This classic from David Lynch blends paranoia, claustrophobia, and the ultra macabre into a truly unique story about a young man whose life changes dramatically when his girlfriend gives birth to a grotesque, premature baby.
That’s not a plot summary – just one event in a surreal, ghoulish web of actions in this striking and original debut from an important director.
Jumpy Henry Spencer (John Nance in the title role) lives in an urban dystopia of shadows and smoke.
A weird character with a peculiar elongated head and hair that stands on end, he is bewildered by everything. In his seedy apartment, he dreams of sex and the girl he believes lives in his radiator.
When he visits Mary – who may or may not be his ex-girlfriend – he endures a frightful family dinner before Mary tells him they have a baby. It is deformed, hideous and foetus-like. Mary dumps it with Henry, who does not enjoy the subsequent daily responsibility. He’s trapped.
In a dream, Henry sees himself decapitated, his head to be used as an eraser. Waking, he realises he must kill the wretched baby.
The lady in the radiator assures him that “in heaven, everything is fine”.
The film is full of irrationality and free association – It’s a waking dream. The disorientating design and Frederick Elmes’ camera work owe much to the giants of German Expressionism, and these elements are enhanced by the hissing, crackling sound-bed, producing an atmosphere that haunts for longer than is comfortable.
Lynch took five years to make his unsettling debut feature film – with no budget – as part of his film student work. He only filmed in the early hours of the day and looked through trashcans for props. His only source of income was building sheds and delivering newspapers.
All testament to the extraordinary tenacity of a truly original filmmaker. Pure genius.
Mrs X (Mary’s mother)
Beautiful girl across the hall
Judith Anna Roberts
Lady in the radiator
Man in the planet
Pencil machine operator
Hal Landon Jr