The most direct comparison to David Lynch’s Eraserhead is some of the early work of Luis Buñuel. Both are surrealist, gothic artists, consciously informed by Freud. Lynch is clearly working out his own anxieties over fatherhood and carefully crafts images and sounds that can convey his horror.
But Eraserhead also has similarities to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror film Vampyr. Both films rely on mood motifs rather than suspense or shock. Either of the two are appropriate to leave on in the background at a Halloween party. (Althrough Vampyr is the choice if you’re not sure your guests will appreciate Lynch’s sense of style.)
But Vampyr‘s plot is foggy an unimportant. The dialogue functions to either add mood or to jump quickly to Dreyer’s next set-piece. Although Eraserhead is more surrealistic than Vampyr, and its narrative often interrupted, its story is still essential.
Lynch’s early scenes – especially the one in which our protagonist Henry Spencer awkwardly meets his girlfriend’s parents – connect us to the character. We’ve all felt the social anxiety he feels. This grounds the film and instructs us how to anchor Henry’s subjective experiences to our own.
Henry’s story also invites us to place the horrific images into a specific context – heightening the effect. The child (and the creatures like it) are disgusting enough to look at. But the story’s focus on reproduction adds a grotesque sexual element to their shape and movement that would not be there otherwise.
Some of the more enjoyable reads on Eraserhead include Nathan Lee’s piece in The Village Voice and Lloyd Rose’s 1984 review of the film in The Atlantic.
I'm a journalist and film enthusiast who lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I've been writing about movies for 15 years and I hosted a weekly movie review television show on UATV for two years.