Movie Review: Eraserhead


Will Engle, Staff Writer

Ever gotten a bad feeling?

I’m not talking about your average, run-of-the mill, test day paranoia. Nor am I talking about the steady sinking feeling you get as you climb the hill of a roller coaster. I’m talking about a bad feeling. The writhing, churning sensation that sinks through your gut like a stone. The prickling at the back of your neck, as if a hundred thousand tiny spiders were parading along your spine. The horrible knowledge that somewhere, something is terribly, terribly wrong. 

I’ll ask you again. Ever gotten a bad feeling?

I should start by saying that I am an inherently paranoid person. I am no stranger to the feeling of being watched by those unseen,  nor am I unfamiliar with the feeling of impending doom. I have been plagued by anxiety for as long as I can remember. This does not stop me from pursuing that which frightens or unnerves me. I am an avid horror fan. I have read and watched countless terrifying movies and books, and all of them have affected me in some way. None, however, have shook me like David Lynch’s seminal body horror film Eraserhead. 

  At its core, Eraserhead is a psychological film, chronicling the decaying mental health of a man plagued by adversary at every turn. Our hero, Henry Spencer, lives within a grim, industrial landscape, working a soulless job at a printing factory to support his nagging wife. However, Spencer’s world is turned on its head when his wife births a terrifying, lizard-like creature that wails incessantly. His marriage begins to collapse, causing his wife to abandon him and leave him with the horrible child just as it begins to contract a terrible illness. 

Despite Spencer’s aversion to the creature, he manages to heal it just in time for an onslaught of terrible hallucinations to barrel into his brain, involving a horribly disfigured version of his wife and bizarre experiences with the prostitute across the hall from his apartment. These visions slowly dig their hooks into Spencer’s brain, tearing his psyche apart and causing him to commit a terrible, terrible act. 

It goes without saying that Eraserhead is awash with dread. This film grips the viewer in an iron fist, refusing to relent. Each uncomfortable frame of disfigurement, horror, and bizarre eroticism is stretched to a grating length that somehow keeps the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen. The pacing of this film is slow, but far from boring, and the noir imagery that surrounds each scene is gorgeous, albeit grim. 

I truly cannot say enough about Eraserhead, and nothing I can say can ever do it justice. There is just far too much to dissect. However, I will say that my favorite aspect of the film was simply how wrong it all felt. 

Typically, horror movies go for a more in-your-face approach when disgusting the audience. Fake blood, lopped-off heads, missing limbs and nudity are all commonplace in the world of the cut-and-dry horror film, because the cut-and-dry horror film relies entirely on shock. Eraserhead needs none of this worldly disgust. Of course it has a few shocking scenes as Spencer’s hallucinations reach a fever pitch, but mostly Eraserhead relies on the sense of deep wrongdoing it creates in the viewer. Expect sparse dialogue, eerie and distorted scoring, human disfigurement and an overall sense of disgust from Eraserhead. It is not typical. But it does not disappoint.