On the surface, the iconic film directors David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick don’t share too much in common, with the former dedicated to fragmented, experimental tales and the latter focused on meticulously crafted stories. Though, just as filmmakers have borrowed and learned from each others’ films throughout the history of the genre, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining owes a lot to the strange, nightmarish terrors of David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
Lynch’s debut feature is certainly an enigmatic one, playing out more like a 90-minute dream sequence following Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a man trying to navigate modern life, tussling with his angry girlfriend and difficult family. With the jury out as to what the film truly means, theories suggest fears of urban isolation, fatherhood, and sexual repression, though don’t hold out for Lynch’s explanation as he’s stated many times that he’ll never reveal the meaning.
Released just three years before the release of Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining in 1980, starring Jack Nicholson, Eraserhead made a significant impact on the influential director marking Lynch’s film as one of his very favourites. In conversation with Mario Orsatti in 2020, David Lynch elaborates on this, commenting: “It wasn’t one of his favourites, it was his favourite”.
So inspired by David Lynch’s idiosyncratic vision that Stanley Kubrick imbued the same sense of style into his own 1980s horror, even appropriating a direct scene for use in The Shining. Eager to capture the same sense of ethereal dread as Eraserhead, Kubrick mimicked the use of sound and lingering shots in his own film, particularly during the bathroom scene in room 237 that recalls Henry Spencer’s own visit to his neighbour’s room 27 in Lynch’s film.
Slowly descending into psychological torment, Jack Torrance enters into the iconic, eerie room 237 to discover the body of a woman horribly decayed. Backing away from her in terror, this sequence recalls the scene in Eraserhead when Henry goes to the hall to see his neighbour with another man. Both scenes are shot in the exact same way, depicting the lead characters backing away slowly before a sudden jump cut to Henry’s deformed baby in Eraserhead, and Danny’s silent terror in The Shining.
Utilised in both films for a similar evocation of dread, Lynch’s influence on Kubrick goes beyond this, as the director of The Shining even ordered his actors and film crew to watch Eraserhead before they started filming so that everyone on set was on the same tonal page. Stanley Kubrick certainly achieves this, detailing the crumbling psychology of a man slipping into madness, punctuated by unsettling sound design and experimental imagery.
If it hadn’t been for Eraserhead, The Shining might not have been quite so iconic.