Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Why Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the most underrated horror of the nineties

The 90’s gave us dozens of outstanding horror films: the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs, the genre defining The Blair Witch Project and the postmodern masterpiece Scream, to name but three. All these and more are considered classics of the genre, made by revolutionary directors who created iconic characters and images, and were rewarded with huge followings and critical acclaim.

However, one true classic, made by a director at the very top of his game, was not welcomed with open arms, or gushed about in magazines. In fact, despite its memorable and often shocking portrayal of small town secrets and terrifying family life, the film seems to have been actively forgotten by horror fans, after its financial and critical beating. This is a true shame, as the film is a truly terrifying experience, replete with horrifying images and terrific performances.  I’m talking, of course, about David Lynch’s 1992 masterpiece, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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When the film was released, it was not liked by the public or the critics; in fact, quite the opposite; it faced a backlash. When it premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, it was met with booing and unanimously negative reviews. The New York Times called it “an undifferentiated mess of storylines”, while Quentin Tarantino was even more scathing, saying David Lynch had “disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie”. Regular paying audiences weren’t much better, as the box office takings only reached $4,781,186, a pale sum given the budget of $10 million. Fire Walk With Me was a bonafide flop, and, despite Saturn and Independent Spirit award nominations, Twin Peaks was, as David Lynch put it, “as dead as a doornail.”

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So what made everyone so venomously hate Fire Walk With Me? After the quirky humour of the acclaimed television drama, some found Laura Palmer’s two hour descent into hell too much, such as USA Today, who called the film “a morbidly joyless affair”. Others felt that Laura Palmer wasn’t likeable enough to carry the film, like Variety Magazine, who called her a “tiresome teenager”. I believe the reason most hated Fire Walk With Me was simply its contrast with its television counterpart.

While undeniably dark and spooky, Twin Peaks had lightness, broad humour and lots of wackiness. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me won’t make you laugh. What could you possibly expect from a film about a girl spiralling downwards towards madness and death? Did you expect a light film dealing with horrendous issues like incest, abuse and borderline schizophrenia? The problem I find with this is quite simple; name one other horror film, which purports to be a horror film and no more, that disappointed you because it didn’t make you laugh, or was too dark. Exactly.

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So, now that I’ve talked about just how utterly disliked Fire Walk With Me is, let’s move onto the lighter section; what makes it the most underrated horror of the nineties. When thinking of the best horrors of the nineties, your mind is most definitely not thinking of Fire Walk With Me, which is a shame, as Fire Walk With Me genuinely scared me more than the aforementioned films combined.

The opening of Fire Walk With Me is a long static shot of a television, followed by it being smashed. It takes you by surprise, it makes you frightened of what could happen, and it acts as a precedent for what is to come. The first half hour is something of a prologue, as two police officers (Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland), two Agents working under returning favourite Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself). After some strange goings on in a town that can only be described as ‘the anti-Twin Peaks’ (bad coffee, unfriendly locals), Isaak’s character disappears, the familiar music starts up, and we are back in Twin Peaks.

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When David Lynch hired Sheryl Lee all those years ago, to play the corpse of Laura Palmer, did he ever think she’d have to carry a film by herself? Luckily for Lynch, Lee gives one of the most shamefully underrated performances of all time. Lee gives an astounding portrayal of a girl whose world is effectively being destroyed. She has to go through everything in this film; hysterical crying, classic horror screams and a look in her eyes that suggests trauma unimaginable, and she pulls it off with aplomb. It should also be lauded for its sheer amount of utter terror.

Predating the ‘man behind Winkie’s’ scene from Mulholland Drive, there’s a scene of unbearable tension in which Laura simply walks into her room. The dinner sequence, that will make you chew your nails to the bones. Personally, my favourite scene was one in which the One Armed Man, a huge piece of the puzzle in the TV series, pulls up next to Laura and her father Leland (a haunting Ray Wise), and tries to deliver some vital information to Laura. It’s so utterly bizarre, so out there, so audacious, that is earns nothing but respect.

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While in 2013, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is generally considered to be one of Lynch’s worst films, right down with Dune, I think it is time for a reassessment. Forget the fun times to be had in Twin Peaks, and focus on all that is Lynchian; the incredible leading performance; the sense of dread and terror; the haunting Badalamenti score, one of his finest; and some of the weirdest, creepiest sequences Lynch has ever put together. It may be forgotten now, but I believe Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a strong candidate for the most underrated horror film of the nineties.

By Harry J. Ford

 

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2 Comments

  1. Dave

    You’re dead on. I think it’s Lynch’s second best film, and Lee was amazingly compelling as Laura Palmer.

    I think what threw people was that the TV show was a drama about a town, while the movie was a horror film about one character. But it’s excellent for what it is.

    I hope you’ve had a chance to read Alex Pappademas’s great piece about the film from 2012 on Grantland.

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