Relive your favourite David Lynch moments with our countdown of the ten weirdest scenes and films from the master of unsettling cinema. Beware of spoilers!
The Mulholland Drive twist (2001)
Lynch’s great Mobius strip of a movie, rescued from the remnants of a rejected television pilot, proceeds happily enough as a jazzy anthology of L.A. stories until a key is turned in a lock around its halfway mark, causing the film's entire reality to shift.
Now Naomi Watts' aspirant actress Betty is no longer a bright-eyed ingenue, but a washed-up recluse, a Norma Desmond without the acclaim—a flip that turns this world on its axis and sends viewer stomachs plummeting floorwards. Success gives way to abject failure, glamour to squalor, heaven—in this most cosmological of filmographies—to hell.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me: the real killer emerges (1992)
This prequel to the cult TV series corrects an element some found troubling with the original: that the rape and murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer should have been attributed to third-party demonic possession, thus sparing her actual, human killer to some degree.
Not so here: Laura's last days—magnificently enacted by Sheryl Lee—point inevitably towards a fateful night in an abandoned freight carriage, where she's cornered not by a spectre, but a man gripped by some very real and horrendously fleshy desires.
The Straight Story (1999)
Sometimes the freakiest thing you can do is be normal. As the rest of the world succumbed to pre-millennial doubts and jitters, Lynch gave us this soothing, steady fable, a road movie charting the progress of a quiet old cove (Richard Farnsworth, in his final role) heading cross-country on the back of a John Deere lawnmower to visit his ailing brother.
The result was the first Lynch movie to sport a U certificate, to carry us simply from point A to point B, and that you might comfortably watch with your gran, assuming your gran wasn't a card-carrying Surrealist.
Blue Velvet: "In Dreams" (1986)
Caught peeping on moll Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) by unpredictable thug Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), boyish hero Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds himself strong-armed into a motel-room Sodom occupied by bored or handsy hangers-on, a plump attendant, and suave host Ben (Dean Stockwell), who dims the lights and breaks into a lip-synched rendition of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams".
We're clearly in deep here: this session of malevolent karaoke forms the blueprint for all those later Lynchian deviations in which characters become vessels for voices that are not their own.
Twin Peaks: the conclusion (1991)
Teetering between highs and lows, the troubled second season of Lynch and Mark Frost's postmodern soap opera arrived at a deeply unsettling finale. Before the consummation of their innocent courtship, rational-asexual detective Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) leaves coffee-shop sweetheart Annie (Heather Graham) on the bed to go to the bathroom, where he begins to smash his forehead against the mirror, in such a way as to suggest he too has been possessed by the lusty spirit of the show's Killer Bob. Quite how the new series means to resolve this matter, let alone top it, remains to be seen.
Faced with the challenge of how to reinvent himself for the 21st century within a medium already renowned for being pretty freaky (the Internet), Lynch came up with a series of short films shot on a single, purgatorial set in which human beings behind rabbit masks (including Mulholland Dr.'s Naomi Watts) make odd declamatory statements to a none more ominous soundtrack alternating canned laughter with white noise.
Some observers recovered from the experience to claim it as a sly subversion of the by-then ubiquitous sitcom Friends; to this viewer, it still looks like Sylvanian Families gone wrong.
Lost Highway: the mystery man (1997)
Bill Pullman's jazz musician is having a tough enough time convincing himself blonde-bombshell wife Patricia Arquette isn't cheating on him when he locks eyes at a party with pallid Robert Blake. Forsaking the usual small talk, this guest insists not just that the two have already met, but that he's actually occupying Pullman's house as they speak, pushing this invasion of personal space into a whole new, supernatural dimension.
The scene's insidious charge hardly lessens upon learning that, in 2005, Blake would be found liable for his part in the wrongful death of wife Bonnie Lee Bakley.
Eraserhead's baby (1977)
Plenty of male directors have used cinema to work through their fears about impending fatherhood; think Rosemary's Baby or, more recently, Antichrist. Lynch's feature debut, the clammiest of midnight movies, came soaked in paternal dread, never more so than when eccentric protagonist Henry (Jack Nance) took delivery of a new arrival, a pitifully fragile, birdlike creature, prone to breaking out in painful sores.
As rendered via old-school, non-digital rubber-and-glue effects, the baby elicits a weird pull on our sympathies: like Henry, we don't know whether to take it to our bosoms, or squish it out of its misery.
Mulholland Dr.'s dumper (2001)
It’s a minor player, the beetle-browed Patrick Fischler's Dan, who gets perhaps the most enduringly freaky of Lynch’s L.A. stories, sat in the comfortingly banal surrounds of Winkie's Diner and trying to get a nightmare off his chest: something about a charred-faced homeless wraith shacking up out by the diner’s bins, who may represent the fears of privileged Californians living in proximity to extreme poverty.
What follows is the closest Lynch has come to filming a conventional horror. The calmly uncanny framing, incongruous sunshine and Fischler's mounting, sweaty panic get you every time.
Twin Peaks' Killer Bob (1990)
You’d describe this as among the happiest accidents in television history, were it not guaranteed to send chills down your spine. During rehearsals on the Twin Peaks pilot, Lynch spotted the reflection of set decorator Frank Silva in a mirror on set and immediately recruited this leonine presence to play Killer Bob, the show's leering, creeping signifier of demonic evil.
Perhaps the most terrifying walk-on player in recent popular culture, Silva died of AIDS-related complications in September 1995; he'll doubtless be missed in the reboot, but his image lives on to petrify new generations.
Mulholland Dr. returns to selected cinemas today, ahead of its DVD reissue on May 1; the new series of Twin Peaks screens on Sky Atlantic from May 22.
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