When Alan was in high school, we moved to a new neighborhood. This meant he had to go to a new school. Eventually, after a few months he became friends with some boys who used to take the bus on Saturday nights to see midnight movies such as Pink Flamingos by John Waters and the Neil Young movie, Rust Never Sleeps. And they were all very proud that each had logged at least 15 viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I met all these boys when they came over to the house after school to bum cold bottles of RC Cola from our basement refrigerator. I also managed to speak to at least one parent of each boy. Maybe I was being controlling, but Alan grew up in an insular neighborhood where everyone knew each other. In our old neighborhood, I took his safety for granted. Now that he was in new surrounds, I placed a few phone calls to make sure I knew who he was associating with. Trusting blindly seemed like I would just be accepting the equivalent of poker odds when it came to my son's well-being. It's not that I didn't trust Alan; it was them I didn't trust.
I was reasonably sure these kids were more interested in movies than the marijuana I had heard was passed around the audience during these midnight shows. But increasingly I couldn't put my head on my pillow at night for wondering what exactly happened at these late-night showings. So, one Saturday I wrangled an invitation.
Now that might seem weird to you. But Alan and I had a special relationship. He never doubted who was the boss (or at least that I was one of them; his father was the other), but we also had a kind of friendship. So he only hesitated about 30 seconds before he said, "Yeah, I guess that would be okay," referring to my joining them for a screening of Eraserhead.
"But I'm warning you; it's weird."
"Weirder than your Aunt Minna's new face lift? Those gathers of skin at the side of her face are pretty hard to look at."
"No, I guess not," Alan said.
"Okay then. What time do we go?"
To make my presence more welcome for the other boys, I volunteered to drive our Riviera to the theater. After only a few minutes of obvious horror that I was accompanying them, they seemed to relax. By the time we got into the theater, they almost forgot I was there.
After I got my Junior Mints and bought the boys a box of candy each (which further endeared me to them), we opened the door that led to the formerly plush but now fading theater. To my surprise, a thick billow of smoke engulfed me and I started to cough. Once I caught my breath, I began the sniff test to see if the smoke was from cigarettes or marijuana. I wasn't a big expert on the difference between the two, but I figured if the air didn't smell like cigarettes, I could assume something else was being smoked. But it smelled like cigarettes to me, so I breathed a sigh of relief -- at least as much of one as I could with my head trapped in a cloud of fumes.
As we waited for the movie to begin, there were all kinds of weird characters walking around. I assumed they were dressed for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, even though I'm not even sure it was playing that night. One late-night freak show was as good as the next to some of these people, I guessed. Anyway, after listening to the audience hoot and howl at trailers for other strange movies, Eraserhead began.
I have to say, I had never seen anything that creepy coming from a movie screen before -- or since. Bleeding miniature chickens at the dinner table, a deformed premature baby that made hideous noises, industrial wreckage and a lot of other dark images just rolled forth, one after another. It was the kind of stuff that makes you wince involuntarily. Or at least that was my reaction. The boys, on the other hand, giggled and made cat-calls with every new freakish scene. It's a good thing this movie was pre-video camera and those impressionable boys had no aspirations to become filmmakers. I certainly wouldn't have wanted them to learn how to make a video by studying David Lynch's technique.
As the movie went along, I found myself watching the boys more than the movie. It was funny to see them cringe and laugh at the same time. This was like pulling the wings off flies to them, without the animal torture. There was obviously a perverse pleasure in it. I watched them just long enough to reassure myself that they were only there for the freak show; not to play with drugs. Their wide eyes, total attention on the screen and sniggering told me I had nothing to worry about. That left me free to excuse myself and go to the lobby.
There was a similar freak show going on out there, but no one was bleeding or screaming; there were just teenagers trying to find their individuality by dressing as characters from Rocky Horror. Ironic really, but harmless. Being a non-teenager, though, it wore thin quickly for me. I heard "Damn it, Janet!" so many times in the space of a half-hour, I was delighted when the boys poured out of the theater and into the lobby so I could go home.
If you'd like to see what the Eraserhead fuss is all about, there's a video below of director David Lynch talking about the movie, along with some sample scenes. Good luck.