Bonus Reviews: The Wolf House (2018) and Eraserhead (1977)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 152
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of surreal messes— or maybe classics depending on your point of view. “The Wolf House” from 2018 is an extended animated fairy tale, while 1977’s “Eraserhead” was David Lynch’s first big film.
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• Directed by David Lynch
• Written by David Lynch
• Stars Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child. It’s a surreal, confusing, and grotesque visual array of scenes that kinda makes sense after three or four viewings; obviously, it’s a David Lynch film.
We zoom in on what appears to be an alien planet. We alternate views between a deformed-looking man with a skin condition and nerdy-looking Henry Spencer, along with a creepy worm-creature. It’s all very strange.
We eventually watch the strangely-coiffed “Eraserhead,” aka Henry, walking around the factory grounds. It’s a filthy, dark, very industrial-looking place. He eventually takes an elevator up to his apartment. The neighbor across the hall gives him a phone message from his girlfriend. He takes his wet socks off and places them on the hot radiator. He stares at the radiator and the dirt beneath it.
Henry goes out later to the girlfriend’s house for dinner. Mary is there, along with her parents. Mary has a seizure that won’t stop until her mother brushes her hair. Mary’s father comes in and talks about tiny, man-made chickens. “They’re new!” It is a very awkward dinner, especially once the little chickens start moving. It gets even worse when Mary’s mother asks Henry if he’s the father of her premature child; she’s already given birth and the baby is at the hospital.
They get the baby, and it looks like a big worm with a tiny face. Mary sits in the dark apartment with the cooing baby and listens to the radiator hiss. Henry comes home and stares into the radiator, which lights up and shows him a little stage inside. The light goes out, and all Henry can hear is the baby crying. The baby won’t stop crying, and it gets hard for Mary to bear; she goes home to her parents, leaving the baby with Henry.
Later that night, Henry sees that the baby is now covered in spots and bumps. As Henry sleeps, the radiator opens up and the stage lights up again. This time, there’s music and a little dancing girl with puffy hamster-like cheeks dancing inside.
The woman from across the hall comes over and wants to spend the night with Henry. As they make love, the baby continues crying. We then cut to the woman in the radiator singing “In Heaven, Everything is Fine.” This time, Henry is there, as well as his houseplant, which is now as big as he is. He soon loses his head.
A young boy then steals his head and takes it to some men who take core samples from Henry’s skull and make pencil erasers out of them (“eraser-head,” get it?). “It’s OK,” says the quality control man, so the boss buys the head from the boy.
Henry wakes up. That may or may not have been a dream. The baby-worm laughs at his confusion. Henry lies down to rest and hears the music from the radiator once again. He catches the woman across the hall with another man and gets depressed.
Henry cuts open the baby’s bandages that he always wears, and it turns out that the baby has nothing holding his insides inside. Perhaps the bandages were his skin. Henry thinks he’s killed the baby. The baby starts to gush oatmeal, and then we’re taken back to the opening scenes with the scarred man, the strange planet, and the woman from the radiator, who is now Henry’s true love.
Every expectant father should watch this important cautionary tale about what life with children will be like.
If you’ve seen many Lynch films, you’ll absolutely recognize themes and imagery from here that were later used elsewhere in his work. Lynch knows what he likes, and he’s not afraid to revisit ideas. Nearly every scene contains weird characters being weird for no explainable reason, but they sure are fun to watch. The worm-baby is just realistic enough to be horrifying in itself.
The sets and visuals here are outstanding, even in black-and-white, although sometimes it’s a little too “noir.” There are long periods with no dialogue. The first law of the film is played fairly straight with just the occasional bit of weirdness, such as Mary’s family’s strange behavior, and of course, having a big worm for a baby. The second half, on the other hand, gets a bit more surreal. The last five minutes… Well, good luck with that part.
This was the third time I’ve seen the film, and I think I’m finally starting to understand it. That pretty much sums it up. It makes no sense the first time, and most folks absolutely hate the film with only one viewing. The more you see it after knowing what to expect, the better it gets.
The Wolf House (2018)
• Directors: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León
• Writers: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León
• Stars: Amalia Kassai, Rainer Krause
• Run Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgement Zone
If you’re into animation, this artsy-fartsy fairytale will fascinate you. The story is ultra-minimal, but watching the animation unfold is mesmerizing. If you are looking for a detailed story, on the other hand, look elsewhere.
In grainy, documentary-style footage, we are told that in the south of Chile, in untamed country, is a group of German farmers, insulated from the outside world. The film we are about to see was rescued from the vaults of their little colony. They hope the film will dispel the horrible rumors that have stained their reputation.
As credits roll and animation starts, we read that once upon a time, a beautiful girl named Maria lived in the community. One day, Maria wasn’t paying attention and let three pigs escape. As a punishment, she was confined to spend a hundred days without talking to anyone. She ran away, straight into the woods.
“The wolf is coming,” she explains. She finds a house and goes inside to hide from it. We watch as the interior of the house and occupants are drawn on the walls. The painting “evolves” as the story progresses. Maria eventually forms into a sort of stop-motion clay/paper-mache figure, but the walls continue to change as the scene progresses.
Soon, Maria has two little pigs with her that escaped the wolf. She spends some happy time with her pigs watching TV and things. The wolf makes an appearance on the TV, and he speaks German to her. Maria tells the pigs she wants them to transform into humans, and they do. She names them Pedro and Ana.
There’s a fire, the former-pig-children burn, and blood shoots out of their eyes. The wolf returns to taunt her. The wolf says he can care for Maria’s pigs, but clearly she can’t. She manages to save their heads, so she tries to heal them back to normal by pouring honey over their decapitated heads. The children eventually grow back.
Eventually, the food runs out. Maria decides that the wolf knows where to get food, and he also knows the way back home. She wants to leave but the children tie her up and won’t let her go; apparently, they want to eat her. Will the wolf turn out to be her only hope of rescue?
The animation style is really the thing here. The story is really slow moving, primarily because of the animation style. We watch simple little things, but they look so cool that the camera lingers on them longer than it would in a normal film. It’s all basically just one long continuous shot with no stops between scenes. Many of the sets were life-sized, and no dolls were used in filming.
Although the story is pretty coherent, the surreal visuals make you wonder if you understand what’s going on. It’s very creepy and sometimes disturbing, but in my opinion, it goes on for far too long. It’s visually innovative, but the story moves so slowly that unless you are looking at this strictly as an art piece, it gets more than a little boring after about the halfway point.
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