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With the Halloween season upon us, a lot of people will likely watch a bunch of horror movies (as if 2020 wasn’t horrific enough already). Predictably, most people will probably watch your Friday the 13’s and your A Nightmare on Elm St’s. And maybe a few people will even watch more recent horror movies, like Hereditary or It Follows. But you know one movie you should really be watching this Halloween season? Eraserhead. Or really, almost any of the David Lynch movies, because that dude makes some seriously creepy films.
But not all of his movies are terrifying. In fact, one of his films, The Straight Story, is rated G. Another film, The Elephant Man, is an historical drama starring John Hurt about Joseph Merrick. And his most audacious (and probably most maligned) film was the first theatrical adaptation of Dune. But then, you have the rest of his filmography, and the rest is pretty damn terrifying. Unfortunately, it looks like David Lynch won’t be making any more movies, but we thankfully still have these 5 flicks that we could watch every year to get all kinds of creeped out.
David Lynch’s first feature length film, which stars Jack Nance, is a nightmarish movie about… well, it’s hard to say. Is it an allegory for the fear of parenthood? A commentary on what industrialization is doing to us? Both of these? Neither of these? It’s safe to safe that David Lynch pretty much solidified what kind of director he wanted to be with his debut film since there’s nothing else like it.
As to why it’s perfect for Halloween, well, it’s the extremely unsettling tone. There’s a mutant baby that sort of just… appears… and Jack Nance’s character, who is named Henry Spencer, and not Eraserhead (though there is a very disquieting scene involving his head being taken to a factory to be made into erasers) must take care of the child since its mother leaves. But the baby won’t stop crying. There’s also a woman in the radiator, and the film itself just leaves you feeling uncomfortable all throughout. As I said earlier, it’s a nightmarish film and one that will follow you long after its over.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Do you want to know what Blue Velvet’s inciting incident is? It's when a college student finds a severed ear on the sidewalk. If that’s not the beginning of a horror movie, then I don’t know what is. Starring long-time Lynch-collaborator, Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, and Dennis Hopper in probably his most insane performance ever, the story is pretty straightforward, but still Lynchian to its core. It’s basically a mystery about a lounge singer and her missing baby, but all the characters that make up the rest of the story are bizarre beyond belief.
This is a perfect Halloween film because it’s so disturbing. Dennis Hopper’s character, Frank Booth, is the craziest of the bunch, huffing some unknown drug (helium?) that pushes him over the edge. But besides that, the abuse Isabella Rossellini’s character endures is hard to stomach, and the overall tone is just eerie. Blueeeeee Velveeeeet.
Lost Highway (1997)
Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, and Robert Blake, Lost Highway is probably David Lynch’s most mysterious film. It’s about a musician (Pullman) who is sent video tapes of himself with his wife in their house. But when his wife is dismembered, he’s accused of her murder. Then it just goes completely off the rails.
Lost Highway is the perfect Halloween film since it’s disorienting in a way that almost makes you feel physically ill. Everything from the music, to the visuals, to the unconventional storytelling is just headache-inducing, but (and I know this doesn’t make any sense) in a good way. And then you have Robert Blake’s eyebrow-less Mystery Man, and… well, it’s just nightmare fuel. Trust me, watch Lost Highway and you will be unnerved.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, and Robert Forster, Mulholland Drive was actually my favorite “horror” movie before Hereditary. It’s about (I think) a woman (Watts) who gets in a car accident and then she meets up with a budding actress with amnesia on the way to uncover clues as to what’s really going on. But what’s “really going on,” isn’t quite clear, as most of the movie feels like one really long fever dream.
I put “horror” movie in quotes before since Mulholland Drive is not technically a horror movie at all, but you could have fooled me. Out of all of Lynch’s films, Mulholland Drive is somehow the most disturbing, and also the most surreal. There’s actually a scene in this film that I show to my students every year when I’m teaching suspense that involves a winding trip to the back of a diner that is legit one of the scariest scenes you will ever see. I get chills just thinking about it, and I already know what’s going to happen. Besides that scene, the overall story is just a slow drip into madness, and by the end of it, you’re still uncomfortable since you don’t really get many answers to any of the questions you may have had. This is David Lynch’s masterpiece, and his scariest film, by far.
Inland Empire (2006)
Starring some of Lynch’s favorite actors, like Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, as well as Naomi Watts in the voice of a humanoid rabbit (why are you surprised?), Inland Empire, which is unfortunately David Lynch’s last film (as of right now) is about an actress, played by Dern, who becomes fully absorbed in the role of her character to the extent that she actually becomes her. Madness ensues, of course, but it’s Lynchian madness, so it’s a nightmare of personal proportions.
The thing is, if you were to ask me, what is Inland Empire really about, I honestly couldn’t tell you, which is why it’s probably Lynch’s most frustrating film, but also one of his most disturbing. It’s disjointed (the screenplay apparently wasn’t even finished), and it kind of runs around into itself, only to end with women dancing in a room with a lumberjack cutting to the beat. But it’s a great Halloween film since you can get so lost in it. It’s a maze of a movie, and one that is troubling because of its abstract weirdness.
Honestly, I could have put most of Lynch’s films on this list (even Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me are super creepy). But these 5 are probably the best films to watch around the Halloween season. They don’t exactly say “Boo!” or feature ghosts in the night, but they’re a lot more unsettling and will last with you a whole lot longer.