Saturday, 11 February 2012


Year:  1977
Director:  David Lynch
Screenplay:  David Lynch
Starring:  Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Jeanne Bates, Allen Joseph
Running Time:   89 minutes
Genre:  Surreal, horror, science-fiction

This film, which was produced over a period of five years, marked the feature debut of director David Lynch, and is now an acknowledged cult classic due to it finding an audience on the midnight movie circuit int he late 70s and 80s.  It's difficult to describe the film's plot, because there really isn't much of one, and that which there is doesn't really make a lot of sense.  Set largely in a run-down, industrial area of a nameless city, the film reolves around Henry Spencer (Nance), a quiet young man with very big hair, who is invited out to dinner at the home of his girlfriend, Mary X (Stewart), and her parents.  During the nightmarish evening, Henry is informed that Mary has given birth to a child ("Mom!  They're not even sure that it's a baby!" Mary wails).  The baby is a bizarre creature with no limbs, a long pencil-thin neck, and a head shaped like a embryonic sheep's head.  It's body is perpetually swathed in bandages and it cries constantly, refusing to feed.  With the small unhappy family lving in Henry's tiny, one-room apartment, Mary is driven to destraction by the baby's crying.  Eventually she storms out and returns to her parent's, claiming she just needs one good night's sleep.  Left with the baby, Henry experiences a variety of surreal events which may or may not be really happening.  Among other things he dreams that his head is being turned into pencil erasers, and he becomes fascinated by a female singer, with huge cheeks, performing on a stage behind his radiator.  Meanwhile, on a desolate planet, a badly scarred man wrestles with heavy levers.

Lynch had a grant from the American Film Institute to make the film, howeve the grant was not enough to complete the project and so Lynch worked on the movie intermittently using whatever money he could scrape together from various odd jobs and family and friends (including actress Sissy Spacek whose husband, Jack Fisk, was a childhood friend of Lynch's and appeared in the film as "The Man in the Planet").  The film is beautifully shot in black-and-white, and really has not dated at all partly because it seems to take place in a weird "no-time" and "no-space".  The sound design is also striking, with strange rumbling sounds constantly being heard in the background as well as strains of fairground style organ music (by Fats Waller).

I have to say that I love Eraserhead, and I have seen it many times before.  I think it is one of the most startling films ever made and there are images from it that will haunt you for the rest of your life.  However, as many people hate it as love it, and I can very easily understand that.  The film is so bizarre, with no real storyline to it, and no explanation for any of the events that occur.  It is also very slow-moving, and as such alienates many audiences and critics.  A friend of mine once told me that he fell asleep once with the TV on and when he woke up Eraserhead was playing, and he thought that he was still asleep and dreaming.  That is the perfect recommendation for me for the film.  It is one of the closest that cinema has ever got to recreating a genuine nightmare.  Nightmare in it's truest sense of those strange inexplicable images that flicker through the brain in the dead watches of the night, like broken transmissions broadcast from another planet.

You might love it.  You might hate it.  You will never forget it.

"We've got chicken tonight. Strangest damn things. They're man-made. Little damn things, smaller than my fist - but they're new!"
- Bleeding, moving roast chicken, it's what's for dinner at the X house.

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) has a hair-raising experience in Eraserhead


1 comment:

  1. Yes, I saw this one summer, more than twenty years ago. I was on a summer school vacation at Australian National Uni, Canberra. It was the first art-house film I'd ever seen, and just one of the weirdest things ever. I like my memory of it.