17)What Is The Creepiest Movie To See By Yourself In A Practically Empty Theatre?

Q. What is the creepiest movie to see by yourself in a practically empty theatre?

A. Eraserhead

People have a negative perception of going to the movie theatre alone. I don’t blame them; it’s sort of a weird thing to do. Movies are generally thought of as a social experience, so going alone feels defeating. It’s a place to bring a date, a group of friends, some family members maybe. Going solo just doesn’t feel right; you’re like some weirdo from the 70’s wandering into a sexploitation film all alone.

Nevertheless, it’s an experience I would recommend for any serious fans of cinema. In the fall semester of 2007, my junior year of college, I didn’t have class on Thursdays. Rather than spend that time working on homework or beginning assignments that were due down the road,I mostly dicked around the internet and wandered aimlessly around the greater Cambridge area.

One Thursday, though, I woke up and decided that I wanted to see Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut. Since most of the people I go to the movies with were either in class or preparing for class, I made the bold decision to see the film on my own. It was a matinee showing, at the time only 6.50, which seemed reasonable.

I got into the theatre a few minutes early, and it was completely empty. A couple of older ladies walked in noiselessly as the previews began, but that was it for the audience. The film ended up being one of the better theatre experiences I’ve ever had. It was excellent. I walked out of there thinking that this might be one of the better films of not only that year, but the decade. I’ve since rescinded that opinion, but it does demonstrate how the experience of seeing it alone really contributed to my initial positive reaction to the film.

I think what it comes down to is that, when you’re part of a crowd, there are a million reminders that what you are watching is not real. People checking their cell-phones, obnoxious teenagers trying to be funny, that troglodyte next to you chewing his pop-corn in a manner which suggests that violent chewing leads to some kind of greater gastronomic experience. Nothing ruins a dramatic monologue like the guy sitting next to you stomping on your feet and spilling his popcorn on your head as he hurries back to his seat.

There are certainly times when a large crowd can augment an experience at the theatre, particularly in the arena of comedy films. A good crowd can prop even a relatively weak comedy up to legendary level. Case in point, I saw the Owen Wilson/Matt Dillon film Me You and Dupreee at a random theatre in Danvers with my family one summer. The place was packed and the crowd was into it from the get-go. One guy in particular had a roaring laugh that he broke out seemingly every two minutes. I’ve since seen the movie on television a couple times, and my reaction could not have been more muted. There are a couple funny parts, sure, but the whole thing was just mundane and sort of depressing.

Getting back to that fall semester, my experience watching Gone Baby Gone inspired me to see a few more films on Thursday afternoons. I was lucky that this lull in my schedule coincided with the greatest year in movies of my lifetime. I saw Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Michael Clayton, and In The Valley of Elah by myself. Near the end of that semester though, I saw a film which no one in their right mind should see on their own. To this day, I’m still haunted by this bizarre creation. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, but Jesus, it’s creepy as shit.

I managed to get myself into a scenario where I had to stay at school until the last day of the fall semester to take a final exam in statistics, of all things. Everyone, it seemed, had headed home for break; my entire dormitory was deserted. After going through the gauntlet of studying for several hours, I decided to take a break and amble down to Harvard Square. I had no particular destination in my mind, though I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d end up at Felipe’s Taqueria, scarfing down another quesadilla. For me, all roads in Harvard Square lead to Felipe’s. That’s a story for another day though.

Anyway, as I was walking into the Square, I passed the Brattle Theatre. The Brattle is the type of old-school movie theatre that hipsters dream of. Built in 1953, it plays independent and foreign films and bills itself as “Cambridge’s Only Independent Film Theatre.” That day, I noticed a sign outside the theatre advertising the movie for that night: Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch.

 

David Lynch is one of the more important American filmmakers of the past 25 years, but he’s decidedly un-mainstream. Probably his most important contributions to the American pop-culture spectrum were the critically lauded 1980 film The Elephant Man and the landmark early 90’s television series Twin Peaks. Some of his work has been well-received— Mulholland Drive landed on a number of best of the decade lists, for instance—but a lot of it is too weird and divisive to reach the general public in America. I mean, as a people we’re far more likely to enjoy something like Big Momma’s House 3 than to try to decipher a confusing, abstract film like Lost Highway.   

Coincidentally, I had watched Twin Peaks that summer and found it brilliant. I’d argue that the first season is one of the best seasons of television, ever. I knew that Eraserhead wasn’t exactly a mainstream film, hell, I could tell that from the poster. But still, I was eager to see what else the guy who dreamt up the world of Twin Peaks could come up with.So I headed into the theatre.

There were, obviously, not a ton of people attending a 9:30 screening of an obscure, borderline avant-garde 1977 film. The movie is virtually impossible to explain. Basically, it’s about this floppy-haired dude named Henry Spencer who wonders around a depressing, industrial center. He has dinner with his girlfriend, Mary X, and her creepy-as-hell parents.

 Eventually, we find out his girlfriend is pregnant, but not with a human baby. With this thing:

His girlfriend eventually abandons him and Henry is stuck taking care of the abomination/baby. A bunch of other creepy stuff happens, including this scene:

Some more shenanigans ensue, some that I could describe but would make no sense unless you’d seen the movie, and others that are near impossible to describe, even if you carefully watched and rewatched the film over and over again. The “what the hell factor?” is probably the highest I’ve ever seen in any film.  Occasionally there are sequences in films that are completely fucked up, but they typically return to a status quo and allow the viewer to settle down a little bit. Even in horror movies, there’s a period of normalcy where the characters are in relative harmony with each other and things seem alright. In Eraserhead, it’s a complete mind-fuck from the time the credits roll till the time you walk out of the theatre, perplexed and wondering what the hell just happened.

 

After the movie was over, I sat in my seat watching the credits. I exited the theatre into a back alley, feeling extremely unsettled. I’m not gonna lie, I quickened my pace a little bit to get the hell out of that alley and getting to sleep that night, particularly in my unoccupied dorm room.

I’m glad I’ve seen Eraserhead, although I can’t say I really recommend it. I don’t anticipate ever watching it again, but it’s definitely an experience, one of those movies that stays with you for days afterwards.

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~ by fc13 on April 25, 2011.

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