Eraserhead (1977)


Dir. David Lynch
Premiered March 19, 1977

With 1977, especially these early months, it has occasionally been difficult to judge some films. Eraserhead is one of them. The first of several debut features this year by some of Hollywood’s most illustrious directors, Eraserhead is easily Lynch’s weirdest film. Not that I’ve seen any of the others, my mother wouldn’t let me, but I can’t imagine anything being weirder. On a scale from 1 to 10, Eraserhead is a solid Orange.

Young, flustered Henry (Jack Nance) lives a hellish existence in a windswept industrial wasteland, dwelling in a studio apartment where he fawns over his dusky neighbor (Judith Anna Roberts) and watches performances by a tiny, grotesquely chubby-cheeked woman living inside his radiator (Laura Near). There’s also a horribly burned man (Jack Fisk) who lives inside an alien planet pulling levers and possibly causing the film’s events to occur. Going to meet his girlfriend Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) demented parents, he discovers that Mary has birthed a “premature baby” (read: Cronenbergian abomination) and that he is the father. And then things sort of happen. Maybe. It’s that kind of movie.

Eraserhead follows dream logic, making no attempt to resemble a coherent narrative. As a demonstration of Lynch’s filmmaking abilities, however, it is superb. The sparsity of dialogue and his penchant for visual trickery (aided by the use of black-and-white film) recount silent films from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Steamboat Bill, Jr. Maybe some Cocteau in there as well. And Godard’s mindfuckery. The locations, mostly filmed where Lynch actually lived, are a paragon of industrial decay, a tiny glimpse into some forgotten dark age. The sound and music are unnerving, from Fats Waller’s würlitzer (easily the creepiest musical instrument) to the random sounds that permeate the background of the film nonstop. It’s…certainly an experience.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
(Smiles, stares perfectly for a full minute)

How Did It Do?
Eraserhead grossed $7 million dollars against a $10,000 budget, and earned an eventual 91% rating on RottenTomatoes. Needless to say, it made an impression. After years of struggling to make the film, Lynch abandoned his follow-up when Hollywood called, earning accolades with 1980’s The Elephant Man, and crashing and burning with 1984’s Dune. Lynch has continued to make weird movies and most notably co-created the creepily utopian supernatural soap opera Twin Peaks, among much, much else.

Next Time: Jabberwocky


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