News broke today that David Lynch is reviving his short-lived yet much-loved TV series Twin Peaks for a new season beginning in 2016. I was never much of a Twin Peaks fan and I’ve always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards Lynch. I cannot dispute his genius, and I appreciate a lot of his work, but many of his films have left me cold. Some are out and out masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, while others, such as Lost Highway, I feel are weird for the sake of being weird, inscrutable for the sake of being inscrutable.

Lynch’s career has followed an interesting trajectory: ranging from the strange (Mulholland Dr.) to Eraserhead_posterthe near-mainstream (the poignant and underrated The Straight Story.) Most recently, Lynch provided the voice of Gus the Bartender on The Cleveland Show. But it all began in 1977 with Eraserhead, a film that almost singularly defines the term “cult.”

Perhaps I’m undermining my credibility a bit to say that I saw Eraserhead for the very first time last month when Criterion re-released the film on Blu-Ray. Perhaps the reason is that, for many years, the film was very difficult to find. Or perhaps I just didn’t want to see it. Nonetheless, Eraserhead’s reputation always loomed large in my conscious, and when I finally sat down and watched it last month, my mind was blasted.

Eraserhead’s influence is undeniable and yet there exists no other film like Eraserhead. Describing the plot of Eraserhead is nigh impossible as the film exists in a world with little connective tissue. Lynch describes the film as “a dream of dark and disturbing things,” and he’s spot-on. The film is as close an approximation to a celluloid nightmare as I’ll ever see. A bizarre fever-dream of weird sounds, textures, images, and rhythms. Eraserhead just is.

The film’s black and white cinematography is astounding. Each frame is meticulous in both design and composition. And the sound. My lord, the sound! Despite not a word of dialogue spoken for the first ten and a half minutes, the film is never quiet. The soundtrack is practically a character in itself. From the windy, to the industrial, to the “squishy”, to the omnipresent humming and clanging of distant machinery, the film’s sound design alone can inspire many a sleepless night. And the ceaseless, anguished bleating of the baby. My lord, the baby! Once you hear it – the high-pitched mewling of an anguished infant, it will be indelibly stamped on your brain for life.

images (7)Not one character or situation in Eraserhead could be described as normal. The film is equal parts industrial and organic, alienating yet engrossing. Lynch creates a world so unlike our own that we have nothing to grasp onto for safety or reassurance. We either consciously shut it out and reject it entirely or choose to go along for the ride.

I realize I have mentioned little about the characters and events in the film and that is quite intentional. Lynch himself refuses to say anything about Eraserhead because he wants viewers to think for themselves as to the meaning of the picture.

Anyone who considers him or her self an aficionado of the weird, the bizarre, the esoteric must see Eraserhead. Furthermore, anyone who wishes to explore the endless possibilities and limitless boundaries of film as an art form must see Eraserhead. I’m just ashamed it took me this long.

***** (out of five)

Deadly Eyes

Deadlyeyes_1982I’ve got Deadly Eyes…One look at you and I can’t disguise…that I’m reviewing a sh*tty 1982 tax-shelter picture in which Dachshunds and Yorkshire Terriers are dressed to look like giant killer rats.

In the 70s, the Canadian government enacted “the one-hundred-percent Capital Cost Allowance for feature films deemed certifiably Canadian. This meant that anyone who produced a film that had a Canadian Producer, two-thirds Canadian crew and talent and seventy-five percent of their technical services performed in the country could defer paying taxes on their investment until the profits started rolling in.”

The genres that benefited the most from the CCA were horror and exploitation. Quite a few great films came out of the tax-shelter era such as The Changeling, Black Christmas, Rituals, Curtains*, and the Cronenberg classics Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. But the chaff far outnumbered the wheat. Deadly Eyes is a prime example of the former.

The credits indicate that Deadly Eyes is based on the novel “Rats” by James Herbert, but the film’s screenwriter freely admits to never having read the source material. Needless to say, Herbert was not pleased with what he ended up seeing on screen; a feeling no doubt shared with audiences who plunked down their hard-earned shekels to see this shite.

So yeah, the film is about a plague of mutant rodents running rampant throughout Toronto, which as usual stands in for an unamed American city. How did the rats mutate? The explanation given is so flimsy it’s nigh transparent. Something about tainted grain (which of course only affects the rodent population.)

Almost every tax shelter film had at least one token American star and in this case it’s Scatman Crothers, fresh off The Shining. Crothers speaks about three lines before becoming rodent chow. The screenwriter, who doubled as co-producer, says that the bulk of his on-set responsibilities amounted to “making sure Scatman had enough weed” to get through the shoot.

As mentioned, the giant rats were actually dachshunds and other small dogs in rat suits. Amazingly each pup had to be individually sized and fitted for their costume. “Can I get Rover to wardrobe!” The deadlyeyes_stillactors were reduced to stuffing their pockets with dog food to entice the “rats” to chase and attack them.

The most entertaining part of the film involves the city’s (non-crack smoking) mayor commemorating a subway extension (in Toronto, please!) which will go all the way to the new State Street Station, where a black-tie gala awaits complete with oompah-pah band. En route, a rat nibbles through a power cord which causes the train to go out of service. As a Torontonian who rides the subway on a daily basis, I’ve seen more than my share of giant rats and have experienced many an interminable subway delay so I appreciated the movie’s lone stab at realism.

Die Rückkehr der Killerratten, as the film is known in Germany, has pretty much nothing going for it save for the sheer ridiculousness of the costumed canines. Willard it ain’t. Shoo, Deadly Eyes, Shoo!

*1/2 (out of five)

[If you’re interested in further discussions about Canadian tax shelter horror movies, check out our chat about Curtains on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]