Hercules, Grandpa, and the kids: their son Flash and daughter Frenchy. When Frenchy hears from Flash how their transgender friend has disappeared into a portal to the Forbidden Zone in their new home’s basement, Frenchy is intrigued. Pa gets angry and tells her to stay away. He warns her of the Forbidden Zone’s danger.
Later at school, a fight breaks out between some students and the teacher, and Frenchy returns home and falls into the portal. Once in the Forbidden Zone, Frenchy attracts the interest of King Fausto, because they are both French, and the ire and jealous wrath of Queen Doris. The Queen places Frenchy in a cell while the King tries to romance her. Meanwhile, Flash realizes his sister is in the Forbidden Zone and enlists Gramps’ help to go after her.
The story may sound bizarre enough but add in surreal sets, musical numbers, and strange casting choices for even stranger characters, and it all makes perfect sense. And personally, having Oingo Boingo do the music certifies Forbidden Zone as a bizarre-O masterpiece.
The film’s history goes back to the late 1970s before Danny Elfman was the successful soundtrack artist he is today, before the band had any stature at all. Back then, they were known as the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and were more of a performance troupe whose show included elements similar to the film. Danny and his brother Richard – the band’s lead singer – collaborated to make the film. They chose to shoot in black and white, which adds a certain charm to sets reminiscent of what one might expect from a community college theater group. The props and makeup effects are equally cheesy and low rent. Adding to this already outlandish approach, the casting is intentionally off-putting as well. Take for example, Flash, a teenage boy played by an elderly vaudevillian. A twenty-something-year-old French woman plays Frenchy, and adults likewise play all the kids at the school. Finally, Herve Villechaize plays King Fausto. It’s a hard film to completely encapsulate, as its demented madcap absurdity is, as our first film, easier seen first-hand.
Now, you may ask, why would a Horror column take this detour into the bizarre. Well, my response is, why not? To appreciate Horror in all its multifaceted greatness, one must also consider the murky genres surrounding its radiant shores. Sometimes it’s fun to watch something that screws more with you as a viewer more than the characters on screen.
To me, Horror is a broad term, and although some may not think The Greasy Strangler or Forbidden Zone are horror movies, others would say they definitely fit in that category.
Finally, I usually try to tell you where to see or rent the movies I discuss in this column. Not today. No, today, I am going instead to introduce you to a new tool for your watchlist: the justwatch.com website and app, available for download. These are excellent tools for finding the films on your watch list. Simply search for a title, and justwatch will show where it’s available online for streaming. In the last few months, this has helped me find films and save a little money on some of those movies I have been trying to mark off my watch list.