Eraserhead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image surpassed expectations and provided a good reproduction of the black and white source.
Given the movie’s age and low budget, I figured it’d offer messy visuals, but it usually seemed solid and demonstrated appropriate definition. While not what we’d call razor-sharp, the image showed nice delineation and clarity. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes failed to appear.
With a natural layer of grain, I didn’t sense any digital noise reduction, and print flaws remained absent. Blacks appeared deep and dense, and shadows demonstrated smooth imagery. This was a more than satisfying depiction of the film.
In addition, I found myself impressed with the better than expected LPCM Stereo soundtrack of Eraserhead. Due to its era and cost, I figured it’d come with mono audio – and weak mono at that – so the robust stereo track came as a pleasant surprise.
Not that one should expect a ton of action from the soundfield. Most of the track emphasized the background hum/rumble that dominated the film; those elements filled the side speakers on a virtually constant basis. Speech remained centered, and most effects stayed there as well, while music used the channels in a way that meshed with the oppressive environmental material. This all used the spectrum in a manner that suited the story.
Audio quality worked fairly well. Speech became the weakest link, as the lines could seem somewhat edgy and brittle. Still, they consistently appeared intelligible and were perfectly adequate for their age.
Music and effects – which often essentially became one and the same – also showed some distortion, but they usually showed reasonable clarity and they boasted low-end that added to the movie’s sense of foreboding. This was a pleasing soundtrack that contributed to the movie’s impression.
As we hit the set’s extras, we open with five David Lynch Short Films. These include “Six Men Getting Sick” (4:02, with a 1:54 introduction), “The Alphabet” (3:46, with a 1:14 introduction), “The Grandmother” (33:48, with a 5:11 introduction), “The Amputee” (two versions, 5:11/4:05, with a 1:45 introduction), and “Premonitions Following an Evil Deed” (1:03, with a 2:16 introduction).
“Sick” consists of a one-minute animated reel that loops to the accompaniment of a siren sound, while “Alphabet” mostly shows animation inspired by a girl’s nightmare. After two abstract shorts, “Grandmother” gives us an abstract “long”. Another mix of animation and (mostly) live-action, this one kinda sorta attempts a story about an abused boy but largely it sticks with 34 minutes of Lynch’s freaky visuals.
Shot as tests for videotape, both versions of “Amputee” show a legless woman who writes a rambling letter while a nurse tends to her stumps. Finally, “Deed” gives us a short but weird piece made notable due to its use of a Lumiere camera from the early days of cinema.
How viewers react to these films will depend on how those feel about Lynch. His fans will enjoy these glimpses of his early work. (Mostly early, that is – “Deed” actually comes from 1995.) Less involved observers probably won’t take much from them, though. “Grandmother” probably becomes the most interesting of the bunch, if just because it offers an obvious precursor to Eraserhead.
Lynch’s introductions add value. He can be a bit vague, but he still offers good perspective about the shorts.
The rest of the extras come with year-based titles. 1977 presents nothing more than a 46-second trailer for Eraserhead, and 1982 also gives us a promo; the latter runs 1:24 and was created for exhibitions at LA’s Nuart Theatre.
Under 1979, we get an interview with director David Lynch and cinematographer Frederick Elmes. Recorded for a UCLA TV production class, the 17-minute, two-second chat covers aspects of the Eraserhead production and reactions to the film. Elmes says about 10 words here, as Lynch heavily dominates the chat. While Lynch doesn’t explain the movie to us, he proves to be much more direct than I anticipated, and that helps make this a pretty informative piece.
Both 1988 and 1997 focus on visits to film locations. “1988” runs six minutes, 47 seconds and includes Lynch and actor Jack Nance, while “1997” lasts 16 minutes, 23 seconds and features Lynch, Nance, director’s assistant Catherine Coulson and actor Charlotte Stewart. “1988” shows Lynch and Nance as they drive around and have a banal conversation; other than short shots of an LA tunnel location, virtually no movie-related content appears.
“1997” covers a broader array of locations and delivers superior information. Lynch chats easily and throws out a good collection of notes that the others add to as well. “1997” fares almost as well as “1979” in terms of informational value.
The most substantial features shows up in 2001, as it provides a one-hour, 25-minute, eight second documentary called “Eraserhead Stories”. Created by Lynch, this piece offers comments from Lynch and Coulson. “Stories” looks at the project’s origins and development, sets and locations, cast and crew, hair and clothes, deleted scenes, aspects of the shoot, and post-production.
Coulson appears via speakerphone and doesn’t have much involvement in this piece, so the vast majority of the information comes from Lynch. He tells us quite a lot about the movie, though one shouldn’t expect a concise beginning to end narrative; the program generally follows that scope, but Lynch emphasizes anecdotes over hard data. We find plenty of useful material in this likable, informative piece.
Finally, 2014 delivers recent interviews. In this 26-minute, 12-second compilation, we hear from Coulson, Elmes, Stewart and actor Judith Anna Roberts. They discuss working with Lynch and how they came onto the film, aspects of shooting the flick, thoughts about various folks involved, and opinions of the final product. “2014” acts as a good complement to “Stories”.
The set finishes with a 64-page booklet. It includes circa 1990s interviews with Lynch as well as stills and credits. The booklet offers a strong complement to the disc-based materials.
After 37 years, Eraserhead remains a cult classic, and I think it represents interesting filmmaking from a purely cinematic point of view. Unfortunately, it wears out its welcome well before it ends, as 90 minutes of disgusting, off-putting visuals without much narrative purpose becomes a chore to watch. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with a solid collection of bonus materials. Fans of this legendary film will feel very pleased with this excellent release.