Eraserhead: One Pansy’s Play-by-Play

*TRIGGER WARNING: If you frighten easily, the following post could be uncomfortable. Blood and dead animals will be mentioned. If you’ve been feeling depressed, anxious, or fed up with humanity, it may be best to click away for now. I’ve been there, pal, and surrealism is noooooo comfort.*

Also, *SPOILER ALERT! I will be sayin’ all kinds of things about Eraserhead. Spoilers abound.*

 

Here’s the thing; I unsettle easily. An example? Just reading about The Twilight Zone left me lying awake at night. I am not cut out for David Lynch films.

Here’s the other thing; masochism. Once in a very great while, I become fascinated with some eerie, nightmarish subject… reading dozens of Twilight Zone scripts. Researching the Jonestown Massacre. Cannibalism. Horrific birth defects.

Back in spring of 2006, I read somewhere that the baby from the Lynch movie Eraserhead was one of the most infamous props of all time.

This seemed ridiculous. How could a prop be infamous?

Then I saw it:

(Image source)

That “baby” left me with a hundred questions. Some people say it was made from an embalmed cow fetus, but I looked for cow fetuses and am not yet convinced. Please note that if you do an image search for “embalmed cow fetus,” you will see a lot of sad, gory things, few of which are cows or fetuses.

I scoured the internet for Eraserhead trivia, watched YouTube clips, and generally scared myself silly. While I knew plenty about the film—  the Lady in the Radiator, the exaggerated sound effects, the bleeding chickens and so on— I wondered if the film was as haunting as my imagination.

Six years later, I’m ready to find out. Or am I?

We begin:

— When the DVD starts, instructions appear. The words explain that TV monitors are always adjusted too brightly to compensate for bright showrooms, and suggest that I darken my screen to see this (and all other films) as their creators intended. When I have adjusted my set correctly, I will be able to see a hidden image on what now appears to be an all black screen.

Cool, gotcha. Being unacquainted with our remotes, it takes four or five minutes to get everything right. The hidden image appears; it appears to be a shadowy, dragon-like figure standing in a lighted doorway. Fine, groovy. I start writing this blog post. Ten minutes later, I glance up and realize that the hidden image is actually a ghostly face.

Note that even these instructional screens have sound effects; it sounds like wind howling. Spooky.

— The menu screen features a clip of… a dead, rotted dog being jerked around by a wire? Or was the dog strangled with wire? This does not bode well.

— Lots of inexplicable imagery. Beautiful cinematography. It occurs to me that I may throw up, so I grab a trash can. Characters are introduced, plot begins to take shape.

— Surprisingly, the bleeding, mechanical chicken is kind of cute… for the first few seconds. Close-ups of orifices spurting blood are seldom cute. I scoot a little closer to my trash can.

— Know what else is cute? The “baby”!  Alas, I know what will happen to it. (Uneasy sigh.)

— Aww, poor Mary. It’s hard enough to stay up all night with a crying baby. Knowing your baby is one of cinema’s most infamous props can’t help.

— I am not at all surprised that “In Heaven” has been covered by everyone and their imaginary friends. But will distended cheeks ever catch on?

— Ohhhhhhhh. The baby. I’d read that Henry was trying to help the baby, not murder it. I’m not so sure. What do you think?

— WARNING: This movie has one of those abrupt, wholly unsatisfying endings.

— The credits say David Lynch designed the DVD menu and interface. Clearly!

— I watched all the DVD extras, hoping to learn more about the baby. But no! Lynch is keepin’ his secrets.

While I didn’t learn a darn thing about the monster baby, I can now tell you EVERTHING about the dog corpse from the menu screen! First, it was a cat.  Lynch called a vet, got a newly dead cat (with the clear understanding that if he filmed the cat, it could not be recognizable), and soaked it in a large jar of formaldehyde. Silly boy… didn’t he realize how difficult it would be to remove the cat after rigor mortis set in? No, he did not. Once Lynch had extricated the cat corpse, he immersed it in tar for a year, then left it sitting outside in the dirt for another year. FINALLY, he filmed the dead-cat-and-wire scene… … which was later cut from the movie.

If it weren’t for the invention of artsy DVD menus, I might have gone my whole life without seeing a dead, tarred, dirt-filled house pet being tugged around by a wire.

 

After all that build-up, I would declare this movie Not Particularly Unsettling. But we won’t know for sure until tonight’s dreams… right now, I’m impressed by the film’s beauty and artistry. More than anything, I regret looking for embalmed cow fetuses. Google Images and I have long disagreed about exactly what a “safe search” entails.

 

Have you seen Eraserhead? What did you think? Tell your stories in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I have not seen Eraserhead and this doesn’t make me want to. Here’s to sweet dreams tonight.

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  2. Would it be cheating to watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers before you go to bed?

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  3. Wow, I’m almost speechless. All I can think is: that “baby” looks like an infant Admiral Ackbar from “Return of the Jedi.”

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  4. I watched this a couple years ago so my memory isn’t very fresh. But unsettled is the best term to describe the experience. I’m glad I gave it my full attention because it was a unique film. I’m with you on the masochism too. A few weeks ago when trying to study for an exam I looked up “trochanter” because I wasn’t familiar with the term. Anyway google image search showed someone with bed sores and I ended up looking at bed sore pictures being horrified, shocked, and incredibly uncomfortable as an escape from studying. Ways to be terrified of the world.

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  5. Eraserhead has been on my Netflix queue since I signed up, but I haven’t quite had the courage to watch it. I’m the kind of person who reads horror movie synopses out of morbid curiosity and then can’t go turn off the light in the living room because reading about Saw scared her too much. And yet…everybody says that Twin Peaks is so good…

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  6. I heard Catherine Coulson speak (at the annual Twin Peaks Festival, because I am a David Lynch nut–btw, totally not worth going to the festival, but whatevs), and she said that she helped Lynch make the baby but that she was indeed sworn to secrecy, and she gracefully refused to say anything more than that.

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  7. I’m quite sure the spoiler statute of limitations has been long expired on Eraserhead.

    Expound/”reveal” spoilers on 20-30 year old movies with impunity!

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  8. Terri – Understood, and thank you.

    mum – Bless your beautiful hide!

    Jacob – It does indeed, which makes me sad. Good ol’ Ackbar. Funny, I’ve spent all these years thinking of the Infamous Eraserhead Baby as a male— why? Because it doesn’t have thick, black eyelashes?

    Laura – Do you see the way I’m not looking up ‘trochanter’ and staring at bed sores? The world IS terrifying— during the ‘embalmed cow fetus’ search, I saw a photo of a human child sliced open the same way the Eraserhead baby was. THEN I NEVER USED THE INTERNET AGAIN.

    Mia – Yes! Twin Peaks has been on my ‘maybe’ list for ages— but would it torture us?

    Autumn – Damn, lady, you get cooler all the time.

    Zeke – Your logic is sound. I’ve heard some pop culture fans say the spoiler statute of limitations for new media is two weeks. Two weeks! But I live waaaaaaay behind the times, so I try not to spoil anything for fellow slowpokes.

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