As we get closer to celebrating dead saints as opposed to dead regular people, I find myself thinking about scary movies and what I’ve seen on screen that has frightened me most. My finalists range from things I only found scary because I was young when I saw them — the skeksis in The Dark Crystal, for example — to more legitimate scares such as the first time poor li’l Casey Becker sees the ghostface mask in Scream, which literally made me choke on a piece of popcorn. I’m almost inclined to give the nod to the nurse scene in Exorcist 3, just because no one ever mentions how Exorcist 3 actually isn’t a terrible film. In the end, however, it’s the party sequence in Lost Highway that gets my vote. It’s not a scene that would make you jump, and I suppose some horror movie purists would watch it and not particularly find it scary in any traditional sense. I, however, find it to be horribly affecting.
Watch for yourself, and know that it’s violence-free, with only a single “f”-word to make it not technically safe for work:
Yes, the fact that the kabuki-faced man is played by Robert Blake, a former Little Rascal and a real-life alleged murderer, adds to the overall creepiness, but what I find so disturbing about this scene is the way it re-creates the sensation of having a dream but not immediately realizing that you’re having a dream. It’s a slow build. Pretend you’re the Bill Pullman character, hanging out at a party and making casual conversation with this stranger. He’s odd, yes, but nothing that’s happening is necessarily impossible, really, until he delivers the line, “As a matter of fact, I’m there right now,” in reference to the fact that he’s somehow both at the party and at Bill Pullman’s house. Pullman, of course, doesn’t buy it. Why should he? Surely, this creepy stranger must be speaking figuratively, but then Robert Blake goads Pullman to call home. Blake’s voice answers. Blake, who’s standing right before Pullman, is also answering Bill Pullman’s home phone number.
When I dream weird, I frequently don’t realize that I’m dreaming until the narrative goes completely sideways. It’s a relief, honestly, to suddenly understand that your subconscious is taking the lead, because any alternative explanation sets you on a far more disturbing path. But leading up to that point, there’s always a progression that works like this: “Okay. Okay. Okay. Wait, what? Wait — WHAT?! OH HOLY SHIT.” I’d imagine I’m not the only one who’s experienced that escalating series of emotions. And I think David Lynch — himself a big fan of delving into the unconscious and subconscious — does a fine job of committing that moment of mind-melting horror to film.
Of course, Bill Pullman’s character doesn’t get to wake up, but let’s not get into the plot details of Lost Highway.