Eraserhead (1977) Review

David Lynch is a true American auteur whose filmography includes such outstanding cinematic masterpieces as Wild at Heart, Lost Highway and Blue Velvet and perhaps one of the best most subversive TV series ever made Twin Peaks.

An enfant terrible even when he is making big budget Hollywood movies such as the Sci-Fi blockbuster Dune or period drama The Elephant Man, his vision and creativity is always on show. Most fascinating of all is that everything we have come to think of as Lynchian can be found in his very first film, the darkly beautiful Eraserhead made in 1977.

Nightmarish from start to finish Eraserhead is a visual and aural experience unlike any other that overcomes the viewer, submerging them in its mesmerising black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and the distinct and disturbing sound design, until they are as engulfed and lost in this weird world where things seem familiar and fear filled simultaneously.

In an enigmatic and unforgettable performance long time Lynch collaborator Jack Nance plays Henry Spencer a factory worker who is surprised to find out his girlfriend Mary (Tremors Charlotte Stewart) is pregnant on a visit to her parents house.

The baby is not what either of them expected and its monstrous appearance and constant mewling cries drive Mary to the edge and out of Henry’s tiny apartment. Left alone to look after his child, who is alien to him in more ways than one, Henry is set upon a path that leads into the unknown and seemingly beyond.

Far more about the mood and atmosphere than actual story, Eraserhead is like a half remembered dream full of strange segues and unnerving characters. Themes that run throughout Lynch’s work are already very apparent from the perversion of Americana to the surreal take on everyday experiences to the revelation and revelry of the dark side of human nature.

There is also a distinct element of body horror with themes of sickness and sex most pointedly portrayed in the brilliant realised baby that is perhaps one of the best special effects committed to celluloid especially for the time. Bundled up so only its lizard like head is visible this constantly squirming, wet eyed creature emits human like noises confusing both us and Henry, unsure if we should be repelled or nurturing towards it.

Although the film was met with extremely negative press on its release it was quickly reevaluated, celebrated and lauded by such figures as Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, H. R. Giger and Tetsuo: The Iron Man director Shinya Tsukamoto all of which say it influenced their own work.

Containing beautiful composition every frame is like a work of art and the director approved conversion to 4K digital makes the movie look even better. Packed full of extras including the 2001 documentary by David Lynch on the making of the film and archival interviews with cast and crew there are also new high-definition restorations of six short films made by Lynch between 1966 to 1996.

Unique and unsettling Eraserhead is a lasting cult sensation and a true work of art displaying Lynch’s mastery of his craft even at the start of his long an illustrious career. A dark journey into the unknown it is a disturbing and affecting experience few viewers will ever forget myself included.

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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