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A film that defies conventional logic and storytelling, fueled by its dark nightmarish atmosphere and compellingly disturbing visuals. Henry Spencer is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he's the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity. Written by
Cinematic genius, but definitely NOT a date movie.
I can think of very few films that have sound as their most commendable feature. The Exorcist is one, a film that, aside from infrequent strains of `Tubular Bells', adopts minimal incidental music. This is laudable in a horror genre where shocks are clearly signposted and predicted by overgenerous musical stings. The Exorcist may be flawed, but its avoidance of this field cliché is worthy of praise.
Eraserhead is the other film that excels in sound. A frankly disturbing concoction of industrial score and white noise with undercurrents of musical hall and sonorous church organ, it is almost an extra character in the film, and easily it's most prominent factor.
Yet Eraserhead is to be recommended for more than its incidentals. An impenetrable and gloomy work, what is it actually about? Who is the credited `man in the planet' who pulls levers that control giant spermatozoa? Many questions like this permeate a film which perhaps has to be seen several times to get over the initial shock of it's avant gardism. Lynch extracts the everyday and supplants it with the exceptionally bizarre. The experience of meeting a girlfriend's parents for the first time is never worse than here, where the parents in question gyrate spasmodically to the animated legs of a blood-spitting chicken. It's these scenes along with the deformed mutant baby that could lend the film the air of an abortion debate. Birth and repressed sexuality thrive throughout the film, from suckling puppies to the seductive appeal of the `beautiful girl across the hall' and a mother-in-law that gets too close for comfort. I guess the entire film could be a man's mental breakdown when faced with the premature responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. Though to be honest I couldn't even begin to imagine what it's really all about.
Encroaching blackness fills every scene, where lights are intermittent at best, and at worse fail completely. Often sets particularly the bedroom when `Mary X' is feeding the child are like prison cells. Two of the most eerie segments involve a title-explaining dream (?) where Henry's (Nance's) head is carved into pencil rubbers and an unsettling musical number from the `lady in the radiator'. This is the same lady with two candyfloss-like lumps on her cheeks that alternates her stage appearances between stamping on giant sperm to singing with religious convictions.
Direction and cinematography are brilliant throughout, though the climax is the ultimate extension of a film that borders on darker, extremely unpleasant aspects of reality. I took a girl to see this film once, where the conclusion formed the final straw in what could be seen as a cycle of repellent imagery. I wonder why I never saw her again?
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