Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Beast's Movie Cave- Eraserhead

I have a fridge magnet that I picked up in Las Vegas years ago(at least I think it was Vegas...anyway...) that depicts the poster for the David Lynch film Eraserhead, with the blurb from Newsweek stating "The most original horror movie in years". It got me thinking about the film, and how I hadn't seen it in years. I got home early from work yesterday and checked what was on the free movies on demand channel, and on Sundance was none other than Eraserhead! Life is strange sometimes...and in the world of Eraserhead, it's very strange, indeed. I suppose I do agree with Newsweek's assessment of the film as horror, although it's not what one would typically think of as horror...there's no big scares, no killer on the loose, nothing of that sort. There are what could be considered supernatural forces at work, however. What the film does have is a pervasive feeling of dread and fear, an atmosphere of surreal creepiness that sets in from the very beginning and doesn't let up at all. If you've read my reviews of films like The Beyond or Phantasm, you know that I enjoy films with a dream-like feeling to them. Eraserhead is probably the most dream-like, or rather nightmare-like film that I can recall seeing. It's overall feeling is like that of a dream that's creepy , and you want to wake up, but nothing quite bad enough to make you jump up awake screaming happens, so you keep on going through this weird, unsettling dream, and things happen that you don't understand, and you're getting more and more freaked out...this is Eraserhead.

Eraserhead is about Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a fellow with a strange hairdo, who goes about in an equally strange world. He goes to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart), who he hasn't seen in a while. He meets Mary's family and finds out that Mary has had a baby, and claims that Henry is the father. Mary and the baby move in with Henry in his small apartment. The baby is sick, and cries almost constantly, which takes its toll on Mary, who leaves.

Now, reading the above paragraph, you may think that this all sounds fairly normal...oh boy, are you wrong. While the plot, when boiled down to its basic core, may seem ordinary, it's how it's presented that makes it a living nightmare. Meeting your significant others' parents and finding out you're a father can be distressing enough, but in Lynch's hands the situation becomes horrifying. Matter of fact, nothing in Lynch's world of Eraserhead is normal or reassuring. Henry, from the first time we see him, always seems apprehensive at best, or downright scared at other times. Nobody that Henry encounters acts what one would call normally...and then there are characters such as The Man in the Planet and the Lady in the Radiator...who, or what are they, exactly? And the 'baby'...definately not what any parent wants to see in the nursery at the hospital, trust me.

Though this was Lynch's first feature-length film, he set the bar high for extreme cinematic weirdness and surreal horror. If you've ever seen any of his other films, such as Lost Highway (1997), or Mullholland Drive (2001),or his TV series Twin Peaks(1990-1991), you know that he's a master of the bizarre. None of these hold a candle to Eraserhead, in my own humble opinion. Everything about the world Henry Spencer inhabits is strange and a bit terrifying. As I stated above, Henry is always nervous and apprehensive, as if he dreads whatever this weird world has to throw at him next. The film is in black-and-white, which adds to the atmosphere, making it like a demented film noir, but instead of crooks and dangerous dames, we have mutant babies and bleeding chickens. Strange touches in the background are also present, like the framed picture of an atomic bomb mushroom cloud, and the tree growing out of a pile of dirt on the nightstand in Henry's apartment. Sound also plays an important part in the film. There's usually something going on in the background, sonically speaking...either distant jazz music, as if from an apartment window far away, or more ominously, wind blowing or loud industrial sounds . These background sounds keep the viewer unsettled, wondering what's going to happen next...much like Henry, I suppose.

I could go into greater detail about the strangeness that abounds in Eraserhead, but I want you, if you've never seen it, to discover all of the nightmarish goodies for yourself. There are lots of opinions on what the film is about...anything from fears of fatherhood to fears of domesticity in general. Lynch , as with most of his films, isn't forthcoming on what he had in mind when he made it, though I believe I remember reading that he said nobody's gotten his interpretation correct yet. Most people either love this movie or hate it...if you haven't guessed yet, it's one of my favorite films. With films like Eraserhead or Mullholland Drive, part of the fun is figuring out what it's about, or at least your own interpretation . It's a creepy, challenging , nightmare on celluloid, and if you haven't seen it yet, I think you should. After seeing it yesterday, I wondered why the Hell I don't own a copy...I think I'm going to get one this weekend.

As always, feel free to discuss this film with me...I'm interested to see what you think of it. As I said, if you have Time-Warner , its on the free movies on demand channel this month, under the Sundance channel. I believe its on Netflix's watch instantly option, as well. I don't know if Blockbuster or Hollywood video stores are enlightened enough to carry a copy, so good luck there. Until next time, good readers...

"In Heaven, everything is fine"
-The Lady in the Radiator


Paul R. McNamee said...

I have a friend who considers Eraserhead the best horror movie because it is so dream-like, weird and what's worse than a scary, disjointed nightmare you can't get out of?

It's a creepy movie to watch, for sure.

Scott said...


Yes, it's an hour and fourty-minute nightmare, to be sure.

BJ-C said...

What a phenomenal film. This definitely is going to be included in my next installment of movie recommendations. I always feel like I'm on a bad trip when I watch this.

Scott said...


Yeah, that's a good description of this film. Thanks for stopping by, come back anytime!

BJ-C said...

You can count on it! I'll be lurking :)

Scott said...


Cool! I'll be here!

Heff said...

I've seen that movie poster a thousand times, but never have seen the movie. Damnit, why don't I ever see any of these movies ??

Oh yeah - the DRINK.

Scott said...


LOL! I'm a partaker of 'The Drink' as well, but I've still managed to take in a lot of movies...the trick is remembering them afterwards!

Check it out, it's total weirdness.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Scott,

I love this movie, but can only watch it every so often or risk having truly bad dreams! Hope you're week is going well, honey!