PLOT: A mystically-inclined FBI agent investigates a murder in a small town, incidentally uncovering webs of crime, adultery, and supernatural encounters among the town’s denizens.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a TV series, not a movie. But despite its small screen origins, “Twin Peaks” is far too influential in the weird movie world to escape coverage on this site.
COMMENTS: “Leo Johnson was shot, Jacques Renault was strangled, the mill burned, Shelly and Pete got smoke inhalation, Catherine and Josie are missing, Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.”
Let’s back up a moment.
Laura Palmer’s body, wrapped in plastic, washed up on the banks of the lake by the Packard Sawmill on April 8, 1990, the date the “Twin Peaks” pilot episode first aired. I was a senior in college at that time and a David Lynch fan; I read in the Dallas Morning News the day before that the Blue Velvet auteur had created a television show and convinced everyone in my circle of friends to watch the first airing. We weren’t alone; thanks to advance buzz and favorable scheduling, the pilot episode was seen by an unheard of 34 million viewers (that figure would be disappointing for a Super Bowl, but for a TV movie it was a phenomenal score).
Based on the pilot’s unexpected success, the series about the murdered homecoming queen, the whiz-kid FBI agent using ancient Tibetan fortune-telling techniques to eliminate suspects, and the small town full of liars, adulterers and backstabbers was picked up for an additional seven episodes. What followed in those seven hours of broadcast television was a soap opera with the depth of an art film and a mystery with overtones of a supernatural horror movie; oh, and it was also a comedy. Over the course of that first season special agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) must have drank a couple of gallons of coffee and eaten three or four cherry pies (one slice at a time) at Norma’s diner as suspicions about the murderer turned from Laura’s Continue reading TWIN PEAKS (TV) (1990-1991)→
PLOT: The murder of a homecoming queen brings an eccentric FBI agent to a small Northwestern town seething with secrets.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite being among the best and tensest 90 minutes ever to air on American television, the pilot of “Twin Peaks” won’t make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies for two reasons. First, it’s not weird enough; although future installments would supply some of the WTF-iest moments ever to grace the small screen, the opening installment of the epic series plays things very understated and close to the vest, merely hinting at the undercurrent of uncomfortable weirdness that would become the show’s dominant tone. Second, and more importantly, the “Twin Peaks” pilot is incomplete. It ends on a cliffhanger, and not only is nothing resolved, many of the main storylines have not even been introduced yet.
Both those objections are addressed in the alternate international version of the pilot, which added an additional twenty minutes of footage which solved Laura Palmer’s murder (differently than the series would in Season 2). This version was shot at the financing studio’s insistence (they hoped to recoup some of their four million dollar investment if the series was not picked up) and released as a theatrical feature overseas. The alternate ending includes the iconic “Man from Another Place” dream sequence which would later grace episode 2, which by itself scores enough weird points to get the international version into consideration. The ending also resolves the mystery and the story; unfortunately, it also ruins it. Because the pilot didn’t have time to explore the forest of suspects, red herrings and side plots the script hints at, to someone who had never seen the series before the solution comes out of nowhere and would makes you wonder what the point of introducing all the minor characters was. This out of place, tacked-on ending perhaps makes the international version play even weirder, but it destroys the pilot’s fragile beauty—an unforgivable sin.
PLOT: As simply as I can put it: set in the year 10,191, inhabitants of three planets attempt to gain control of the “spice” Melange. The substance extends life and allows space travel. Whoever controls the spice controls the universe. The planet Caladan, home of the House Atreides, is the main threat to the current emperor of the universe. Duke Atreides son, Paul, appears to be the “chosen one” due to his special gifts of prophetic visions and skillfulness as a soldier. Paul foresees the emperor’s plan to destroy the Artreides clan and sets out to take control of the spice and defeat their enemies.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Dune is too confusing, an altogether jumbled mess, to give it any consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. There are too many characters, words, names and ideas that occupy the screen. Overt weirdness does flit about many times, but is marred by cheap-looking special effects and poor acting. Disappointing, considering who was at the helm of the picture.
COMMENTS: First off, being a new contributor, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cover three masters in the realm of weird cinema; Roeg, Cronenberg, and now David Lynch. Truth be told, Lynch is probably the greatest director in the pantheon of weird movies. That said, this is the worst film David Lynch ever committed to celluloid. I don’t think he would mind my saying so, as he too has publicly announced his hatred towards this film. He refuses to talk about it in writings or interviews. A production debacle, Lynch feuded bitterly with Dino de Laurentis to retain his artistic vision against the producer ‘s extravagance. The film looks slapdash at times. This problem likely stems from the complex source material: Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult sci-fi novel of the same name. Lynch claimed never to have read the book pre-production and to personally dislike the sci-fi genre. For unclear reasons, he actually turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi to do this film. I imagine Ewoks would have become much more menacing under the Lynchian lens.
Lynch came to direct only after several other directors bowed out due to differences and strife on the set. One of the directors previously associated with the film was none other than Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned on taking the film to new heights… a 14-hour epic! Yeah, that didn’t fly. What we are left with is a 137 minute hodgepodge of sci-fi jargon and mediocre direction. Apparently different cuts exist; a 190 minute version has been aired in two parts for television. The added material only caused more uproar with the legions of “Dune” fans, who thought the additional scenes and extended narration further stifled the already confusing flow of the theatrical cut. Lynch has refused to release a director-approved cut, and demanded the pseudonym Jonas Booth replace his name on the extended television version.
There is way too much happening in this movie…all the time! The multitude of characters, all with hard to pronounce names, come and go and never really make an impression. The viewer is left wondering, “who is that?”, “are they important?,” and “what do they want?” Ultimately, the answer to the last question is that they all want that damn spice. Spice is cultivated on the planet Arrakis, or Dune, a desolate sand-covered planet; the only place where one can attain spice and thus total domination over the universe. What protects the spice from any regular Joe-Schmoe getting at it? Enormous man-eating worms, that’s what. At least Lynch got to expand on his worm fixation.
I’ll refrain from putting in text the many characters that inhabit the different planets. I will say the cast is fairly impressive and many went on to bigger and better roles. The recognizable faces are: Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, and Eraserhead‘s own Henry, Jack Nance (almost unrecognizable without that pompadour). The most impressive over-the-top performance comes from Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (see, I told you about the names). He gets the chance to unspool some great weirdness in his role. The disgusting pus-and-blood filled boils that crater his face; his ability to inflate his suit and hover around like a lumpy balloon; his crazed, madman line deliveries: he get props in the weird department. He plays up his vileness quite nicely to cement his baddie status.
I don’t think Dune is complete garbage. I’ve seen much worse. The elaborate sets and ornate costumes are most impressive. The Blu-ray picture quality is probably the best you’re ever going to get (is this the first Blu-ray film reviewed on this site?!? Blu-ray is beautiful, and hopefully an expansion of weird titles is to come). The colors are crisp and flaws are minimal. Many of the set designs were created by the legendary H.R. Geiger of Alien fame (although he eventually dropped out of the production, many of his creations were still used). Speaking of Alien, I saw many subtle similarities to other classic sci-fi films, with Star Wars leading the pack. “May the force be with you” is changed to “may the hand of God be with you.” Young Paul (MacLachlan) undergoes a training sequence very similar to the exercise blindfolded Luke Skywalker practiced on the Millennium Falcon; instead of a lightsaber, Paul uses some sort of laser gun to blast tips off harpoon spears that randomly thrust out of a fight simulator.
The action sequences and special effects are what bog this movie down to the depths of an over-blown ridiculous flop. For as much money as this thing cost, it should have looked a whole lot better, even by 1984 standards. The first action occurs when Paul trains in a battle simulation. There’s a knife fight, but a force field shields the combatants: it’s a box/cube that engulfs the person into something that looks straight out of Intellivision video games from three years earlier. The final battle depicts heroic Paul in knife-combat with evil Harkkonen lackey Feyd, played by an insignificant Sting (looking like Sex Pistols-era John Lydon). The fight is sloppily choreographed and lame. Overall, a perfect descriptive term for this film… lame.
To get a final understanding of just how corny this movie can get, I’ll offer up three more tidbits in list form:
A dog (a pug) features in several scenes. Paul lovingly strokes its fur aboard a spacecraft. His father, the Duke, carries it around like an ornament. Most hilarious, though, is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character charges and screams in full-blown battle mode while cradling the mongrel in his arms. Where’s a wookie when you need one?
The guns that are controlled by screams and a certain pitch of voice. A trigger needn’t be pulled. Just yell.
The potential effectiveness of the giant worms is completely squelched when Paul and his comrades mount, harness, and ride them into battle like horses.
I’m sorry David, your film is lame. You know it. I know it. Still, you managed to get some devout followers. I just can’t figure out why.
The Blu-Ray additional features include very rough deleted scenes that add nothing of significance. Special features document the making of Dune and its sometimes cringe-worthy special effects. There are also segments on the various models, miniatures, and costume designs, which I find to be the only saving grace of the film.
FEATURING: Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Catherine Coulson
PLOT: A series of six short films spanning director David Lynch’s career from the
1960s through the 1990s. We track Lynch from his early years as a highly experimental student to a macabre master of the darkly surreal with these films that show a man who needed to grow and challenge himself as a creative force.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As collections of short films go, this is one of the most mercurial and hard-to-peg I’ve ever seen. There’s really no denying the odd nature of Lynch’s efforts. The first film alone, a minute-long animated loop of six hideous plaster sculptures throwing up, stands as a timeless testament to Lynch’s nightmarish creative vision. And the gut-wrenching scope of his silent feature, entitled “The Grandmother”, is a window into the mind of a radically different artist than the one Lynch has become. But, honestly, the quality and sheer atmosphere present in most of Lynch’s features feels absent here, and there’s not enough memorable material to consider this a momentous release.
COMMENTS: Much like a renowned painter or an extremely colorful luchador, a filmmaker’s work becomes more lionized as his fame grows, even his mistakes. David Lynch is a very famous filmmaker, so it’s only appropriate that this assortment of short subjects should come out to cement his status as an iconic artist and a true visionary in the world of the nightmarish and the utterly bizarre. But those die-hard fans of the man who seek a diamond in the rough here, a Pollack behind the frame of this small cache of movies, will likely find themselves disappointed, or at the very least conflicted.
If short films represent the transformation of a filmmaker as as he/she goes from one project to another, this gathering of shorts spanning Lynch’s career is a shadowy, rocky road. Half of these films don’t desire to be much more than insubstantial experiments, hokey dumping grounds for ideas that are really just there to try something out. They merely exist in a tangible form for the consumer because of the marketable name of Lynch, not because they actually have some sort of deliciously demented merit and are worth seeing for any length of time. And while the three that are good are indeed very good, it’s easy to put this one on the borderline with the vibes I get from the other three.
PLOT: Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere. His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child—although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!” Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.
Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory. Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes. Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film. Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film. Little of the excised footage survives.
Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980) for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.” His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me(1992) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him. Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”