Most people would not consider David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive to be a horror movie. But if that’s the case, then why is it scarier than 99.99% of the horror movies that I’ve ever seen? Seriously, besides Hereditary, I can’t think of a single other movie that has unnerved me to the point of having nightmares like David Lynch’s surrealistic masterpiece, Mulholland Drive.
But I think I may have just said the key name—David Lynch. True fans know, but there is no other director like him. I mean, of course, right? He’s one of the only directors who has his own “ian.” You know what I mean. Kubrickian, Spielbergian, and of course, Lynchian. For the latter, it pretty much means any film that employs dreamy, surrealistic imagery with usually off-putting, scary sound effects. And while Lost Highway is probably the most Lynchian movie out there, Mulholland Drive is in my mind his most effective. And scary to boot! That’s why I have five reasons why I consider Mulholland Drive to be a horror movie, and a great one at that.
Oh, and spoilers up ahead.
The "Winkies" Scene Scares Me Every Single Time, No Matter How Many Times I Watch It
When I’m not writing, I teach English. And every year, without fail, I teach suspense and tension when we go over conflict. Well, I always show two specific clips to illustrate suspense at its apex. One is that great scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window where Jimmy Stewart’s character gets caught spying by Raymond Burr’s character. And the other clip is the “Winkies” scene from Mulholland Drive, which, no matter how many times I watch it, still scares me every time.
You know the scene I’m talking about. A man tells his friend about a nightmare he had about somebody hiding behind the diner. The two men leave the diner, and you are literally on the edge of your seat as they keep walking closer and closer to… you’re not sure what. And then, you see him. He appears from behind the wall, and it’s punctuated by that loud, abrupt noise. Let me tell. Even that noise alone gives me chills. My students always scream and tell me that they have goosebumps, and I have goosebumps, too. It’s a jump scare, yeah, but it’s the kind that KEEPS SCARING YOU, which is insane, but that’s how effective that scene is. It draws you in every time.
It Makes Me Feel Like I'm Slowly Going Insane Watching It
You want to know one of my favorite books? Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, most people know McCarthy for No Country For Old Men or The Road, but I much prefer Blood Meridian since it literally made me feel like I was going insane while I was reading it. And that’s how I feel when I watch Mulholland Drive. I slowly feel my sanity dripping away from me as my mind tries to make sense of everything that I’m watching.
And that really bothers me. I love trying to decipher movies, but Mulholland Drive is indecipherable. If you read the plot line for the film, it really shouldn’t be: It’s the story of a woman in a car crash (played by Laura Elena Harring) who becomes an amnesiac. She meets an aspiring actress (played by Naomi Watts), and the two of them try to uncover the amnesiac’s true identity. Okay, simple enough, right? But what about that opening scene where everybody’s dancing to swing music? What’s going on with that cowboy who doesn’t have eyebrows? Why is the Winkies scene even in the movie in the first place?
It’s just stuff like that, which is trademark David Lynch, that makes you feel like you’re going nuts just watching it. And the thing is, unlike Lost Highway, where you can tell it’s just straight subconscious storytelling, Mulholland Drive almost seems like you CAN decipher it. But you can’t. You can only interpret it, which makes it all the more unnerving since you’re trying to make sense of it all, but there’s nothing to make sense of. In the end, it’s meant to be experienced, not necessarily understood.
Naomi Watts And Laura Elena Harring Deliver Oscar-Worthy Performances
Part of the appeal of Mulholland Drive is the overlapping story that’s taking place here. We have Naomi Watts’ character Betty Elms, who is trying to be helpful and get Laura Elena Harring’s character “Rita” to remember her identity. And then we have Diana Selwyn, who is also played by Watts, but is a failed actress who hires a hitman to kill “Camilla”, who is also played by Harring. The thing is, the actresses are convincing in both roles, and their acting is so good that you’re not really sure which of the characters is actually the real one. Or if any of them are the real ones at all.
David Lynch was nominated for Best Director for Mulholland Drive, and that was definitely warranted. But I also think that Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring should have been nominated for being able to play their roles so well that I got utterly and completely lost in their performances. And this unnerved me all the more so, since I wasn’t sure what part of the story I was supposed to believe—The first part? The middle? The last part? Or none of it. Their acting was so good that I’m not sure who to believe.
It Made A Pretty Song Like "Crying" Nightmare Fuel
Roy Orbison’s “Crying” was one of my favorite songs until I watched Mulholland Drive. Now, I’ll always have that scene stuck in my head where Laura Elena Harring’s character, and Naomi Watts’ character, are sitting in Club Silencio watching Rebekah Del Rio belt it out before she collapses and the song continues to play.
I always shiver at that scene since it’s so unsettling. I think it connects to the plot of how Naomi Watts’ character is feeling about what she’s actually done, as this scene happens not too long after they uncover the dead body in their neighbor’s apartment. But I’m not sure, which is why it bugs me so much. Why does Rebekah Del Rio pass out? Why was she not really singing? Questions, questions, questions, and they all follow me into my dreams long after the movie has ended.
There Is No Other Horror Film Like It
Lastly, like I mentioned in the intro, Mulholland Drive is NOT a horror movie, which makes it one of the greatest horror movies of all time because it scares the hell out of you, even though it’s not supposed to. What I mean is, genre-wise, a “surrealist neo-noir mystery film” shouldn’t be tapping into your fear center, but it does, which is why it’s so effective. I can only imagine somebody who wasn’t familiar with David Lynch’s work starting off with Mulholland Drive and trying to make sense of it. Oh, man. What a trip that person must have had.
I kind of want to compare it to that movie you saw as a kid that wasn’t a blatant horror film like A Nightmare on Elm St. or Friday the 13th, but unnerved you all the same, like Return to Oz or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You know, a movie where something just felt off, and you were scared because your young brain didn't know how to process it. Well, Mulholland Drive is that movie that just feels “off”, but for adults, which is even more amazing. As a grown-up, you feel like you’ve seen it all, but then Mulholland Drive comes along and you’re like nope, this is something totally different, and it scares me because it's different. And that’s why it’s so awesome.