45 Strange Facts About “Eraserhead”

To describe David Lynch’s films as experimental would be an understatement.  Known for his surrealist arthouse approach, just about all of his films are the subject of immense film analysis.  His very first feature film Eraserhead is arguably the most surreal and the most heavily speculated.

For those that have seen it, it’s a bizarre 90 minute “narrative” that leaves you both confused, but also incredibly intrigued.  So in honor of its 45 anniversary, we thought it would be fun to look at 45 strange facts about Eraserhead!

1. David Lynch had received a scholarship to the American Film Institute.  Unhappy with the courses, he was ready to drop out of the program, but changed his mind when the opportunity presented itself for him to make a feature film, using the campus and its resources.  This would become Eraserhead.

2. Given that it was his directorial debut, Lynch’s only previous film work had been animated paintings he had done.

Eraserhead 2
He’s a very talented artist as well.

3. He cited Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella “Metamorphosis” and Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 short story “The Nose” as primary inspirations.

4. The first draft was titled “Gardenback” and was a surrealist story about adultery.

5. Lynch’s daughter Jennifer (born 1968) had been born with clubbed feet, and required a great deal of surgery when she was baby to correct it.  Many have speculated this was partially what inspired the idea of the deformed baby in the film, and the parents’ fear and anxiety around it.

Eraserhead 5
She apparently had a blast on set while she was a kid.

6. The AFI completely underestimated the project, believing it to be short film due to the 20+ page script.  This resulted in the troubled and lengthy production that was always struggling for money.

7. Jennifer Lynch wound up having a small part in the movie as the little girl in one scene.

8. Right from the beginning, securing funding was a challenge.  Part of the budget came from donations by Jack Fisk and his wife Sissy Spacek (of Carrie fame), as they were friends with Lynch.

9. Jack Fisk also appeared in the finished film as “Man in the Planet”.

10. The script was only 21 pages, with much of the action being stage direction for scenes without dialogue.

11. Much of the film’s desolate setting was thought to be inspired by Lynch’s own experience living in a rough neighborhood of Philadelphia.

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Lynch and his family spent several years living on Poplar Street in Philadelphia, PA.

12. Because the production lasted so long (due to budgetary reasons), David Lynch himself slept in the same bedroom in the movie for a year.

13. The entire production would take a total of 5 years, with the film finally being released in 1977.

14. As a result, there’s a scene where Jack Nance opens a door, and the next shot was filmed over a year later.

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To its credit, the movie blends everything seamlessly.

15. Despite appearing so desolate, the film’s location would later become the Beverly Center Mall.

16. During production, David Lynch took up meditating and gave up eating meat and drinking alcohol.

17. The crew included David’s brother John Lynch.  His only other film credit is set designer on 1971’s Angels Hard as They Come.

18. The deformed baby was made from the body of an embalmed calf, which Lynch apparently buried after production.

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It’s probably the most memorable aspect of Eraserhead!

19. The baby was never given a name in the movie officially, but star Jack Nance called it “Spike” and it stuck among the cast/crew.

20. Nance’s own wife Catharine Coulson did his hair for the movie.  The process of getting it so frizzy was painful and Nance and Coulson joked that it was partially responsible for their eventual divorce.

21. Coulson even worked as a waitress during production, and gave her salary to the movie’s production.

22. She would also go on to play the Log Lady in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

23. His unique hairstyle is similar to David Lynch’s own hair, which many see as not a coincidence.

24. When David Lynch and Jack Nance were making the large head for the baby, they worked on it in Lynch’s backyard.  His neighbors saw it and referred to it as “that big egg”.

25. In addition to writing, directing, and producing, David Lynch worked on the film’s music, art direction, production design, sound effects, and editing.

26. During production, Lynch started experimenting with playing dialogue backwards.  Granted, it was never used in this movie, but he would later use it for Twin Peaks decades later.

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We have Eraserhead to thank for getting this iconic scene in Twin Peaks!

27. Initially the film was 20 minutes longer, but David Lynch cut out a few scenes for pacing.

28. Upon release, Eraserhead received mixed and negative reviews, with many not really understanding it.

29. Variety Magazine called the film, “a sickening bad-taste exercise”.

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The review’s not technically wrong, but it was sort of the point of the movie.

30. Despite this, it was a box office success, grossing $7 million on a mere $10,000 budget.

31. Over time, audiences started to re-appraise and appreciate the movie.

32. To date, it holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

33. Stanley Kubrick screened Eraserhead at the start of The Shining’s production to get everyone into the right mood.

Both movies are known for having a slew of theories trying to interpret them.

34. Kubrick even once told Lynch that Eraserhead was his favorite movie.

35. In 2004, the movie was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

36. To date, David Lynch won’t comment on what the movie means or what it’s trying to say.  He has always preferred to let the film speak for itself.

37. That said, most have interpreted the film to represent the fears and anxieties around parenthood.

38. The film’s lead Jack Nance was asked what it meant, to which he replied, “You guys get way too deep over this business. I don’t take it all that seriously.  It’s just a movie.”

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There is a humorous irony to him working on this movie so long but never really thinking what it was about.

39. Given its less than stellar opening night, Eraserhead was subsequently shown as a midnight feature, where it fared much better.

40. When Eraserhead got worldwise distribution, David Lynch allegedly signed the agreement wearing paint-stained overalls because he was still working his day job as a house painter.

41. In a rare moment where he opened up about the movie, David Lynch claimed that Eraserhead was his “most spiritual film” in 2007.

42. David Lynch was hired by producer Mel Brooks to direct The Elephant Man, after Brooks was so impressed from watching Eraserhead,

43. Entertainment Weekly marked it #14 in their “Top 50 Cult Films” list.

44. A myriad of films have cited Eraserhead as an inspiration, including The Shining, Pi, and Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

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If you liked the surrealism and bizarreness of Eraserhead, check out Tetsuo!

45. Swiss artist H.R. Geiger cited the movie as an inspiration for his own work.  However, David Lynch seemingly resented Geiger “copying” his work and declined to work with him on 1984’s Dune.

Which of these did you already know?  Which ones surprised you?  Let us know in the comments!

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