Eraserhead was on my list, along with Freaks, of horror films I wanted to watch. I haven't had the nerve to watch Freaks as of yet, but when I saw Eraserhead at my local library I grabbed it. Incidentally this film was one of the biggest influences on Kubrick's The Shining. Indeed Kubrick's film seems to be a big love letter to young Lynch's debut.
Is the film a straight horror film? No. Is it horrific? YES! I've never been so scared while watching a film. Not only was I scared but felt psychologically exposed by it. This film never lets up, it only provides the barest minimum of tension release and that is only in the first quarter of the film. The disturbing imagery piles up speaking straight to the viewer's subconscious.
I can only describe the experience as a free form anxiety attack. Let me warn you, this film is not for the faint of heart and whatever you do, DON'T WATCH IT BEFORE BEDTIME!
What of the story? If you are familiar with Lynch's later work than a coherent storyline is not a factor. What there is of it seems to be the experiences of a young man pushed into a shotgun marriage due to his girlfriend's unplanned pregnancy. The film plays with wild Freudian imagery highlighting issues such as sexual desire, sexual fear, body horror, fear of intimacy, social immaturity, fear of parenthood, spousal hatred, fears of old age and death.
The look of the film harks back to the German expressionist cinema of the 20's and film noir of the 30's/40's. The black and white palette is rich with deep contrasts of shadows and light. It is an extremely beautiful film even though it is hard to miss that fact due to the unnerving images.
I highly recommend this film if you love horror films, art house flicks and a bit of a cinematic daredevil.