Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:
126. Lost Highway (1997- dir. David Lynch)
At the same time American horror was losing altitude, David Lynch’s career was too. Regarded as a golden boy during the five-year period that saw him release the masterful Blue Velvet, win the Palme d’Or for Wild at Heart, and revolutionize television with “Twin Peaks”, Lynch fell hard after a stretch of poorly received projects that included Fire Walk with Me and the short-running TV series “Hotel Room” and “On the Air”. Several years lagged before he regained his excitement for filmmaking. Inspired by the recent O.J. Simpson trial, in which the accused murderer was acquitted to carry on with an apparent absence of remorse, Lynch reunited with Wild at Heart novelist Barry Gifford to write Lost Highway. Lynch’s first— and, to date, only— movie to be explicitly marketed as horror (“A 21st century noir horror film,” the copy read), Lost Highway monitors jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who suspects his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) of infidelity. After experiencing a blackout in which he hacks her to pieces, Fred ends up on death row. Terrified of the inevitable and horrified by the crime he can’t even remember, Fred takes a mental escape route in which he “becomes” the younger, better looking, freer mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). This being a David Lynch film, the real and the psychological exist on the same plane, and Fred’s transformation is presented as an actual occurrence possibly initiated by a demonic, string-pulling “Mystery Man” (Robert Blake). Lost Highway was an unusual film for Lynch at the time, trading in his trademark bucolic setting for seedy, smoggy Los Angeles and eschewing the timelessness of his recent films for a style reeking of the late ‘90s, from its gothic music-video sensibility to its Trent Reznor helmed soundtrack to its completely distracting cameo by (yeesh) Marilyn Manson. The film also suffers from cold characters and a sleazy aftertaste his other sex-and-violence soaked films avoided because of their more empathetic characters. Nevertheless, a lesser David Lynch movie is still a David Lynch movie, which means there is still much greatness to witness in Lost Highway. The director builds the picture on one of his spookiest ideas: Fred and Renee’s discovery of a succession of videotapes filmed outside and inside their home without their knowledge. The Mystery Man is another terrifying villain in the Killer BOB mode. Most importantly, Lost Highway established the theme of psychological transformation that Lynch would perfect in his best film since Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., and explode in his most experimental one since that debut, INLAND EMPIRE.
See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1990s here.