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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 22.12%
Average: 3.54%
Pretty Bad: 2.65%
Total Crap: 17.7%

4 reviews, 89 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Strangest damn thing. It's man-made."
5 stars

David Lynch's "Eraserhead" announced the arrival of a quintessentially American surrealist, a guy who could cheerfully and without irony attend a neighbor's backyard barbecue and then get profoundly upsetting ideas out of it.

As Lynch became better known in later years, and more people encountered his genuinely gee-whiz personality, Eraserhead became somewhat easier to read though Lynch typically wasn't any help when it came to unlocking the film's thematic and imagistic mysteries. It was easy to assume that Lynch was merely a downtown hipster making fun of wholesome Americans Roger Ebert based half his Blue Velvet pan on his offended interpretation of Lynch "prancing on with a top hat and cane, whistling that it was all in fun." But Lynch is one of the great appreciators in movies; some of his villains may be mean-spirited, but he never is.

So in Eraserhead, when Henry (Jack Nance) goes to see his estranged girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) and wades into the most exrcuciatingly awkward family dinner since Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the humor derives not from goofing on Mary's oddball parents but from Henry's blocked, terrified reactions to them. Fairly quickly, we imagine that this is how Henry sees the parents menacing, weird, broken in a variety of ways. (There's another Chainsaw parallel in the wizened grandmother in the kitchen, literally manipulated by Mary's mother to toss the salad, much like the Chainsaw clan trying to help Grandpa "kill the bitch." I don't know if Lynch ever saw Chainsaw before making Eraserhead, but it wouldn't surprise me.) The entirety of Eraserhead can be seen as a man's highly subjective, anxiety-ridden (and resentful) response to becoming an unwilling husband and father Henry has been invited to the X household to be told that "there's a baby it's at the hospital and you're the father." "They're not even sure it is a baby," sobs the constantly sobbing Mary, who "hasn't been around much" because she's presumably been busy carrying and delivering the not-sure-it-is-a-baby.

From that viewpoint, Eraserhead has a clear narrative. The baby, grotesquely deformed and continually mewling in a ghastly parody of an infant crying, is brought home. Mary can't take it any more and leaves. Henry is tempted by a Dark Lady (the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall) and a Lady of Light (the Lady in the Radiator), just like Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet and, well, at least one character in almost every David Lynch project. Madonna/whore (though in this chaotic universe, the whore seems literally to be a whore and the Madonna sports what appear to be facial tumors). Henry gets sex from the whore but finds transcendence with the Madonna I think. In Lynch's hands, these are archetypes, not sexist tropes.

The baby, about whose behind-the-scenes genesis Lynch has remained notoriously silent over the decades, is the monster and the hero of the piece, to my mind. The baby is repulsive and demanding, but one's heart goes out to it anyway, even if one is childless and prefers to stay that way (after seeing Eraserhead the summer before my senior year in high school, taped off of a late-night Movie Channel showing, I resolved never to reproduce, a vow I have stuck to, no thanks necessary). The baby, after all, is innocent and never asked to be born into this stark nightmare world nor did Henry or Mary or any of us. The film levels such a powerful disgust towards (yet fixation on) sperm, vaginas, and the slimy detritus of birth that any attempt to label it as pro-choice or anti-abortion will be hilariously doomed to failure. Lynch looks at the primordial ooze of the stuff of life and regards it with the queasy fascination we reserve for ugly squirming things we find under rocks.

As pure cinema, Eraserhead is in a universe all its own, writing and obeying its own oblique rules. Alan Splet's needling, deep-bass, industrial-apocalyptic sound design is a major character; at times I want to call Eraserhead "a film by David Lynch and Alan Splet," so integral is the enveloping and oppressive sound. The Lady in the Radiator, a reported eleventh-hour addition by Lynch, looks like a wholesome sweetie out of a '20s silent comedy but stomps with obvious relish on a series of umbilical-looking creatures; she also favors us with the sort of wistful, simplistic ditty Lynch has become known for in his later collaborations with Angelo Badalamenti. "In Heaven," she assures us, "everything is fine." At other times, Henry enjoys sitting in his suicidally bleak apartment and listening to Fats Waller on the turntable. Other than that, the movie seems to exist outside of culture. Yet I have no trouble linking it to the punk movement; at times it's the cinematic equivalent of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, and your ears need to be similarly attuned to both.

Eraserhead has been called everything from a horror movie to a jet-black comedy to (in Lynch's words) "a dream of dark and disturbing things." It's all and none of these. Really, all someone can do is to say, simply, "It's Eraserhead," and if you've seen it you know, and if you haven't seen it there's no way you can know. It has its ancestors, and God knows it has its imitators, but its genius is that it builds a highly specific yet maddeningly elusive dreamscape in our heads, and it looks different to everyone. It is both dreamlike, in the lulling, mesmeric sense, and nightmarish, sometimes both at once. It feels like a fever dream sweated out over the course of five years (which is how long it took to make). Visually, it's a silent movie, with Jack Nance walking stiffly through industry-blasted landscapes like a silent comedian with no physical elegance; sonically, it's a symphony of the damned rotting and rusting at the bottom of a frozen lake of muck.

"Eraserhead" used to make me literally, physically ill. The same thing used to happen to me when re-reading Stephen King's "Carrie": I would feel headachy, fluish. Both, I think, are examples of then-unknown artists straining fiercely and with great sincerity to unlock something heavy and chthonic inside them. I think I responded to that. (And both had Sissy Spacek as a guardian angel look it up.) I got through a recent re-watching of "Eraserhead" without feeling bad, so maybe I'm detached enough now to disconnect from the discomfiting emotions it dredges up and focus on the art. It remains Lynch at his purest and most devoted, blissfully unconcerned with anything outside the view of his camera or the range of Alan Splet's microphone. Orson Welles famously likened moviemaking to the best set of toy trains a boy could have, but he never said the toy trains couldn't be oxidized and decayed and rolling over pulsating sluglike things to make them spurt.

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originally posted: 07/12/11 14:05:52
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User Comments

6/17/19 JEAN TOTAL SHIT!!! 1 stars
9/16/17 morris campbell solid but very strange 4 stars
2/28/15 stanley welles an amazing industrial nightmare 4 stars
7/22/13 Dashoost34 The only film in which I couldn't wait for the ending, yet I was sad when it ended 5 stars
6/03/13 Te Deum Dreck. Waste. Excretum. Wish it was filmed in Black & Black w/no sound track. 1 stars
8/22/11 hurdy gurdy man ...trippy Moe, Larry and Shemp -- sans chuckles. 1 stars
6/18/11 John H Absolutely the worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
5/31/11 franky w very freaky but long, drawn out and utter shit that makes no sence 1 stars
12/31/10 Dave Nightmarishingly awsome! Must be seen to be believed. 5 stars
6/01/10 User Name David Lynch- Promoting birth control since 1977. 4 stars
5/27/10 Brady Should have gotten 4 stars at least! 5 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Defies description. Should be seen by everyone at least once. 5 stars
12/13/09 Chris F very interesting but the weirdest film i have watched 4 stars
11/04/09 a random girl i don't know what to say...i liked it...? 4 stars
9/04/09 Matt Had high hopes because it was critically acclaimed, but easily the worst movie ever = eBay 1 stars
6/23/09 Anonymous. The weirdest movie i've ever seen... 4 stars
4/10/09 Dane Youssef An abstract surrealist film about Lynch and fatherhood. Like an art painting. 4 stars
7/01/07 Jesse Why the hell was that lady tossing salad on that other ladies lap? 5 stars
3/17/07 matthew genius and insanity rolled into one, highly reccomended 5 stars
2/07/07 zenshark porbeagle this coming from the guy that gave Shaft's Big Score five stars 5 stars
12/31/06 mr.mike good..damn good. 4 stars
10/27/06 Isaac Baranoff David Lynch's cult masterpiece still holds up, even after 29 years. 5 stars
10/09/06 jeffrey tate II raw, pure, and powerful. Art in it's purist form 5 stars
8/16/06 Cameron Massey Lynch says it best - a dream of dark and troubling things. Lynch stands alone. 5 stars
7/11/06 David Cohen Don't try and think about the plot, just think about how it made you feel. 5 stars
2/01/06 Daniel Wilson Visually stunning; the soundtrack is surreal- my favorite film hands down. 5 stars
9/27/05 Wilt Chamberlin In Heaven, Everything is fine 5 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap Not bad... IF YOU'RE A David Lynch FAN OR "Seinfeild" FAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 3 stars
8/08/05 Jake a brilliant, visual, nightmarish masterpiece! 5 stars
6/21/05 R i don't understand it, so it must be crap! 5 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands I have no idea what the hell I just saw, but whatever it was, it was interesting. 4 stars
6/10/05 Indrid Cold Disturbing, but no substance, as with many Lynch movies. 4 stars
1/30/05 Bob Barton Great movie...too far over the head of most people but a great movie nonetheless 4 stars
12/28/04 becky anyone that dosent absoutly adore this film is just to dull to understand david lynch 5 stars
12/04/04 Glenn Anderson Way out there... exceptional 4 stars
8/16/04 DM What the fuck was that? 1 stars
6/25/04 Daveman Classic surrealist cinema. Lynch's second best film after Blue Velvet. 5 stars
6/05/04 MyGreenBed A fantastic intro-to-arthouse film, one that helped to warp me. Though has some flaws. 4 stars
4/04/04 Rob Davidson Best part was when my friend ran from the theatre screaming I can't take this anymore! 5 stars
3/09/04 Seabrooke What's the point? 1 stars
2/26/04 Naturezrevenge Cult classic. The man by the window reminds me of God. Do not watch on first date. 5 stars
2/06/04 moonbeam Forget the "artsy" reviews, this flick is just plain, LAME! ZERO "stars". 1 stars
1/29/04 Larry Dean This is the oddest movie I've ever seen -- one has to see it to believe it! 5 stars
12/06/03 Brian amazing visual effects, great sound, disturbing/grotesque/amazing/mind blowing, great film 5 stars
10/27/03 krafty1 Absolutely, without question the worst movie I have EVER seen 1 stars
8/18/03 Masacree A movie that makes you think... 4 stars
8/08/03 3man Another weird movie from Lynch 3 stars
7/17/03 MadMatt I can appreciate this film, but I could never sit though it again. 4 stars
4/26/03 Dave Boring, pretentious drivel. Go and see a good surrealist film like Tetsuo: The Iron Man. 2 stars
3/08/03 LIAM JACKSON a dream of dark and troubling things, a brilliantly surreal nightmare.outstanding********** 5 stars
2/12/03 Dill Havarti Fuckin Sucks Dill Havarti, you are a fuckin dumbass. Go back to watch disney movies or grow a brain. 5 stars
8/24/02 conman haunting... mezmorizing... a superior film 5 stars
5/29/02 Charles Tatum Please please please do not waste your time on this junk 1 stars
4/18/02 sdfr too unique, too well crafted to dismiss. Fans of surrealism will enjoy this the most.. 4 stars
4/10/02 counce brampton one of the greatest films ever made 5 stars
3/11/02 Brad Streep This film makes me wanna hum KUMBAYA! 5 stars
12/20/01 Jack MeHoff disturbing insanity 5 stars
11/27/01 Ian Barr Near perfect 5 stars
10/19/01 Rutegar Dupree Bizarre dream logic, brilliant b+w cinematography,light & sound. A stunning film. 5 stars
10/18/01 girl E would've been an good short. is in fact an excruciating full-length feature. 2 stars
9/30/01 froglight refinement of outer limits t.v. show stylism 5 stars
9/27/01 Ewan Davidson ...sorry, I'm not the talkative type... 5 stars
9/13/01 catherine If Lynch's name was not on the film I'm sure everyone would see it for what it really is. 1 stars
4/12/01 Hyjyljyj Well, Henry, whaddya know?...Watch this, and you'll never, EVER have unprotected sex again. 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike Best Classic! 5 stars
2/13/01 Eraser head The film is lable to offend, garish yet bleak but rich in ambiguity. 5 stars
2/08/01 lucy liked the way women symbolise escape but also entrapment. 5 stars
2/05/01 Gabe Just cut it up like a regular chicken. 5 stars
11/18/00 The Bill Head With Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and The Straight of Lynch's best! 4 stars
11/06/00 Syco zero It's like reality distorted and made ten times as worse...I am even now disturbed. 5 stars
11/03/00 perverted pixie What the fuck was that?! Outstanding. I wish there were more films like this... 5 stars
9/11/00 Dimitris Tsallas Not for everyone but a masterpiece nonetheless 5 stars
8/20/00 BT Everything you should know BEFORE you marry and have babies... 5 stars
4/21/00 Fishsticks Its black here.. Too black. We have no light. 5 stars
4/18/00 punkass How on earth do you rate this? It's art, NOT a movie. Ummm, a bit disapointing, too hyped. 3 stars
2/23/00 Girl in the radiator "In Heaven Everything Is Fine" 5 stars
1/18/00 yorgos dalman simply awesome, one of the best!! 5 stars
1/16/00 Paul An exploration of one man's nightmare, pure brilliance 5 stars
1/09/00 John Markham Well and truly up it's own bumhole.Don't even waste a second of your life watching this poo 1 stars
12/18/99 thestefan Full of mystery and the artists secrets. 5 stars
12/02/99 Nick Belane I can totally relate to Henry the world he lives in, as it is the world I live in as well 5 stars
7/23/99 Glitter Berry A thought-provoker. A MUST-SEE especially for those with TRUELY open minds 5 stars
7/12/99 ken heine the baby scenes were cool. 5 stars
7/11/99 Daria There is no crap like pretend-to-be-high-art crap... 1 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg NOT FOR ALL TASTES!! I'm not into Lynch, but this one's like a good nightmare. 4 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Fucking bizzare. 4 stars
6/07/99 jvt It'll take you awhile to figure it out, but it's haunting film 5 stars
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  01-Jan-1977 (NR)

  02-Feb-1978 (18)

  02-Feb-1978 (M)

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