In 1990, the question "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was on the lips of television viewers across America. Twin Peaks uncovered the horror in small-town America for two seasons before going off the air. After a disturbing prequel film, Fire Walk with Me, co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost brought the show back to television in 2017 for a mind-boggling 18-episode run.
Twin Peaks has always been a surreal blend of genres, with comedy and melodrama at the forefront, but the series fits best in the horror genre. Is Twin Peaks scary? Very much so, most often when it's not attempting a "gotcha" moment. Everything in Twin Peaks - the show and the town - is a nightmare, whether we're in the Black Lodge or One Eyed Jacks. Monsters, madness, and the unknown - it's all here in Twin Peaks.
'The Return' Introduced Judy, A Wraith-Like Monster That Rips People To Shreds
There’s an ancient evil lurking in Twin Peaks: The Return known as Judy, the female form of a demon that feasts on human suffering. The audience only meets Judy (or Joudy, as she was known in Sumerian mythology) through the form of Sarah.
Like BOB, Judy comes and goes as she pleases - but she's much more vicious. Sarah is understandably checked out through most of the series, but when she's confronted in a bar, she slashes a man's throat after removing her face to reveal a smiling set of teeth surrounded by emptiness.
Judy as an embodiment of evil never rears its head completely; she just causes pain, and viewers have to make their own sense of it. Like H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, Judy is a being whom humans can’t comprehend, placing the series firmly in the realm of cosmic horror.
Episode 8 Of 'The Return' Creates An Almost Impenetrable Nightmare
The eighth episode of The Return is a such a departure from everything else in the series that even Lynch devotees were unnerved by what they saw. The episode features a nearly 15-minute atomic explosion, dirty woodsmen, and a creature that crawls into a little girl's mouth.
According to co-creator Mark Frost, the script for the episode is only a few pages long, which means most of it is pulled from Lynch's brain. This is an episode that's never going to be understood. In 2018 Frost told Indiewire the idea behind the episode:
I had mentioned White Sands and what if something like this happened, and again it's all metaphorical, but what if something ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and opened Pandora’s Box and things unanticipated and strange came out of the box, just like in the myth... The creature we saw being born and crawling into the mouth of that young girl is the origin of the evil we've been dealing with for 27 years. All those images are described, but the way in which he brings them to life is rather sublime. It's an extraordinary hour of television in which David really stepped it up to give this incredible gravitas that you can't write.
Lynch Took The Series Into Shockingly Gory Territory With 'The Return'
The first two seasons of Twin Peaks were on ABC in the early '90s, so the bloodiest things get are Agent Cooper lying in a pool of his own blood at the beginning of Season 2. When The Return premiered on Showtime, the kid gloves were off, and Lynch brought a ruthless series of visuals to the event.
Lynch knows how to punctuate tense scenes with explosions of bloodshed, which is most apparent in an arm-wrestling sequence featuring Agent Cooper's evil doppelgänger - whom we'll just call Dark Cooper (DC). It's a nearly four-minute sequence that ends with DC punching a guy's face in, mangling his skull until he looks like a giant pucker. It's a visual that's hard to shake even years later.
On the flip side of that very intense scene is the demise of Hutch and Chantal, a pair of DC's occasional underworld associates, in episode 16. These two characters feel plucked out of a Quentin Tarantino film (specifically because they’re played by Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh), but their passings occur with a surreal sense of humor that makes the severity of it all the more unnerving.
The Final Episode Affirms That Horror Cannot Be Erased
It’s not the entities in the Black Lodge or the flourishes of savagery that are the scariest things in Twin Peaks. The final hours of the series end with the abject failure of Dale Cooper, showing that there's no way to change the past - no matter how much we may want to.
Laura was born to suffer both in the series and in a meta sense. She was created by Lynch to be a doomed blonde wrapped in plastic. Cooper can't change her demise, and watching him fail at the end of The Return is genuinely upsetting. It’s a tragic ending for a character beloved by genre fans. Coop's failure is in line with some of the great horror characters, from Doctor Frankenstein to Herbert West. In 2018, Frost explained the idea behind The Return’s emotionally wrenching finale:
The natural rounding-off point would have been Cooper braving, and you might even say tempting fate, and trying to go back and erase the original sin of the death of Laura and then you realize there's a certain amount of hubris involved in an act like that. But when you add in that theme that was so important to the Greeks, "Hey buddy don't presume that you can mess in the gods' playground." You are tempting fate. There are untold consequences that attend every act of hubris, and that's where we ended up with our ending.