Eraserhead (1977)

 A dream of dark and troubling things . . .

"David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature, Eraserhead, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty. With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey continues to haunt American cinema like no other film."

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is a man living his everyday life as a factory worker.  When he goes to a dinner at the home of his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), he learns he’s become a father of a deformed child.  Now tied to Mary X, Henry finds himself trapped and suffering visions of horror and wondering where the future will lead him.

Directed by David Lynch, Eraserhead is a arthouse dystopian horror movie.  The film was Lynch’s first film and made with a scholarship from the American Film Institute.  Shot and edited over years, the movie was released to mostly negative reviews but became a midnight move.  

On 19 March 1977, the world changed, after which there was a long uncomfortable silence. The occasion was the first public screening of Eraserhead, the feature debut of David Lynch, at the Filmex festival in Los Angeles. It was not a hot ticket. The film arrived with little advance publicity at the only festival to accept it. The screening took place at midnight, drawing a modest crowd who dutifully watched for the next two hours (the film was then longer than the 89 minutes it became). When it ended: nothing. But no one left either. Just silence. Then, finally, applause.

Lynch was barely into his 30s, still a way off from the master surrealist with the silver quiff who created Twin Peaks. And it hadn’t yet become apparent that this was how everyone would react to Eraserhead. You wonder exactly how many people since have been left mute after their first encounter with Jack Nance and his socket-finger hair, cast as luckless new father Henry.

Actually, forget about first encounters. The thing about Eraserhead is that it never gets less disturbing, never loses the sense of a small but indelible psychic trauma. “A dream of dark and troubling things,” Lynch called it, and it was and is, a film people view as a demarcator. There is life before you see it, and life after. (I was 14 the first time, which takes some getting over.) You used to be able to get a lapel badge: “Eraserhead,” it said simply. “I saw it.”


The famous poster image of a dumbstruck Nance became a subcultural bat signal – a wink between oddballs when seen on a T-shirt or a million Xeroxed flyers plugging the movie and/or all manner of nightlife. Despite the only music in the film being a snatch of Fats Waller and the sugared wheeze of In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song), the film had a sense of cracked alienation that meshed with the weirder end of punk. Maybe it was fate that after five penniless years in the making, it finally emerged in much the same moment as Ramones and Talking Heads. New wave subversives Devo asked Lynch for permission to play In Heaven live. Eventually, the soundtrack was released – like a practical joke, mostly clanks and rumbles – on the label Alternative Tentacles, run by hardcore band Dead Kennedys.

Of course, traces of it worked their way into other people’s films and the bloodstream of movie history. Lynch was reportedly irked enough by the homage paid by Alien to the Eraserhead baby to bear a grudge against designer HR Giger. Then there was The Shining. Before he started filming Eraserhead, Lynch screened the grand old Hollywood nightmare Sunset Boulevard as if summoning a spirit guide. Making The Shining, Stanley Kubrick announced Eraserhead was his favourite film and showed it to his cast and crew, “to put them in the mood”.

    1. Director: David Lynch
      Production company: AFI Center for Advanced Studies

    2. Defying Explanation: The Brilliance of David Lynch's "Eraserhead" >>>

    3. When I turned 16, I did not receive a new car or an ostentatious party or the revelation of heretofore unknown powers that would allow me to overthrow the confusingly designed dystopian society to which I belonged. Instead, I got something better—I got my mind permanently blown through the gift, courtesy of my Uncle Edward, of a VHS tape of "Eraserhead," David Lynch's one-of-a-kind debut feature that had become a notorious cult classic ever since its 1977 debut. At this time, I had certainly heard about the film—I had read the tantalizing pieces on them in such invaluable books as Danny Peary's "Cult Movies" and J. Hoberman & Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Midnight Movies"—and I had seen Lynch's subsequent efforts "The Elephant Man," "Dune" and the jaw-dropping "Blue Velvet," and was therefore certainly primed to finally experience his maiden work at last since none of the video stores in my area were adventurous enough to stock it. My only worry when I settled in to watch it—with my entire family, for reasons lost in the mists of time and a decision that would quickly prove to be spectacularly ill-advised—was that I had built it up so highly in my mind by that point that I feared that it would be almost impossible for it to match my expectations.

David Lynch movie reviews & film summaries | Roger Ebert

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