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davidlynch.com presents
Eraserhead (1977)

"Mother, they're still not sure if it IS a baby."
- Mary X (Charlotte Stewart)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: March 19, 2003

Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Anna Roberts
Other Stars: Laurel Near, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson
Director: David Lynch

Manufacturer: Fotokem Film and Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (highly disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:28m:40s
Release Date: February 27, 2003
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+A+A B+

DVD Review

David Lynch's first feature film, Eraserhead, is a definite love-it-or-hate-it item. For those who find its nightmarish vision appealing, Lynch has prepared a beautiful DVD that is finally a definitive statement of the picture on home video.

Describing this picture is no easy task, but it essentially centers on the alienated life of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), who lives in a dreary apartment in a bleak city that seems to be made up of nothing but industrial spills and noises. When he goes to his girlfriend Mary's (Charlotte Stewart) home for dinner with her family, he is surprised to learn that she has given birth. Upon a hasty marriage, the couple is driven to misery by the foul creature that is the Baby, a cross between a lizard and a fetal pig that remains wrapped in a bandage until the nauseating conclusion. Henry tries to cope by listening to his one Fats Waller record and fantasizing a better life on the stage with the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), which may or may not be anyone's idea of heaven.

It's intriguing how much of what we now know to be Lynch's obsessions already crop up fully formed in Eraserhead. The industrial noises, the long silences, and most particularly, the flickering lights are all here in abundance right out of the chute. There's plenty of surreal weirdness too, such as the twitching carcasses of the man-made chickens at the family dinner, a bizarre stop-motion exercise with a worm, and of course the Baby itself. With echoes of a disembodied central nervous system and an ambulatory spermatozoan (especially during the cryptic-upon-first-viewing opening sequence), the Baby is every parent's worst fear and deep-seated (if unexpressed) loathing of his own offspring, a kind of monstrous screaming machine that oozes bizarre substances and inexplicably beomes horribly ill in the most disgusting manners imaginable. There's also unforgettable imagery here, such as the scarred but fate-controlling Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk) and the squirrel-jowled Lady in the Radiator, each deformed in different ways, but strangely fascinating as well.

Jack Nance, who would appear in almost all of Lynch's pictures until his untimely death, gives an amazing performance as Henry. A bundle of insecurities, fears and discomfort, complete with plastic pocket protector and impossibly teased hair, his Henry is the consummate geek and outsider, who can sometimes function more-or-less normally but is thrown whenever the unexpected rises up in front of him. The relationship between Henry and the Baby in particular is a combination of affection, fear and loathing that could be the subject of a dissertation. Nance communicates a great deal with his eyes and his body, particularly when interacting with Mary. Charlotte Stewart brings Mary to a kind of manic-depressive/passive-aggressive fever pitch, culminating in a disturbing dream sequence where she continues to give birth to similar unclean progeny, while Henry throws them against the wall where they splatter and slide down the wallpaper. Allen Joseph and Jeanne Bates as Mary's parents are darkly hilarious, especially her father, who leers with a fiendish grin at almost everything while remaining soft-spoken and engaging. Bates steals the dinner table scene, though, as she goes into a frothing epileptic fit at the sight of the bleeding, twitching chicken that Henry is attempting to carve.

Those looking for a fast-paced story are bound to be disappointed. Everything moves at a glacial pace, with long periods of silence. The first line of dialogue doesn't even appear until after ten minutes into the film. But these long silences just magnify the levels of discomfort assaulting the viewer. From the foregoing, it should be clear that this is not a movie for everyone. It is sure to appeal to anyone fascinated by the dark side of the psyche or who finds humor in the grimness of modern society. But either way, one does not easily forget the time spent with Eraserhead.

Lynch has been criticized for having a high pricetag on this disc (available only from Lynch's own site). However, given the quality of the transfer and the painstaking restoration, the $39.95 issue price doesn't seem exorbitant. In any event, I felt justified in paying the price when it goes directly to the creator rather than to a multinational corporation that just happens to own rights to a film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: It's fair to say that Eraserhead has never looked this good. Having suffered through presentations on scratchy 16mm at midnight showings or on bootleg tapes, I was very pleased to find that this restoration (done frame-by-frame, all 130,000 of them) provides us with a pristine film that beautifully captures the artistry of the black & white cinematography. The greyscale is excellent, with deep blacks. There is film grain visible, but it's not really a problem. Only in a very brief segment near the beginning does it provide a bit of shimmer, and there's a moment where the film seems to have shrunken unevenly. But other than that, this looks absolutely perfect. Lynch rejected several transfers before this disc finally became available, and it was worth the wait.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono has been remixed into a DD 2.0 track (the original announcement of a PCM track, repeated on the enclosure, was mistaken). When decoded with Pro-Logic this track provides a wide and enveloping soundstage, with tons of nerve-jangling industrial sound coming from the surrounds. There are moments of substantial hiss, but they're clearly intentional, as they shift with changes of scene. The deep rumble that is often heard will give wimpy subwoofers a headache; I found things rattling all over in my theatre room, which is highly unusual.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Easter egg sequence
Extras Review: Surprisingly enough for a David Lynch release, there is a very substantial (and unadvertised) documentary (1h:24m:50s) entitled Stories, which primarily consists of a recent interview with Lynch narrating stories of his early career and the making of Eraserhead. He does not, however, offer any interpretations or insights into meaning, which is understandable given his well-known distaste for discussing his own work. Catherine Coulson (best known today as The Log Lady on Twin Peaks), who served as assistant director, also contributes to the discussion via speakerphone. Unfortunately, Lynch has some holes in his recollections; he has no idea where the concept came from, nor does he recall writing the script at all. He describes several deleted scenes (over 20 minutes was cut by Lynch after the premiere), most of which do not survive. One deleted scene featuring a dead cat stuck to Henry's shoe plays under the main menu; another is referenced and Lynch says he has it, but alas it's not present here. The compression on the documentary could have been better; it's rather soft and aliasing is frequent, particularly on the still photos. Some interesting behind-the-scenes video footage is happily included, though it is understandably quite rough indeed.

The original trailer with its brief glimpses of the imagery of Henry's world is provided; it's in decent shape but was not given the same sparkling cleanup treatment that the feature was. For easter egg hunters, check out title four for a brief cryptic segment involving Henry and Booth 6, whatever that may signify. The feature and the documentary are both unchaptered, in line with Lynch's belief that a film should be taken as a whole.

Lynch has designed a special box for the disc, uniform with his Short Films DVD, also sold only on the website. It's a complex affair that, like the menus of the disc, echoes the structure of his eccentric site. Since the disc itself rests in a sleeve that's difficult to access, I've moved the disc to a separate keepcase for easier access.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Lynch's surreal masterpiece is lovingly restored, with a fascinating documentary. The audio is terrific as well. Highly recommended for fans of the film.

 


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