What can I possibly say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? It got mediocre reviews when it came out, but people soon realized that it was one of those seminal movies that changed everything. After David Lynch got the awful Dune adaptation out of his system, he returned to his strange roots by making this. There had never been anything quite like it. Dreamlike, ultraweird, dark, oddball, surreal. All these and many more adjectives have been used to describe it. I would agree with them all. It is dark, and yet colorful, and though many scenes have nothing horrible going on, there is an uneasy sense of menace present in each frame. And the scenes that are horrible are very hard to watch. It deals with some extremely deviant sexuality. Roger Ebert was so disturbed by what Isabella Rossellini went through in several scenes, including being brutalized, and yet appearing to enjoy at least some of it, that he attacked the film on that basis alone, without even asking her what she felt about it.
But it all revolves around Dennis Hopper and the incredible performance he turned in. He deserved a Supporting Actor Oscar, but was not even nominated. I think he was just too damn frightening for the Academy. (Ironically, he was nominated for Hoosiers, a totally routine basketball film!) In the nitrous-snorting, schizophrenic, mercurial, sadistic killer with a mommy complex, he created a scary guy to stand alongside Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.