Editor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. Once again, we’ve asked our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This review was submitted by listener Frank the Fiend, whom you can follow on Twitter @FrankTheFiend
I was in college when I experimented with Eraserhead (1977) for the first time. My buddy, who was a fellow philosophy major, told me I had to watch it. He was the pretentious sort and couldn’t offer any real substantive discussion about the plot prior to the showing. He said it was a masterpiece, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I watched the film with an open mind and was genuinely disturbed by the horrific atmosphere and creepy body horror. I wrote it off as weird at first, but have revisited the film many times as a beloved showpiece to disturb my more conventional friends.
The film’s director and writer, David Lynch, has gone on to become a famous director with some mainstream success. (Cough, Twin Peaks, Cough). Eraserhead seems to be formed from the psychological zeitgeist of Lynch’s anxieties as he struggled with his surroundings and adulthood in his mid-to-late twenties. The film is personal and steeped in the horrors of everyday existence. The mundane is scary; the common is suspicious; and unlike heaven, on earth everything is not fine.
The film follows a gentleman named Henry Spencer who while on vacation finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. Throughout the film he is trying to be a father to his new “offspring” while struggling with the surreal landscape and horrors therein. The film could be read in many different ways, which to some viewers may be dissatisfying. I like to imagine that the film shows us Spencer’s perception of reality and all the horrors are just his interpretation of the events through a lens of extreme anxiety. My read is likely wrong, but the film lends itself to introspection, rumination, and further introspection. It’s like Mother!, but good!
The film relies on shock and awe for the most part. The audience will likely scratch their heads and scrunch their faces repeatedly as they absorb the meat of the film. The practical effects in the movie are great and scenes involving Spencer’s “child” are very creepy. I get deeply distressed as it makes me struggle with my own fears of being a dad and the fragility of babies. I would not suggest this film to someone who has been struggling after experiencing a miscarriage due to the graphic imagery.
Jack Nance, as Henry Spencer, is convincing and brilliant. He looks rightfully disturbed throughout the film and his expressions clue the audience in on the atmosphere and horror. It is unfortunate, however, in retrospect that he favors a young Kramer from Seinfeld, but I digress… The rest of the cast also does a decent job, but are less impressive. Honestly, the acting sometimes takes a backstage to the atmosphere.
The film is in black and white, and honestly, it could not have been shot any other way. The colors and set make the movie seem timeless. The visuals hearken back to The Twilight Zone. The sound effects and music also add to the atmosphere and give the film its creepy industrial feel. The mood is tense and foreboding. These elements merge together to make something like a family dinner come off as deeply unsettling. The film feels more like a painting than a motion picture at times.
Eraserhead made its way into the larger consciousness of society through midnight showings as a cult classic. It is unapologetically artistic and has not had the “mainstream” success of Lynch’s other work. It is a fine film to watch, but is not for everyone. Probably, not even a genuine masterpiece. I would suggest any serious horror fan experience it at least once and once is enough for most viewers. Also, if you are feeling frisky and want to beckon your existential dread or extoll your pretentious film tastes over your friends then Eraserhead is for you. This film is a good recommendation to play in the background of a Halloween party to shock friends and family. Really, the film is quite good. Mileage may vary.
—Frank the Fiend
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