This David Lynch Film Had A Major Influence On The Shining

No one conjures up surrealist nightmares quite like David Lynch. If you're trying to convince your significant other to not have children, fewer films will do the trick better than "Eraserhead." Even when Lynch's 1977 experimental horror film is steeped in its own surreal, twisted purgatory, the existential terror of unplanned parenthood is never not on full display. Three years later, Stanley Kubrick would produce another terrifying tale of isolation that shares similar qualities.

It's widely known that Stephen King notoriously disapproved of Kubrick's adaptation of his 1977 horror novel "The Shining" for all of the substantial changes he made to the source material. Looking back, there's no denying that the 1980 feature is undoubtedly Kubrick's vision of the Overlook Hotel. And one scene in particular stands out as a direct influence from one of Kubrick's favorite filmmakers. Unlike Lynch, I will elaborate on that.

Like a Good Neighbor...

"Eraserhead" follows a quiet, anxious man named Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) who comes to learn over the course of a horrifying family dinner that his girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), has given birth to an extremely unusual baby, and it belongs to him. The baby still holds up as one of the most disturbing practical effects in cinema. Beyond the slimy skin, it makes these sickly sounds you wouldn't want to hear out of any being, let alone your own child. The scene in which we get to see what's been holding it together under its wrapping is enough to give anyone shivers.

One of the more direct influences between Lynch's film and Kubrick's involves a scene of betrayal. In "Eraserhead," Henry has a sexual encounter with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall (Judith Roberts) after Mary abandons him. Upon attempting to see her again, he sees her with a smiling man, while she stares at him through the shadows. In "The Shining," Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) finds himself in the cursed Room 237, where a beautiful naked woman (Lia Beldam) gets out of the tub to greet him. After making out with her, Jack looks in the mirror to see that the woman he thought he had been kissing has transformed into an old, rotting corpse (Billie Gibson) who taunts him with laughter. Both films feature an insert shot of their children trembling in terror. When put side by side, it's easy to see how closely Kubrick attempts to recreate the tension shared across three characters. At the heart of this moment is the shock plastered on Henry and Jack's faces as a sense of betrayal washes over them, while their offspring scream from the depths.

The Sounds of Isolation

Isolation permeates the environments of both "The Shining" and "Eraserhead," albeit in different ways. The Overlook is a bright labyrinth that has space for miles and a devious surprise around every corner. On the other side of things, even when Henry is afforded space outside his cramped one-bedroom apartment, however briefly, he's enveloped by harsh shadows and dark, oppressive rooms. Jack and Henry are both beholden to their claustrophobic hells. The only difference is that Jack gets to keep the lights on.

Sound plays a critical component in both films despite the environmental differences. As Esquire's Garin Pirnia puts it:

"Despite all the eldritch characters, it's the film's sound design that influenced innumerable films. Designed by Alan Splet and Lynch, the sound effects in Eraserhead consists of incessant mechanical hums, slithering puppy sounds, radiator hissing, vociferous alien baby cries, unseen howling wind, and whooshing dins that generate a sense of DEFCON-level dread."

Both men are trapped in the hells of creaky noises and unknown futures — one has severe writer's block and the other feels animosity towards his lifelong responsibility.

Did We Just Become Best Friends?

While it was evident that Kubrick admired the surrealist filmmaker, it turns out that Lynch himself had reciprocated feelings. As Lynch was working on "The Elephant Man," which would go on to secure eight Academy Award nominations, he was informed by his producer, Jonathan Sanger, that Kubrick had invited the crew of "The Shining" to watch "Eraserhead" at his home. At the time, Kubrick had declared the film as his one of his all-time favorite movies. Lynch claims he could have died happy right then and there. Is there any bigger honor than your first feature being praised to that extent by one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the era?

It's no wonder they grew fond of each other's work. Lynch and Kubrick knew how to harness the enigmatic terror of the unknown. Whether their films are to your taste or not, there's no forgetting the haunting images they leave you with. Turning the corner hasn't felt the same since I first experienced the jolt of that iconic jump scare from "Mulholland Drive" The same can be said with Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) and the twin apparitions who put a frightening halt to his tricycle ride — images that can never truly be shaken.