Lost Highway was David Lynch’s first movie since he rose to mainstream sucess in middle America with Twin Peaks and its less than stellar prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It’s a movie about murder and debauchery in southern California and even more surprising is how much the cast is connected to some of the most notorious celebrity crimes and scandals of all time. I don’t know if this was Lynch’s intention in the casting, but it’s a freaky coincidence if not.
But more on that later. The plot is both simple and hard to explain. A well-off saxophonist, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) lives in a posh neighborhood with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette). One day someone comes up to the intercom at the door saying, “Dick Laurent is dead.” Then, he hears sirens. But when he gets to the window, he sees nothing outside.
The next day, a VHS tape is left on their door steps containing a images of their house. As days pass more tapes begin to arrive even detailing images inside their house and as they sleep. They contact the police who like in all Lynch movies don’t seem too competent. When one detective asks them if they own a video camcorder, Fred replies they don’t because he likes to remember things his own way not the way they happened.
Fred and Renee attend a house party where Fred meets The Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who wears pale white make-up. This is the man from a nightmare Fred had earlier. The man says they met before and the Man tells Fred he’s actually at Fred’s house right now and gives him a cell phone to call his home, where he hears the Man’s voice on the other line. Confused and scared, he goes to the host, Andy (Michael Massee) to ask if he knows who the Man is. Andy replies it’s a friend of Dick Laurent’s. But Fred mentions that he’s heard Laurent is dead, which upsets Andy, as he becomes inquisitive. Fred and Renee leave quickly and have a small fight on the ride home.
In another VHS tape, Fred sees images of himself with the bloody body of Renee next to their bed and then he suddenly finds himself in an interrogation room where the cops from earlier are angry at him and calling him a “killer.” Tried and convicted off camera, Fred is sentenced to death row. But while in his cell, he begins to have major headaches and balance issues but can’t sleep. The prison physician gives him medication to help him sleep but his headaches get worse and even though he tells Guard Henry (Henry Rollins), nothing is done.
The next morning on inmate check, Guard Johnny Mack (Jack Kehlar) is confused because instead of Fred, there is a young man, Pete Dayton (Balthazaar Getty), in the cell confused as the prison officials. With no explanation of how or why he’s there, Pete is released into the custody of his parents, Bill and Candace Dayton (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler). We know little of Pete just that he’s had some minor run-ins with the law and has a strained relationship with his girlfriend, Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner).
He works as a mechanic at a major auto repair shop in a L.A. suburb managed by Arnie (Richard Pryor in his final movie role) and quite possibly owned as a front by local mob boss Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). Despite his nice behavior toward Pete who Eddy says is one of the best mechanics around, Eddy is quick to anger when he loses it on a rude motorist who he runs off the road and his henchmen assault. Pete witnesses this.
Later, Eddy drops off a car that Pete says will be fixed by the end of the day, but when a young blonde woman, Alice Wakefield (Arquette again), shows up to pick it up, she and Pete have an attraction and they begin a love affair. Two other detectives are tracking Pete at his work and home and one of them calls Eddy by a different name – Laurent. Alice explains that Eddy/Laurent forced her to appear in porn videos. He earlier offers Pete a porno video which Pete refuses.
Pete and Alice devise a plan to rob Andy and leave town. But when the plan goes wrong, Andy dies anyway by accident, Pete notices a photo of both Renee and Alice with Eddy/Laurent and Andy. There’s also a big screen video of Alice having sex. However, with the police arrive at Andy’s, they only see Renee in the photo. And one of the cops comments, “There’s no such thing as a bad coincidence.”
It’s here where I think the movie becomes more obvious of what’s going on. Renee was making porno movies while Fred was performing at the venues, which explains how she knew Andy. The Mystery Man is actually Fred’s pscyhe, the evil that resides in him. Leaving town, Pete and Alice have sex in the desert near an isolated cabin. Alice tells him “You’ll never have me” before leaving to walk into the cabin.
At this point, Pete turns back into Fred. My theory is Pete was Fred’s fantasy of the man who would attract Renee/Alice. Fred and Renee have sex early in the movie but she doesn’t seem as passionate about it as she does with Pete. It’s possible Fred discovered the porno tapes and saw Renee/Alice becoming more involved and turned on with strangers than her own husband.
Fred only finds the Mystery Man in the cabin who tells him that Alice is only Renee. After being chased by the man who holds a video camcorder, Fred drives to a Lost Highway Hotel where he finds Mr. Eddy having sex with Renee. Fred kidnaps him and takes him away from the hotel slitting his throat out in the desert and then the Man shoots Eddy/Laurent dead. Then, Fred drives to his home and delivers the same message that he received at the beginning that Dick Laurent is dead. Then the police, who have just arrived to question Fred as they have discovered Andy’s body, begin to chase Fred as he flews in Eddy’s car.
As he leads them on a chase through the desert, Fred starts to convulse and scream as we hear electric noises and then nothing as the movie ends with images headlights just beaming on the roadway. While this may leave some viewers to wonder what all happened, remember what Fred told the police. He likes to remember things his way. I think he murdered Andy, Eddy/Laurent and Renee before leading police on a chase. The VHS tapes, which porno were commonly released on at the time, are clue of Renee’s private life. So in a way, his mind portrayed these images as Fred say himself as Renee’s killer.
In prison, his guilt kept him away until the physician gave him pills to sleep. So, he envisioned a different fantasy of himself as Pete. It’s possible that Fred chose Pete to be a mechanic because to him it’s the farthest thing from being a professional musician. However, bits and pieces of Fred’s world keep coming into Pete’s as another mechanic, Phil (Jack Nance) listens to some music featuring a set Fred played earlier.
Pete’s last name is Dayton. It’s possible that Fred grew up in Dayton, Ohio or once played a gig there and may have even seen people similar to the ones that are in Pete’s life. It’s possible Sheila was actually a former girlfriend of Fred’s when he was younger and the guilt that he chose Renee later discovering what her life was like. In the end, Fred couldn’t escape his love for Renee so he envisioned her as Alice but yet Alice acted just as bad as Renee. The final scene of Fred convulsing I think is him dying in the electric chair. While the crime of one spousal murder is bad enough, Fred killing three people would warrant the death penalty.
Now, speaking of what I mentioned above. The cast is made of of people who themselves have some darkness. First off, Getty’s father was John Paul Getty III, who was kidnapped in 1973 while living in Rome and J. Paul Getty, his grandfather, refused to the pay the multi-million dollar ransom at first. Blake would find himself in the years following the movie’s release accused of the murder of his estranged wife, Bonny Lee Blakely. He was later tried and acquitted of the murder but found responsible in the civil case. The similarities to the O.J. Simpson murder case is odd because Lynch has said that he was inspired by the trial to write the script. But even before Blakely’s murder, Blake had been part of the Our Gang/Little Rascals which already had a “curse” connected to the actors, most famously with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer being fatally shot over a debt.
This would be Blake’s last movie as well as Pryor’s who’s mutliple scleroris is very evident in his two scenes where he struggles to speak and is in a motorized cart. Pryor would famously try to commit suicide by setting himself on fire in the early 1980s as he was struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction. Massee would find himself embroiled in a controversy in 1993 on the set of The Crow as his character was supposed to shoot the character Brandon Lee with a real gun loaded with blanks. Since the production used real bullets to make dummy bullets with the gunpowder removed but not the primer, a round was discharged into the barrel of the revolver. However, the weapon wasn’t properly checked both times it was used, leading to the force from a blank being discharged to propel the round in the barrel toward Lee’s body. Massee was cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation.
Other cast members such as Busey had reportedly suffered brain damage from a motorcycle accident and now charged with sexual assault. Even Nance, who is a regular of Lynch’s movies, suffered a family tragedy when his wife, Kelly Jean Van Dyke (daugher of Jerry and niece of Dick) committed suicide in 1991 They had only meen married less than a year and had met at rehab where they were dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. Van Dyke had previous worked in the porn industry.
But then there’s Wagner, who’s the daughter of Richard Gregson and Natalie Wood. Wood died at the age of 43 in a drowing off the coast of Catalina Island. The drowning has always been a mystery with some people suspecting Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, as a person of interest. All these connections give Lost Highway a more haunting look at southern California and the world of celebrity and stardom. Eddy/Laurent and Andy represent the stereotype of the sleazy producers.
It’s quite possible Lynch cast many of the actors based solely on their past to give the movie some time of edge going in. Loggia was cast because Lynch said he felt frightened by the actor following casting of Blue Velvet where Loggia had arrived to audition for the role that went to Dennis Hopper. Through some breakdown in communication, Loggia waited longer than he should have and didn’t like that no one had told him the role had already been cast so he approached Lynch in an angry manner. Lynch said this interaction stuck with him for 10 years so that’s why he wanted Loggia for the role.
Naturally, like all movies, it divided critics with Siskel and Ebert giving it “Two Thumbs Down” which was used in the marketing. It currently has a 67 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com based on 51 reviews. More contemporary reviews are positive now than they were 25 years ago. I talked with someone in college who called it “total porn” with all the sex scenes.
What is the movie, really? Lynch never really discusses his movies leaving it up the viewers to make the decisions for themselves. At the heart, I think it’s about the duality of the L.A. world where people like Fred and Renee go to fancy parties and live in nice homes, while Pete and his friends live in the sticks and hang out at the bowling alley. Pete’s association with Mr. Eddy and Alice is dangerous but sometimes people will overlook things just to be associated with someone bigger.
What do you think? Please comment.