Movie of the Week: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

David Lynch directs Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise and Chris Isaak in this dark prequel to the quirky murder mystery TV cult classic exploring the build up to Laura Palmer’s murder.

How To Approach A David Lynch Film And Keep Your Sanity. First time you watch one just do it for the experience – let the unfathomable horror and the unabashed sexiness and sincere kitsch just wash over you. Second or third or fourth time… forewarned that there are bits and swathes and symbols that defy easy comprehension, try and match up the puzzle pieces. Then every subsequent watch know you are still lost but with a better idea about the world you are lost in… take solace you are less lost than the eyeless naïf you were when you watched this the first time.

If you haven’t seen either TV series of Twin Peaks… god only knows what you’ll make of this. As a teenager I had half remembered memories of sleepily watched late night episodes. No boxsets back then, and if there were, I couldn’t afford them. All I knew as I set myself adrift in the prequel film was that this was going to be a darker, more terror orientated take on the phenomenon I was too young to fully consume and everyone else had abandoned within a year. It absolutely shat me up. I didn’t understand it but the sequences where a monkey’s face appeared behind a boy’s mask or a framed photo becomes a portal into the Black Lodge made me too repulsed to even go near the screen to turn the VCR off. Even now when I’ve watched this alone as an adult late at night, I am at unease and fearful in a way that no other film makes me. This is my scariest film.

Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise are fantastic here. The scene where Leland interrogates Laura over her broken heart necklace at the dinner table churns up feelings of helplessness and vulnerability that must be too close to home for survivors of domestic violence or incest abuse. The soundtrack of jarring discordant jazz composed by Angelo Badalamenti infuses scenes with an overwhelming dread. Some scenes the soundtrack overpowers the dialogue so much that the illicit goings on make zero sense. Like the plot has been raped by a Marshall amp, the oblivion party becomes more important than the lives attending it. We fully explore the Jean Cocteau-inspired Black Lodge… not just the familiar denizens in the red curtain waiting room but also glimpses of the monstrosities who congregate above a convenience store. They thump on floorboards, feast on cream corn that is fear solidified and… Holy Shit!… was that Jürgen Prochnow in a blink and you’ll miss it shot as a dirty old woodsman? There’s always something new to spot within the chilling madness.

A self-consciously abrasive film, Fire Walk With Me wasn’t embraced on release in 1992. The TV show had been cancelled as casual viewers gave up after Laura Palmer’s murder was solved and the new plotlines felt hokey or obscure. The film meant to resolve loose ends was boo’d at its Cannes premiere… and Cannes loves obscure Lynch any other year. The reviews were resoundingly awful. The cinema release was limited and unprofitable everywhere except Japan. The film is determinedly awkward and distasteful and 18 certificate. 40 minutes wasted with new FBI detectives investigating the occasionally half mentioned grisly murder of Teresa Banks (BOB’s / Leland’s previous victim) in a town with none of the charm, comfort or quirkiness of Twin Peak. Deer Meadow has no curvy hotties or warm tones… it is populated by the unwashed, abrasive and senile negative images of the beloved cancelled show. Nothing is solved or resolved, the opening act serves as a kitchen sink recap of the famous investigation. It even ends with the Kyle MacLachlan counterfeit disappearing into thin air.

Then the genuine Agent Cooper pops up for a cameo in a short but unnerving sequence involving a dimension hopping David Bowie prophesying what will happen in 25 years time! It is almost an hour before we get to Twin Peaks to watch Laura Palmer’s heartbreaking descent into hell, madness and plastic wrapping. And that ain’t watch with mother viewing either! It is powerful, bleak and shocking. You can see why everyone didn’t embrace it.

But the curious thing is among all this stunted weirdness and petulant rebellion against the unprepared fanbase and network TV censor restrictions is the amount of clues and bridging information Lynch seeds between his and Mark Frost’s hit TV show and the belated sequel series. The original cliffhanger episode saw Laura Palmer’s soul tell a trapped Agent Cooper (and those of us who were still watching) “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” It felt like a Lynchian non-sequitur, another red herring. But then we eventually got Twin Peaks: The Return. Again it was all over the shop – obtuse and brilliantly unhinged. But we were gifted with more landmarks on the map, more significance to clues, and the confidence that if Lynch says he’ll return to all this nonsense a quarter of a century later… he fucking well will.

So maybe he cast Jürgen Prochnow as a woodsman in a fleeting few frames in Fire Walk With Me as he knew the astute and the puzzle solvers and the obsessed might see a famous name in the credits, work back through the film and figure out which background character the disguised star is. Then know dirty old woodsmen are worth keeping an eye on. Low and behold, 25 years later they definitely were. It is a long game with Lynch but his intentions are deliberate. Maybe in 2042 we’ll get an explanation as to where Special Agent Chester Desmond disappeared to? Or whether Josie got out of the hotel drawer knob? The fact Lynch has proven his difficult weirdness has consequential pre-planned meaning if you patiently wait it out proves that even the most unpalatable entry in the Twin Peaks franchise is invaluable to fully enjoying it.

10 (Or let’s say a 5 if you don’t watch Twin Peaks)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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