HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Eleven – 10/11/18

10/11 – 1997: LOST HIGHWAY

For viewers who are about linear, sensible, relatable storytelling with the whole ‘beginning-middle-and-end’ thing going on, DAVID LYNCH has always been a tough nut to crack. If you cannot accept that it’s about his own unique vision, and just go along for the ride, then it’s best to avoid his body of cinematic work. Even his more accessible films like WILD AT HEART and BLUE VELVET, still never stray far from his strange sense of playing with time, identity and very unreliable narrators and narratives. And nowhere is this more true than in his seemingly undecipherable horror-melodrama, LOST HIGHWAY.

Some critics and Lynch fans have called it a meditation on the creative process itself; others have called it yet another chronicle of dissociative identity disorder, as in Adrian Lyne’s JACOB’S LADDER, or Alexander Aja’s macabre murderfest, HIGH TENSION (a.k.a. SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE). In any case, a film where BILL PULLMAN suddenly morphs into BALTHAZAR GETTY, isn’t going to be something you casually pull up on Netflix for date night.

Fred Madison (PULLMAN) is a musician by trade, specifically a sax player.  He and his wife, Renee (PATRICIA ARQUETTE) have been having problems of late, with Fred convinced that she’s having an affair, while he’s out working. Meanwhile, they experience the kind of random weirdness that any couple in a David Lynch film would – with one of the most startling things being the tapes.

The tapes? Yep – mysterious video tapes in plain brown envelopes that just appear on the Madisons’ doorstep. And each time they play them, it’s a view of their house, with the ‘cameraman’ coming in a bit closer each time. Strange, for sure, and you’d think they’d be more alarmed about it.  But they don’t feel the need to get the cops involved…until one of the tapes turns out to have been shot not just inside the house, but in their bedroom…while they were sleeping.

But things are about to get even more effed up. At a party, Fred meets a “Mystery Man” (probably the strangest and most unsettling role that ROBERT BLAKE ever had in his career), who seems to know Fred…very well. Something this man does during their encounter plays like a party trick…or is it a warning? A way of explaining events that haven’t happened yet?

You won’t have time to think too hard about that, because shortly after that party, Renee Madison is found brutally murdered, and Fred goes up for it immediately.

But wait. If you thought things were strange before, here, hold David’s beer. While Fred is locked up in jail, awaiting arraignment, weird lights flash in the cell, Fred seems to have one hell of a headache, and then suddenly…he’s just not there anymore.  He’s been replaced by a much younger guy, named Pete Dayton (GETTY). Completely flabbergasted, since Fred Madison is their alleged perp and not Pete, the cops have no choice but to let him go.

While Fred played music, Pete’s a mechanic, and he works for a very volatile gangster who goes by the name of Mr. Eddy (the late ROBERT LOGGIA, adding another great role to his already impressive collection.) Eddy has a stunning blonde girlfriend named Alice Wakefield, and isn’t it rich, that except for the platinum blond hair, Alice could be Renee Madison’s twin sister?

Pete is immediately smitten with Alice, of course, and a dangerous affair begins between the two of them. But as if Pete didn’t have enough problems already, there’s the ‘small’ matter of how the hell he managed to wake up in Fred Madison’s cell. Pete’s parents (GARY BUSEY and LUCY BUTLER) seem to know all about how that happened, and it has something to do with a “mysterious man” they met.

Starting to get it now? No? That’s probably intentional, as it seems to be with most Lynch films.  You always seem to be just on the edge of figuring out what the hell is going on, and then the answer is snatched away again by another weird, random event or characters.

The rest of the film is just like that: feeding you clues and hints about how Fred’s and Pete’s lives intersect; their connection to Renee/Alice, and the part that the Mystery Man plays in all of it – someone whom even Mr. Eddy seems to know. And yes, Fred does eventually come back into the picture, but how it happens and what it means, takes a whole lot more time and ink to ponder than what we have here.

If the ambiguities of TWIN PEAKS were a major turn-off for you, and/or you just don’t care for Lynch’s work, anyway, you might want to stay as far away as possible from LOST HIGHWAY. It makes it more than a little difficult to judge the quality of the performances, if you have absolutely no idea what the hell the characters are supposed to be doing in the first place. But the cast – at least to me – seemed to be doing pretty well.  And there’s the usual raft of cameos from a diverse range of actors that goes from HENRY ROLLINS, to GIOVANNI RIBISI and NATASHA GREGSON WAGNER. Hell, even RICHARD PRYOR (in his last screen appearance) turns up for a hot minute!

Technically, as with Lynch’s other films, it’s damn near perfect. DP PETER DEMING, who shot all of the SCREAM sequels after the original, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, and would shoot MULHOLLAND DRIVE for Lynch after this, does his part to…enhance the weirdness, I guess? And of course, no Lynch film would be complete without the presence of composer ANGELO BADALAMENTI, who does one of his best jobs creeping out viewers since the TWIN PEAKS score, while NINE INCH NAILS’ frontman TRENT REZNOR kicks major ass on putting together the soundtrack, one of the best ever for a Lynch film (it introduced me to RAMMSTEIN, SMASHING PUMPKINS and a LOU REED cover I’d never heard before!)

They say that if something is a piece of art, it’s not going to be a thing that everyone can agree upon, which I guess means that LOST HIGHWAY is definitely art.

Back in my video store clerking days, I issued a challenge about HIGHWAY, to co-workers and customers alike: I would come out of my own pocket to pay $100 to anyone who could sum up the plot of this film, in a way that made complete sense as a straightforward, logical narrative.

Take this as a recommendation, a warning, or whatever you like…I never had to pay up.

Other “HONORABLE MAYHEM” of the cerebral kind released that year included CUBE, EVENT HORIZON, FUNNY GAMES, THE KINGDOM, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and SCREAM 2.


Posted by Samuel Glass

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