REVIEW: “A beautiful, horrifying nightmare” – ‘Eraserhead’ (1977), The Criterion Collection

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“Faithfully captures his debut feature in all its grotesque beauty”

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a Lynch obsessive. Like many, I was introduced to David Lynch through his series Twin Peaks, and while I’ve only seen two other films of his (Blue Velvet and Fire Walk with Me), I found this edition of his 1977 debut film to be worth serious consideration.

Eraserhead, Lynch’s “dream of dark and troubling things”, has been painstakingly remastered in 4K resolution to faithfully capture his debut feature in all its grotesque beauty. Supervised by Lynch himself, this stunning remaster has every faint hum, grind, and wail of the industrial nightmare rendered in piercing audio, and the filth and grime of the world around given visual clarity. The ability to recalibrate the darkness allows every viewer the chance to fully plunge into the abyss that is Lynch’s imagination. The 1977 film follows Henry (Jack Nance): a young man struggling with having to care for his deformed infant child in an industrialized hell, while being drawn to a woman who lives in his radiator, announced Lynch to the world. Lynch has built a career around confounding and discomforting his audience, so Eraserhead being his debut feature showed to audiences everywhere what Lynch would do as a director. 

Lynch’s most famous films, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire and Lost Highway, are films that are consistently debated over their several possible meanings. For his entire career, Lynch has refused to give any clear answers behind the symbolism and ultimate themes behind his most elusive films. For Eraserhead, it’s nothing different, but it’s worth considering some personal elements of Lynch’s life; it has been said that the film is inspired by the feelings and experiences felt by Lynch around this time. Several years prior, Lynch’s daughter, director Jennifer Lynch, was born with clubbed feet, something that was so extreme that she needed several surgeries. Alongside this there is the possibility that Lynch was afraid of becoming a father, and that him and his family lived in a dangerous neighborhood that Lynch now views with contempt. Knowing all of this can influence how one reads the film. Henry’s unexpected fatherhood, his annoyance and increasing desperation over his child’s incessant crying and deformity, the horrific and decrepit world he lives in, all parallel Lynch’s life and his own way of dealing with these experiences.

This Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition includes high definition remasters of Lynch’s 6 prior short films: Six Men Getting Sick, The Alphabet, The Grandmother, The Amputee, and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed. It also includes archival footage and interviews with David Lynch, cinematographer Frederick Elmes, actors Jack Nance (before his passing in 1996) and Charlotte Stewart, plus an 85-minute documentary by Lynch, “Eraserhead Stories”, about the making of the film. The film is packaged in a hardcover with a booklet transcribing an interview between Lynch and Chris Rodley for his 1997 book Lynch on Lynch, and some behind-the-scenes photos of the making of the film. 

So, if you have wanted to seriously get into the influential and groundbreaking director’s filmography, or have been a die-hard Lynch fan, I can think of no better way to see this film than the Criterion Collection’s edition.

Dir: David Lynch

Prod: American Film Institute

Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Anna Roberts, Lauren Near, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Jennifer Lynch, Jack Fisk, Hal London Jr., Darwin Joston

Release date: March 22, 1977

Available on/via: Amazon, Criterion, Barnes & Noble, eBay, Walmart