The cinematic universe in which legendary director David Lynch has chosen to tell his stories is a yellow brick road which leads the way to a rabbit hole, wherein can be found dreams, nightmares, horror, love, spirits, small towns, psychological torment, offbeat humour, danger and endless gallons of hot black coffee. Within this mesmerizing realm lives a whole armada of strange and wonderful human beings, often with antennas extended out into both the metaphysical, the supernatural and the just plain undefinable. This makes them some of the most richly fascinating, deeply felt individuals to ever dance across our screens. If you have clicked on this post, you will see below a list of my personal top ten characters to have ever wandered out of the one of a kind mind of Mr. Lynch and been brought to life by the intuition, grace and startling gut instinct of many fine actors. Enjoy!
10. Marietta Fortune, played by Diane Ladd in Wild At Heart
Diane Ladd plays the ultimate mommy from hell in Lynch’s wacky, colourful romance road trip flick and livens the proceedings up no end with her mental instability, overprotective mania and frequent banshee screams that echo the terrifying melodrama of an exaggerated and psychotic Joan Crawford. Ladd rightly earned an Oscar nomination for her feral work, and one only needs to witness the unnerving sight of her sprawled across the bathroom floor with a liver full of martinis and a face smeared with crimson lipstick to appreciate the work funnelled into both the performance and direction to give us this horrific harpy.
9. The Man From Another Place, played by Michael J. Anderson in Twin Peaks
No other character solidifies Lynch’s pipeline to the collective subconscious like the red suited, inter-dimensional man of limited stature, a haunting presence who dances, speaks backwards and is always one step ahead of every fellow character and watching audience member who lays eyes on him. He serves as an image of what lays beyond, and no doubt an experimental choice for Lynch, one that would go on to become a token image of the television series, and his career as well.
8. Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart
The uniting forces of Willem Dafoe’s brand of creepiness morphed together with Lynch’s intuition for everything weird resulted in Bobby Peru, a disgusting psychotic whacko who only shows up in the last quarter of the film, yet dominates every frothy frame. Peru is a scary son of a bitch, and Dafoe lends every Joker grin, sallow grimace and harsh syllable he can muster in a very discomforting scene in which he abuses Laura Dern’s character to squirm inducing effect. This heinous outburst only makes the explosive end he meets all the more satisfying. A true Lynch monster, a Dafoe creation to remember and spin yarns about in years to come beside the cinematic campfire.
7. Nikki Grace/Susan Blue, played by Laura Dern in Inland Empire
Dern turns the performance of her career in what is perhaps Lynch’s most peculiar film to date, a purposefully meta, altogether perplexing soul bender of a tale that revolves around two incredibly strong female characters, both played by her. There’s a galvanizing monologue buried within the heart of this dense saga that’s at once both a savage outcry and a self reflective summary to the character, Dern nailing every sharp turn of both that passage, and her work in the film as a whole. Lynch sat on Hollywood Boulevard with a cow and a sign advocating an Oscar nomination for her powerful work here, and upon viewing it it’s easy to see why. ‘A woman in trouble’ cries the DVD cover. Dern cries out into the dark and lets us know this character is exactly in that place, but her and Lynch lay out the breadcrumb trail in an ambiguous fashion that never really lets us in on the how and the why of said trouble. Such an achievement is pure collaboration, and worth every penny spent on the cow rental.
6. Margaret Lanterman, aka The Log Lady, played by Catherine E. Coulson in Twin Peaks
The Log Lady is the symbolic lynchpin of Twin Peaks, a woman who lost her husband in a fire long ago, and quite literally carries a log around in memorial, speaking to it as if it were a person. Such a concept could be seen as silly, but in Lynch’s hands it simply is compelling. Coulson too treats it with reverence, giving her the undefined gravity that is a key ingredient in the Twin Peaks mystery and will be remembered by fans, loved by veterans and discovered by newcomers for eons.
5. Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet
The third scariest person on this list comes in the form of Booth, an oxygen loving, volatile kinkster played with primordial menace by a wild eyed Dennis Hopper. Booth took audiences by storm when Blue Velvet was released, showcasing a villain’s ability to completely shatter the idealistic and womblike notions of small town, old world bliss that came before him. He barges into the film and immediately flips the table as far as tone goes, catching everyone off guard with his criminal and very twisted antics. A true Pabst Blue villain and force of perverted nature that we won’t soon forget.
4. BOB, played by Frank Silva in Twin Peaks
No demon has shivered the timbers of viewers quite like Killer Bob. He was a fluke, a lightning bolt of creative energy that Lynch channeled into what would become the scariest and strangest villain in his stable. A nightmarish and all too real apparition who feeds on rape, murder, fear, abuse and all the tools which reside within the darkest corners of humanity’s toolkit. Silva is a salivating horror, feeling his way through a performance that is rooted directly within the forces of undiscovered nature and firmly committed to scaring the pants off of us.
3. Mystery Man, played by Robert Blake in Lost Highway
Blake unsettles big time as a pasty faced, hollow laughed denizen who torments the protagonist at the most unexpected of moments and can’t help but utter a grinding giggle every time he can harvest an iota of confusion from his quarry. Whether the accusations against Blake in real life are true or not, the guy just has a corrosive vibe to his work and it kills me that he never got a chance to live out more years in cinema. This was one of his last two roles, and he’s the acrid soul of the piece, a snarling symbol of mental instability and otherworldly nastiness within the main character’s psyche.
2. Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle Maclachlan in Twin Peaks
Ahh, Dale Cooper. No one puts a big old smile on my face like him. In a career that has a whole bunch of lunatics and weirdos running amok, Lynch has given us the ultimate good guy, a comforting, likeable lawman with a keen sense of character and a deep love for both coffee and copious amounts of cherry pie. Maclachlan soars into pop culture legend with his winning smile, delightful idiosyncrasies and unyielding dedication to the law.
1. Laura Palmer, played by Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks
The battered angel, the homecoming queen, the beauty wrapped in plastic. No one represents both the decaying, corrupted human spirit and the same purity that wages war upon the sickness as well as Laura. When Twin Peaks was cancelled and Lynch launched plans for a big screen follow up, he stuck with the one element that made the show so special: Laura. Through hell, high water and every horror in between he stuck with Laura, turning the film into a final loving ode to her that would be seen by many as too much, and a stark deviation from the show. He was simply following through with the uneasy themes which mean so much to him, represented by the ultimate girl in trouble, whereby spiritual forces or simply the malfunction within humanity. Lee has never been better, serving as the rose within the centre of the dark bouquet of characters which Lynch draws forth from his dreams.