Sunday

Eraserhead, David Lynch, and Halloween.

October 30, 2014
Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune


Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services


A year ago, on the Vulture page of New York magazine, film critics David Edelstein and Bilge Ebiri picked their favorite horror films since Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," i.e., since 1980. Their list included such underseen and welcome titles as "The Descent"; an unusually strong franchise-starter (the first "Nightmare on Elm Street");, a standout George Romero addition to his own favorite genre ("Day of the Dead");, a ripping monster picture from a terrific director (Bong Joon-ho's "The Host"); and others I like nearly as much, plus a few I don't, or films that have become grindingly familiar totems of the popular culture ("The Silence of the Lambs," beautifully acted trash).

This week Ebiri wrote an addendum to that recently reposted list, explaining in detail why he and Edelstein went with David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" for their top slot.

Wait: "Mulholland Drive"? Dozens, hundreds of commenters wondered why Lynch's gloriously abstract tale of a Hollywood hopeful (Naomi Watts) and her increasingly embittered adventures in Awful-Land was even allowed to be considered for a horror list. After all, Ebiri writes, "It's not a slasher movie, it's not a monster flick, and there's no haunted house. The only zombies, ghosts, or vampires in it are of the metaphorical kind."

I love this pick. I love the film; it may be a squirrelly, cul-de-sac-ridden masterpiece, but it feels and unfolds and doubles back on itself like nothing else.


Only one shot could be characterized as standard horror material: the close-up, sudden and terrifying, of the specter lurking out in back of a Denny's type diner in sunny LA, out by the dumpster. What a weird place for a scare. But that's Lynch; while "Blue Velvet," his other masterwork, behaves more like a quasi-trackable murder mystery, with many noirish scenes taking place at night on the bad side of the town called Lumberton, "Mulholland Drive" pulls you into a series of elliptical dreams that make just enough sense to lodge in your subconscious. Where horror movies, whatever sort, belong.

Even in the hopelessly opaque "Lost Highway," there's a beautiful scene I find hard to shake. Bill Pullman's at a party. Across the room, a man in white-face makeup and an Eddie Munster haircut strolls over. It's Robert Blake, and in the three-minute sequence he does not blink once. Not once. See it on YouTube if you haven't seen it. See it again if you have.

Ever since "Eraserhead," my first midnight movie as a college freshman back in 1978, Lynch's images have stalked me, ruthlessly, making me laugh, making me depressed ("Wild at Heart" struck me as a self-derivative, half-hearted joke, and I've never seen it again), scaring me because you don't always know what's scary in the moment you're quietly freaking out at the way a reaction shot or a line reading lingers for an extra, mysterious second or two. The recent "Inland Empire" has those humans wearing rabbit heads. It also has Laura Dern, traumatized in close-up.

Happy Halloween. If you're going to curl up with a movie this weekend, make it something your neighbor won't be watching. Treat your subconscious to a nice little scramble and head toward "Mulholland Drive," the premier cinematic riddle of the 21st century and the last, best answer to the question "What price Hollywood?"
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