It’s time for another edition of Late to the Party, and man did I pick quite the film to review. Eraserhead is David Lynch’s first feature length film; an industrial, void, oppressive world of a wonderland-based dream that cocoons a nightmarish take on parenthood and intimacy.
I’ve always had this sort of “passive” desire to watch Eraserhead just to see how horrifying it is as far as black and white horror movies went. Until I began actively researching the film, I did not know this is the wrong approach and a gross misunderstanding of what Eraserhead and Lynch are about.
I did not start looking into Eraserhead until my phase–to be honest, I’m not out of the phase yet– of obsessively digging through suspected plot details and hidden secrets within the Silent Hills playable teaser demo.
My curiosity was directed to Lynch when fans noted that the “sink fetus” reminded them a great deal of Henry’s child in Eraserhead. I learned that Lynch’s jarring surrealism and unique sound design are part of the inspiration for the Silent Hill series, Perfect Blue, a plethora of “slow-burn” horror films, and (especially) Stanley Kubrick.
Lynch set out to make a film true to its tagline, “A dream about dark and troubling things”. In doing so, he explored the concept of sound and imagery as key film components that – alone – can shake you to your core.
While I LOVE horror, I am a very pragmatic and technical critic, and so after viewing this move for the first time I whispered to myself an honest question; “How the fuck do I review THAT?”
While I’m sure there are many who would answer on how to approach this feat and some who would say “I don’t know,” I know some would side with David Lynch himself in saying “You don’t.”
This could be due to him not wanting his artistic vision being unfairly scrutinized, viewers drawing parallels from Eraserhead to Lynch’s own life, or the film being painted as a politically driven piece.
It is worth mentioning that Lynch wanted to be a painter. Often, with painters, people choose to look at what the painting “is not,” but a painter wants to make painting that simply “is.”
I do not want to spoil the film’s imagery or sound design, and even if I detailed them to a major extent, context would not provide much clarity to this mad house of a film.
HOWEVER, after watching Eraserhead (three times) I have a description that follows as such:
Henry Spencer is a timid, docile man who resides in a menacing, oppressive, dark industrial city, located somewhere between Philidelphia and a dreamscape of fantasy and nightmares. One evening, after returning to his apartment, he is informed that his ex-girlfriend, Mary, wants to see him for dinner with her parents. This news is broken to him by his new, alluring, enticing neighbor.
Venturing to an inexplicably quaint yet dilapidated mid-western style home in the middle of this desolate concrete jungle, you’ll find yourself confronted by a scene littered with horrifying rotisserie chickens, high volume dog whining, and overpassing trains. It is in this scene that Henry is told he is the father of Mary’s baby… although it’s not known if it’s actually a baby or not.
Enter: The infamous “Eraserhead” baby, something more animal than human that emits the cry of a distraught infant and is bound to a bandage-crib.
It is only after one night of dealing with the child spitting out its food, incessantly crying, and the stress of newfound motherhood–paired with sounds of the hellish industrial city– Mary angrily storms out. She does this while telling Henry “YOU BETTER TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT.”
What follows is possibly the most disturbing series of events that one could experience as a single parent. Henry must maintain his sanity while learning to deal with a relentlessly tormenting child and the temptation of lust and infidelity from those outside of the room that he’s trapped in.
Of course, Henry must also discern if life is worth continuing outside of his (pine cone and dirt encompassed) radiator, where the horrifying woman he has visions of tempts him to the beauty of Heaven “where everything is fine”.
It took a few watches for me to sort of “get it”.
While Eraserhead definitely pushes the boundaries of how wild a film can get with telling a (relatively) incoherent story, the main draw is not in the plot: it is through the actions, images, and the conveyance of the film’s tone through the unsettling sound design.
You’re not supposed to be drawn in by being told the film is DARK and TROUBLING, but by trying to keep perspective on the dark and troubling things. The characters in Eraserhead especially play this trick on you, because they look all too much like your typical neighbors while acting nearly alien with their mannerisms and (limited) discourse.
Those who do not appear human will try to move in similar manners, but the emulation of said movement–coupled with the strange people and the dark atmosphere–demonstrates a nightmarish surrealism.
Eraserhead presents an uncanny valley that (even if you don’t enjoy the film) will still sit in the most remote, quiet parts of your mind. It will drone on like the hum of a powerline, and you will never quite be able to be erase it.
If you have not watched Eraserhead, I cannot recommend it enough. I won’t say it’s a perfect film (far from it), but if you’re into surrealism, nightmare fuel, and David Lynch—hell, even modern horror as we know it—then I’d say this is a mandatory watch.
And if you’re not a fan of the aforementioned things, then check it out just to watch a film unlike anything you have, or will ever watch: a dream of dark and troubling things.
For more Late to the Party, check out our previous edition with Kelly McNeely’s evisceration of iHorror’s favorite punching bag, “Muck“.