Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead (1977)

“Mary tells me you’re a very nice fellow.”

Synopsis:
A man (Jack Nance) raising a mutant infant with his girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart) imagines that a squirrel-cheeked girl (Laurel Near) in his radiator is dancing and singing about heaven.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Father and Child
  • Living Nightmare
  • Mutant Monsters
  • Science Fiction
  • Surrealism

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes “David Lynch’s fascinating independently made debut film” as “at once repellent and hypnotic, ugly and beautiful, heartbreaking and hilarious, cruel and tender.” He notes that it’s not only “one of the most popular midnight movies” but “could be the strangest picture ever made,” given it’s “an intense mood piece; an absurdist’s vision of the future; a mix of abstract art, surrealistic painting, and minimalist cinema” — not to mention “the ultimate student film,” “the ultimate experimental film, [and] the last word in personal filmmaking.” He writes that Eraserhead is “the visualization of your worst nightmare, or, more accurately, that of the most paranoid manic-depressive on the eve of committing suicide or donning a Doomsday placard.” Peary notes that our ‘hero’, Henry — “a depressed, pudgy guy” with “mismatched clothes” and “electrified hair that stands straight up” — “lives in a noisy… post-apocalyptic age, in a spooky industrial town (perhaps in Pennsylvania, perhaps in Poland)” and is “forced to marry his pregnant girlfriend” who gives birth to a “hideous-looking” mutant baby that simply “lies in the dark and wails.” Peary adds that “this unique film has marvelous special effects, frame-by-frame animation, black-and-white photography, and scenic design,” as well as “startling moments of horror, sex, and brilliant black comedy.” While “it may adversely affect the squeamish and will undoubtedly confuse everyone a bit (Lynch intentionally left questions unanswered),” it’s “worth a gamble.”

Peary discusses this iconic film at greater length in his first Cult Movies book, where he notes that it’s “unpleasant and often repellent, but all the while it is riveting and fascinating, not unlike sideshow acts at the carnival. It is cruel and sadistic, but has moments of compassion and humor; is about all things alien, but about things that ring a responsive chord; is full of images that are in themselves ugly or bland, yet… everything is touched with beauty.” He describes Henry’s apartment building as “the type… one fears ending up in when stranded in a strange town after all the decent hotels have closed down,” and points out that “Henry’s room is worse than depressing” given that “his one window faces a brick wall.” When Henry “visits his plain-looking, shabbily dressed girlfriend, Mary X, in a scene that outdoes every awful boyfriend-meets-girlfriend’s family sequence you’ve seen (or experienced),” we undergo a “painful excursion into black comedy” which includes a “man-made chicken which spurts awful slime and moves by itself” for dinner. Suffice it to say that every element of Lynch’s vision defies easy explanation and leaves us “never (mentally) finished ‘working out’ [the] film, never through thinking about it.”

Note: Citing a critic from The Village Voice, Peary describes Henry and Mary’s mutant baby as “a mewling, eye-rolling first cousin to the skinned rabbit from Repulsion (1965)” — which is absolutely, freakily accurate.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effective b&w cinematography

  • Countless surreal moments



  • The truly creepy infant
  • Highly unique and evocative sound effects

Must See?
Yes, as a bizarre cult classic.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

2 thoughts on “Eraserhead (1977)

  1. ⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A hard film to endure as it’s so oblique, so weird, so nasty … so very Lynchian but without much cohesive narrative. I’m not a fan at all finding it all deliberately obscure and maddening.

    But, it’s a significant film of one of the most influential auteurs working in US cinema and TV so is a must see for FFs.

  2. Not must-see.

    Having just more or less rewatched this (after many years; I skipped ahead sometimes to avoid falling asleep), I can’t bring myself to agreeing it’s something that all film fanatics should (frankly) torture themselves with.

    Hardcore cult film fans will want to check it out, though.

    When Peary describes it as either “black comedy” or “riveting” (or even “brilliant”), I can’t agree. I see it more as an affront to audiences; almost as though the film doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Its tone, its rhythms, its indulgence in the inexplicable – all of these make the viewing experience more of a chore than anything else.

    Lynch would go on to do better work – some of which is must-see.

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