The 10 Absolute Creepiest Moments in David Lynch’s Oeuvre

When your name becomes an adjective, you know you've made it. Case in point: the word "Lynchian" now means, essentially, a movie characterized by stark images, eerie moods, arresting sound design, and often graphic and twisted depictions of the human form. In other words, it's like watching the most beautiful nightmare you've ever had, torn between wanting it to end and wanting to see if it gets weirder. He's a masterful, remarkably assured filmmaker who's proven himself to be one of the American greats, yet even by his own special standards, the scenes below are full-on creepy. They're dark and ominous, and they share a common fear of the unusual and unknown. Many of them are marked by the sudden appearance of something unsettling that's made all the more so for the way it just kind of shows up in the middle of a scene that's already surreal. Don't know what we mean? Throw some headphones on and get comfy, then. Time for a trip down Lynch's rabbit hole.

  1. Agent Cooper's dream in Twin Peaks: Twin Peaks was the kind of daring, what-is-going-on type of TV show that now exists on cable. But in 1990, you could actually get a network to take a chance on a murder mystery that chucked the whodunit plot in favor of weird characters, dream sequences, and pie. Agent Cooper's dream at the end of the second episode (after the two-hour TV-movie pilot) became an instant pop culture sensation thanks to its style, execution, and indescribable oddity. It's vintage Lynch, and it set the stage for the rest of the show's iconic run.

  2. The appearance of the Navigator in Dune: Lynch's version of Frank Herbert's sci-classic is, well, not without its flaws. Lynch spoke out against the film, saying that producers had kept him from having final cut and implementing his vision. Still, the film remains a stark and often ugly work of modern art, and it's packed with the physical grotesqueries for which Lynch is often known. Easily the most unnerving is the giant navigator that at once is phallic and vaginal, a mutant in a glass case who can fold space and time and who has paid a bodily price for being submerged in the magical spice that gives him his powers. It's impossible not to see him and feel a chill.

  3. Frank Booth's dry-humping fit in Blue Velvet: Blue Velvet was Lynch's art-house redemption after the bloated mess of Dune, and he didn't mess around: the film's loaded with the symbolism and sexual themes that are prevalent in much of Lynch's work. Chief among these is a wild man, Frank Booth (played with insane lust by Dennis Hopper), who gets off by dry-humping the female lead while huffing from a gas mask. Even for a movie that kicks off with a guy finding a severed ear, this is a rocky scene.

  4. The chat with the Mystery Man in Lost Highway: It sounds misleading to merely refer to Lost Highway as unsettling, as if the rest of Lynch's c.v. was a lighthearted romp through Candyland, but there are some really spooky moments here that almost defy description. (David Foster Wallace memorably profiled Lynch during the film's production for Premiere magazine.) The plot is almost too Lynchian to try and sum up, but it starts out dealing with a man (Bill Pullman) who finds himself haunted and stalked by a pale old Mystery Man (Robert Blake). After a brief vision of the Mystery Man, our hero meets him at a party and has a supremely eerie conversation with him that seems to break the rules of space and time.

  5. The figure behind the diner in Mulholland Drive: Originally written as a TV pilot before being retooled and partially reshot, Mulholland Drive is a haunting Mobius strip of a movie that slides back and forth between dreams and reality in ways specifically designed to leave viewers unsure of what's happening. The creepiest moment is one that feels totally unrelated to the surrounding story, too. Set at a diner called Winkies, the scene deals with a man confronting a nightmare that turns out to be real. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen the movie, or what your theories are about this scene's meaning: it will still scare you. Here's part one; the conclusion is below.

  6. The mythical origin story in The Elephant Man: Probably the most accessible film Lynch made until 1999's The Straight Story, The Elephant Man was nominated for a host of Oscars and earned praise for its cast. The opening of the film, though, is vintage Lynch, blending sight and sound into a weird metaphorical origin story that sees a woman trampled (and maybe more) by a herd of elephants. Even in a film as straightforward as this one, the Lynchian vibe is inescapable.

  7. Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive: Only Lynch could make such a moving and beautiful scene so rattling. The final moments of Mulholland Drive exist almost outside of time and reality, playing with the fabric of dreams and death just like the rest of the film. We get our heroines back, briefly, freed from suicide and sex games and everything else that's plagued every version of them, and we also get a stirring song that raises the nature of seeing versus believing.

  8. The shooting at room 47 in Inland Empire: Totally nonlinear and endlessly challenging, Inland Empire offers some of Lynch's most upsetting imagery (which is saying something). The movie's basically a series of scenes that only loosely form a plot, and the action comes to a head when Nikki (Laura Dern) confronts the evil Phantom and shoots him, only to see his face turn into a grotesque version of her own. Seriously, this will mess you up:

  9. The televised rabbits in Inland Empire: Significant portions of Inland Empire involve a faux-sitcom set featuring a three-member family with human bodies and rabbit heads. The images come from Rabbits, a series of video shorts Lynch made in 2002. On paper, the set-up sounds like a cheesy kids comedy, but in Lynch's hands, it becomes so weird and menacing and uncomfortable that you don't know what to do.

  10. Every single moment in Eraserhead: Lynch's first film remains his most disturbing. Shot on a shoestring budget in the 1970s, the film is a gross, often revolting work that revolves around a deformed creature with no limbs and a monstrous face. Placing a heavy emphasis on emotional states over linear narratives, the film is a blast of bizarre visions and creepy encounters that Lynch will never top. (Not that he should.) Even for Lynch die-hards, this is a tough one.

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