THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Eraserhead has always been an elusive anomaly to me. I never saw it growing up and none of the video stores in my area had it available to purchase or rent and yet the name always intrigued me. The first time I caught a glimpse of it was some images I found in high school and it looked positively eerie and the iconic shot of Henry Spencer looking on in awe always stuck with me. Sometime later I saw some footage of it online and it freaked me out even more but not to the point of disinterest. Then once I learned that Criterion released the film on Blu-Ray back in 2014 I finally went out of my way to watch it and WOW it was so much more than what I thought it was going to be. Even knowing some of the plot points thanks to reviews and research didn’t prepare me for what I saw. Eraserhead is an absolute marvel of a movie and it deserves every ounce of praise it has gotten.
So funny thing about my first viewing attempt for Eraserhead. I actually got too freaked out and stopped not even 5 minutes in. Now, this could be attributed to me trying to watch such a cerebral movie at 3 o’clock in the morning but I think it speaks far more about the atmosphere this movie brings out. This movie feels cold. The droning and oppressive atmosphere that permeates throughout the film feels incredibly uncomfortable and it at times feels like it escapes the movie and into the environment around you. This is partly due to the fantastic sound design and use of industrial music. The way sounds get abruptly cut off during scene cuts or intensify depending on the mood creates such a sense of unease and tension in every scene and it never lets up. This uneasy feeling also translates into the performances because every actor steals the shot that they’re in. Jack Nance plays the role of the awkward and timid Henry Spencer perfectly and commands the screen whenever he’s on it. His face acting is both commanding and unnerving and perfectly encapsulates the mood in every scene. I can say the same for all the other actors but one, in particular, I want to highlight is Allen Joseph as Bill. Bill provides some of the most uncomfortable pieces of dialogue in the entire movie because he just meanders when he begins to talks. He feels so disconnected from what is going on around him and the way he stares at Henry is just freaky and I love it. Really the entire dinner scene he’s apart of is probably one of the strongest scenes in the whole movie. Everything about Eraserhead speaks to me on an artistic, filmmaking, and narrative level that I fell in love with it which is especially surprising given just how little dialogue there is in it.
The way Eraserhead mainly tells its story is through its use of symbolism and imagery and for first-time viewers it can be pretty nonsensical if you aren’t being attentive. I freely admit that I watched a few reviews for it prior to my viewing just because it was hard for me to watch the film until recently so I had some of the imagery explained to me but I think that helped me enjoy it more and fill in some of the extra gaps myself. This is where the spoilers start, by the way. In my eyes, Eraserhead is about the terrifying aspect of parenthood and being unprepared for what comes with it. Henry was excited about the prospect of having a family but as the movie goes on the ICONIC baby continues to cry more and more until irreparably severs them. After this Henry finds out he can’t do anything as long as the baby is around. He tries to have an affair with the Girl Across the Hall but the baby ends up freaking her out too much so she goes to another man. The guy can’t even get his mail without the baby crying as loud as it can. It’s painfully clear that Henry isn’t ready for fatherhood and it eventually culminates in an INSANE finale that I really couldn’t even begin to decipher to you. I’d love to talk more about all the different types of symbolism this movie brings out and what many of the characters mean (I haven’t even mentioned the Lady in the Radiator or the Man in the Planet) but legitimately I want to keep the majority of this film as fresh as possible to potential viewers. I know it seems like I spoiled a big portion of the movie but trust me. TRUST ME. Eraserhead is so much more than what I’ve typed out in this review. Now I want to mention one more little thing about this movie and it’s by far the most recognizable thing about Eraserhead. That Damn Baby.
I don’t know what the fuck this thing is but what I DO know is that it’s one of the greatest practical effects I have ever seen in a movie and it’s in a movie that was made with a negative budget. It just looks so…fleshy and gross. I can practically smell this thing whenever it’s on-screen. I’ve read rumors that it’s the head of a baby calf or a skinned rabbit but the way the eyes move on it makes me think otherwise. It has to be some kind of rubber prop with meat stuffed inside of it because the way the eyes and throat move just looks WAY too real and deliberate. I wish we knew more info but David Lynch, the director, and known mad man, refuses to answer any questions about it and I kind of love that. It adds another level of interpretation and intrigue to the film and it sure as hell adds to its legacy and notoriety.
I had a certain set of expectations going into Eraserhead and not only did it blow away all of them, but it also exceeded them in every way. It’s unsettling, it’s eerie, it’s artistic, it’s uncomfortable, but most of all it’s wonderful. This is the kind of movie where it can reveal more and more of itself to the viewer the more they watch itand I can’t wait to do so myself. This film is one hell of an unforgettable experience and I couldn’t recommend it enough. If you have the chance I implore you to watch Eraserhead. It’s a bit of a slow burn but it’s well worth it.