Monday, October 13, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Day 12 - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

#8 (Tie) - 6 Votes

While I don't want to devote a lot of space to the question of whether or not Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a horror movie, David Lynch is unparalleled in making movies that defy easy genre classification with their ability to make us feel multiple conflicting emotions at once. Eraserhead, for instance, is a movie that many consider horror, but as unsettling as it can be, I've always found it hilarious. One of the many ways that Twin Peaks was a radical departure for network TV was the way it juggled so many different genres and moods in a way that, at the show's best, seemed effortless. A single episode could include goofy comedy, eroticism (by network standards), soap-y melodrama, suspense, surrealism, poetry and genuine pathos, all within the parameters of a mystery procedural. While the show's many tonal shifts weren't always smooth, they were unified by a very real emotional center - the way that the grief over Laura Palmer's death touches every resident of the town and, once the identity of Laura's killer was revealed, the all too real horror of a seemingly happy family hiding unspeakable abuse.

There are long stretches of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lynch's follow-up to the series, that can't really be classified as "horror." The opening half hour, following FBI agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) as he investigates a murder that took place a year before Laura's, is a self-contained deadpan comedy featuring exact opposites of many of the main characters from Twin Peaks. It's as if Lynch was deliberately trying to frustrate fans' expectations. There's also a brief interlude with David Bowie as a FBI agent returning from the world where Bob and "the man from another place" reside that is equal parts compelling and baffling. Also, given that it's a prequel (and because Kyle McLachlan asked to have a smaller part), Agent Cooper's mostly passive role knocks the movie off-balance as it descends into the underworld of Twin Peaks without its goodhearted, pie-loving Virgil.

But once the movie returns to Twin Peaks and the story of the last days of Laura Palmer's life, it's nightmarish in ways that go far beyond what a TV show at the time would allow. We watch Laura's psychological torment in what feels like slow motion, and it's almost too painful to witness; while Lynch has specialized in abstracting real life evils in Twin Peaks and throughout his work, he deserves a lot of credit for dealing with the literal evil of incest literally and unflinchingly. Though Bob remains frightening in the film, the sickening reveal of Laura finally seeing his real face - her father's - is more terrifying than any supernatural being. Lynch's leads deserve a great deal of credit too - Sheryl Lee gives the rare performance that deserves to be described as brave, throwing herself completely and without vanity into Laura's descent, and Ray Wise is just as brave in finding the broken humanity in a character that is at once monstrous and pitiful. Throughout, the movie has a genuine, heartbreaking sense of compassion for victims of sexual abuse; Lee has remarked that survivors of rape and incest have thanked her for helping them work through their own experiences.

While the letters sections of Wrapped in Plastic indicate that the movie had passionate fans from the beginning, it was mostly rejected by audiences hoping that it would answer some of the show's unresolved questions. Instead, they got an incredibly downbeat character study, minus the show's offbeat humor, that raised more questions than it answered. Since then, it's found a loyal audience, including many who insist it's Lynch's masterpiece; at the very least, it's one of his most technically accomplished (the sound design alone is astounding), and a remarkably uncompromising, difficult film. The news of a new season of Twin Peaks, to be directed by Lynch and written by Lynch and series co-creator Mark Frost, has been greeted by some (including me) with the same kind of anticipation others feel for the new Star Wars trilogy, with a lot of speculation about what shape the story might take. My guess is that a fair amount of people will be disappointed; if there's one thing Fire Walk With Me proves, it's that Lynch follows his own muse, audience expectations be damned. But if Showtime is smart enough to let him do his thing, having Lynch back in the director's chair, returning to the medium he helped reshape, is cause for celebration. I, for one, can't wait to be surprised.

U.S. Release Date: August 28, 1992 (Also released that day: Honeymoon in Vegas, Pet Sematary II, Freddie as F.R.O.7., Storyville)

What critics said at the time:

"Everything about David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" is a deception. It's not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be. Its 134 minutes induce a state of simulated brain death, an effect as easily attained in half the time by staring at the blinking lights on a Christmas tree." - Vincent Canby, New York Times

"The film's many moments of horror- an excursion into a drab room in a picture given Laura by a spectral old woman and which turns out to be one of the entrances to the Lodge,' Laura's hysterical and numbed laughter as Bobby is shocked by the murder he has committed: the alternations of the glowering Leland with the insanely evil Bob - demonstrate just how tidy, conventional and domesticated the generic horror movie of the 80s and 90s has become." - Kim Newman, Sight & Sound

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