Eraserhead (1977)

Forty-six years ago today, the American surrealist horror film Eraserhead premiered at the Filmex film festival in Los Angeles. On its opening night, the film was attended by twenty-five people; twenty-four viewed it the following evening. However, Ben Barenholtz, head of distributor Libra Films, persuaded local theater Cinema Village to run the film as a midnight feature, where it continued for a year. After this, it ran for ninety-nine weeks at New York’s Waverly Cinema, had a year-long midnight run at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater from 1978 to 1979, and achieved a three-year tenure at Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre between 1978 and 1981.

It is a cult classic, David Lynch’s first feature-length film, and a must see for anyone expanding their knowledge of film. Whenever a film critic calls a movie ‘a sickening bad-taste exercise’ or ‘unwatchable’ or ‘pretentious’ when it is first released and then calls it ‘Lynch’s best work’ and “an intergalactic seashell cocked to the ears of an acid-tripping gargantua” and now has 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, just watch it.

Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Produced by: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, and Judith Roberts
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell
Edited by, David Lynch
Music by: David Lynch, Fats Waller, Peter Ivers
Production Company: AFI Center for Advanced Studies
Distributed by: Libra Films
Release date: March 19, 1977 (Filmex film festival in Los Angeles)
Running time: 89 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English

The Man in the Planet is moving levers in his home in space, while the head of Henry Spencer floats in the sky. A spermatozoon-like creature emerges from Spencer’s mouth, floating into the void.

In an industrial cityscape, Spencer walks home with his groceries. He is stopped outside his apartment by the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, who informs him that his girlfriend, Mary X, has invited him to dinner with her family. Spencer leaves his groceries in his apartment, which is filled with piles of dirt and dead vegetation. That night, Spencer visits X’s home, conversing awkwardly with her mother. At the dinner table, he is asked to carve a chicken that X’s father has “made”; the bird moves and writhes on the plate and gushes blood when cut. After dinner, Spencer is cornered by X’s mother, who tries to kiss him. She tells him that X has had his child and that the two must marry. X, however, is not sure if what she bore is a child.

The couple move into Spencer’s one-room apartment and begin caring for the child—a swaddled bundle with an inhuman, snake-like face, resembling the spermatozoon-like creature seen earlier. The infant refuses all food, crying incessantly and intolerably. The sound drives X hysterical, and she leaves Spencer and the child. Spencer attempts to care for the child, and he learns that it struggles to breathe and has developed painful sores.

Spencer begins experiencing visions, again seeing the Man in the Planet, as well as the Lady in the Radiator, who sings to him as she stomps upon miniature replicas of Spencer’s child. After a sexual encounter with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, Spencer has another vision: the Lady in the Radiator sings (“In Heaven Everything Is Fine”) as Spencer watches his own head fall off, revealing a stump underneath that resembles the child’s face. Spencer’s head falls from the sky, landing on a street and breaking open. A boy finds it, bringing it to a pencil factory to be turned into erasers.

Awakened, Spencer seeks out the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, but finds her with another man. Crushed, Spencer returns to his room. He takes a pair of scissors and for the first time removes the child’s swaddling clothes. It is revealed that the child has no skin; the bandages held its internal organs together, and they spill apart after the rags are cut. The child gasps in pain, and Spencer stabs its organs with the scissors. The wounds gush a thick liquid, covering the child. The power in the room overloads, causing the lights to flicker; as they flick on and off the child grows to huge proportions. As the lights burn out completely, the child’s head is replaced by the planet seen at the beginning. Spencer appears amidst a billowing cloud of eraser shavings. The side of the planet bursts apart, and inside, the Man in the Planet struggles with his levers, which are now emitting sparks. Spencer is embraced warmly by the Lady in the Radiator, as both white light and white noise build to a crescendo before the screen turns black and silent.

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