“Be warned. The nightmare has not gone away…”
Eraserhead, the 1977 American experimental horror film written, directed, produced by David Lynch, arrived as the filmmaker’s first feature-length effort following several short films.
In what took five years to make and shot entirely in black and white, the film tells the story of Henry Spencer, a “man who is left to care for his grossly deformed child in a desolate industrial landscape.”
“Henry resides alone in a bleak apartment surrounded by industrial gloom,” the official film synopsis reads. “When he discovers that an earlier fling with Mary X left her pregnant, he marries the expectant mother and has her move in with him. Things take a decidedly strange turn when the couple’s baby turns out to be a bizarre lizard-like creature that won’t stop wailing. Other characters, including a disfigured lady who lives inside a radiator, inhabit the building and add to Henry’s troubles.”
It’s said that the script of Eraserhead is thought to have been inspired by Lynch’s fear of fatherhood, while the film’s themes were a direct reflection of Lynch’s experiences living in a troubled neighbourhood in Philadelphia, describing it as ridden with “violence, hate and filth”.
“I saw so many things in Philadelphia I couldn’t believe,” Lynch once said. “I saw a grown woman grab her breasts and speak like a baby, complaining her nipples hurt. This kind of thing will set you back”.
The film, which stars the likes of Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Jeanne Bates, Judith Anna Roberts and more, initially opened at cinemas to muted interest and struggled in the aftermath of its immediate release. However, film buffs who had started recognising Lynch’s efforts in small numbers.
Given the understanding that Eraserhead was going to split the audience, a film crew headed down to local cinemas to capture the raw and somewhat bemused reactions of fans after the screening in 1997. While some simply replied “horrible” and “urgh” others offered a more insightful reaction: “An intelligently made, compelling nightmare,” one fan says. “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” another adds.
See the clip, below.