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The creepy true story behind David Lynch's 'Lost Highway'

The world of David Lynch is an unquestionably surreal one, exploring the ethereal space between dreams and reality in nearly every film he has directed. From his crime mystery Twin Peaks, concerning itself with the scrutiny of fantasy, to Mulholland Drive, where he would deconstruct the facade of Hollywood filmmaking, he is a director determinedly preoccupied with the mysterious underbelly of life. However, one aspect of his lesser-appreciated 1997 film Lost Highway is based on a strange, disturbing reality that suggests the world of David Lynch may not be fiction after all…

Lost Highway is a film perhaps most memorable for its ‘mystery man’ scene in which a deeply uncomfortable pale man approaches Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) at a party, informing him that he is actually ‘at his house’, to which Madison calls his home number and the man replies. The idea of the man himself “came out of a feeling of a man who, whether real or not, gave the impression that he was supernatural”, as described by Lynch himself. It’s one of many disturbing scenes in the haunting film that follows two intersecting stories, one about a musician worried his wife is having an affair and the other about a mechanic drawn to a woman cheating on her husband. 

Creating an enigmatic mist, Lynch explores the life of Madison and co. through a strange, terrifying lens further heightened in one scene where a lonely Fred Madison receives a strange message over his intercom, “Dick Laurent is dead”. He checks the street outside and looks frantically outside the window, seeing nothing. Who, or what, just delivered him that message? It’s a terrifying thought that plays perfectly off the innate fear of the unknown.

Fascinatingly, however, this moment is based on an actual incident from David Lynch’s own life where a stranger once rang on his doorbell and told him that same message through the intercom, “Dick Laurent is dead.” Looking out the window, Lynch the director saw no one, inspiring him to include the petrifying moment in Lost Highway.

Partially inspired by the O. J. Simpson murder case involving the arrest of an apparently ‘innocent’ man, Lynch came across the story in the book Night People by Barry Gifford, writer of the previously adapted film Wild at Heart.

Gifford and Lynch agreed to write the screenplay for the film together after having different ideas about the direction the neo-noir should go, with the finished film incorporating the music of David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins to establish its eclectic style. 

For one of David Lynch’s few feature films, Lost Highway doesn’t get the recognition it fully deserves, creating a dark, eerie mood from not much content at all. It’s an impressive feat from David Lynch, who seemingly has the ability to make anything, no matter how illogical, enjoyable.

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