Take a tour of some choice bizarritude, courtesy of the director who knows best
1/10Man-made chickens, Eraserhead (1977)
Let’s set the scene:Henry Spencer is invited to dinner with his girlfriend’s folks. Nothing weird about that, you might say, but you haven’t met this bunch: Grandma sits in the corner angrily chain-smoking, Mom gibbers like a religious nutcase, and Dad brings out a dish of roast fowl that may not be entirely deceased.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:everything. Like Henry, we can only stare in horror as the miniature “man-made” chickens begin to pulsate and twitch, leaking oily blood across pristine china plates.—TH
2/10Elephants, The Elephant Man (1980)
Let’s set the scene:Amazingly, Lynch’s first step into the mainstream is just as experimental as his prior calling card, Eraserhead. A young woman watches elephants glide menacingly. One of them strikes her down. A baby wails.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Sound design is key to creating the mood, especially John Morris’s windup-sounding carnival score, an ominous synth drone and the shriek of elephants. That latter noise is placed under the woman’s post-accident agony, unforgettably.—JR
3/10Meeting the Guild Navigator, Dune (1984)
Let’s set the scene:The elegant José Ferrer—a man born to play a galaxy emperor—waits for an important guest, a representative of the Spacing Guild. But could he (or we) have expected the giant tank that’s wheeled in? Inside, floats a vaginal, drug-altered creature, one of Lynch’s strangest creations. They have a chat.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:If the director had maintained the spectacular strangeness of this opening scene, Dune would not be a film he still wants to disown. A lovely gross touch: When the tank recedes, its caretakers sweep away the leaking fluid.—JR
4/10“In Dreams,” Blue Velvet (1986)
Let’s set the scene:It’s already a bad night for amateur sleuth Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), running afoul of a murderous psychopath who takes him to a private party against his will. Then a spotlight turns on, upping the bad vibes immeasurably.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Roy Orbison’s ghostly ballad is a key to understanding Lynch (“In dreams, I walk with you”), and Dean Stockwell’s druggy lip-synch adds scary detachment. Finally, there’s Frank (Dennis Hopper), inexplicably getting furious as he listens, the volcano about to erupt.—JR
5/10Lipstick face, Wild at Heart (1990)
Let’s set the scene:Batshit-crazy Marietta (Diane Ladd) dispatches a heartless gangster to track down daughter Lula and her lover Sailor. In a manic fit of guilt, Marietta calls her hapless boyfriend (also in harm’s way)—though not before liberally applying some makeup.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Of course, any human face smeared with red lipstick is going to look wrong, but Ladd’s supremely unhinged performance is nothing short of terrifying, red hands (complete with talon nails) gripping the phone as she babbles. And you thought your family was embarrassing.—SH
6/10The weird room, Twin Peaks (1990)
Let’s set the scene:It’s hard to believe this scene was piped into millions of American homes during prime time—you’re seeing the apex of Lynch’s strangeness, as a square FBI agent dreams of red curtains, the missing Laura Palmer and a surreal dance.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Call him the Man from Another Place, as Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost did at the time, but to everyone else—and forever marking Lynch’s style—he’s a midget in the dream sequence. Adding to the freakiness, the scene (including its audio) was filmed in reverse, then flipped.—JR
7/10Cooper’s dream, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Let’s set the scene:FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) bursts into his boss’s office to tell him about a dream he had the night before. It concerned a monkey in a mask, a bunch of closed-caption TV cameras and the return of a missing agent, long presumed dead.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:It turns out that the aforementioned agent looks a lot like David Bowie in a white suit, who mumbles something about a “Judy” in an accent pitched halfway between Baton Rouge and Blighty. Then he indulges in a bit of primal scream therapy, promptly vanishing without so much as a puff of smoke.—TH
8/10The Mystery Man, Lost Highway (1997)
Let’s set the scene:Saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) hits a Hollywood Hills party. There, he encounters a grinning, corpse-like guest who crosses the room, tells him he’s now in Fred’s house (wha?) and wrecks his world. Suffice it to say, they don’t make small talk.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Actor Robert Blake starred on TV’s Baretta and was, for a time, thought to be on the cusp of superstardom. But his turn as the Mystery Man is his most iconic piece of work; he pulls off Lynch’s spatially impossible dialogue with bone-chilling conviction.—JR
9/10Chat with Cowboy, Mulholland Drive (2001)
Let’s set the scene:Hollywood director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is on the run from shadowy goons who have cut off his credit. Maybe there’s salvation on a dusty ranch in the middle of the night, where a mysterious figure awaits.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:You expect strange walk-ons with Lynch, but none are as ominous as that of blank-faced producer turned actor Lafayette Montgomery, decked out in a ten-gallon hat and effortless command. The Cowboy cuts snarky Adam down to size in seconds, warping this modern-day L.A. tale in a Howard Hughes–like direction.—JR
10/10Rabbits, Inland Empire (2006)
Let’s set the scene:The rabbits arrive apropos of nothing, interrupting the so-called “plot” of Inland Empire with sudden bursts of blank, declarative, sitcom-pastiching strangeness.
What puts this in a freaky league of its own:Well, it’s a bunch of people in rabbit costumes (one of whom is Naomi Watts, fact fans). And they’re having disjointed chats about nothing, and generally acting like any of us would if we were giant rabbits being directed by David Lynch. The original Web series was introduced with the snappy tagline: “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain…three rabbits live with a fearful mystery.” That pretty much sums it up.—TH
By Sophie Harris, Tom Huddleston and Joshua Rothkopf|
From his midnight-hour 1977 debut Eraserhead through 2006’s head-scratcher Inland Empire (and, we hope, for a long time to come), David Lynch has cornered the market on atmospheric strangeness. These ten scenes are the ones in which the director allowed himself to be most unhinged. Warning: If you watch these clips in chronological order, we can’t vouch for what could happen to your sanity.