Macabre…ish Horror Review: Naked Lunch




Naked Lunch, 1991/ 1 hr 55 min



In New York City, 1953, an exterminator William Lee (Peter Weller), discovers his wife, Joan (Judy Davis), is using his pesticides as a recreational drug, when on a job he runs out of roach powder.


A writer friend suggests giving it up to start writing again. The offer is to come back and write porn, a novel per week at a rate of $125. These friends, Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelniker), tip him off to his wife’s substance abuse problem. And then he walks in on her shooting up the bug powder into her chest. He warns her to stop. But she tells him he should try it, they all have.


Meanwhile, back at work they are talking about changing up pesticides. But then Bill is arrested for possession of narcotics after being found with the pesticides on him.


During the interrogation, the cops present a massive beetle and the bug says that he’s set all this up and he’s his case agent. Bill begins to believe that he is a spy. His supposed spy boss is this giant talking beetle who insists his wife, Joan is herself an agent and not human. The mission is to kill Joan who is supposedly an agent of an organization known as Interzone Inc.


Bill’s reaction is to take off his shoe and crush the giant beetle to death.


After returning home, he tells Joan they have to get out of town. But she’s only concerned with whether or not he has any bug powder.


Later, he goes to a doctor to get something to wean off of the drug made from centipede. When Bill returns home later, he finds his friends, Martin reading out loud and Hank, having sex with his wife. Bill ends up killing his wife while trying to shoot a glass she placed on her head.


Realizing what he’s done, he flees to Interzone, located in North Africa at the suggestion of a giant alien in a gay bar. On his way out of town he discovers he’s a wanted man from his friend Martin. But Bill responds like a spy in deep cover, telling his concerned friend that he will send him written reports.


Bill, deep in his altered state, discovers his typewriter has gained consciousness and is now a talking insect. It tells him to find Dr. Benway and he has to seduce a woman who is his wife’s doppelgänger, Joan Frost.


He concludes that Dr. Benway (Roy Schneider) is a narcotics manufacturer who makes drugs from the innards of giant centipedes called Black Meat.


After more bizarre series of events that include his talking insect typewriter attacking and killing another typewriter, while announcing, it too is an undercover agent.


And Dr. Benway and an undercover centipede masquerading as a gay Swiss man, Yves Cloquet (Julian Sands), Bill runs away with Joan Frost and her end comes just as his wife’s did, another failed William Tell impersonation.


Oh and the ‘reports’ he’s been sending back to his friend, they’ve been sent to a publisher who is very impressed with his work. His friends think he uses drugs and vanishes as part of his creative process. Bill thinks he’s in survival mode and running for his life.


He later realizes that he has done all of this and ended up a writer after all.



This movie, based on a novel by William S. Burroughs and directed by David Cronenberg, is a dizzying fever dream. It is filled with strange characters (human, insect and alien) with drug fueled twists and turns that becomes more and more queer, not sexually just environmentally. Great cast, some adult scenes and some graphic scenes. 


At every turn I never knew what might be coming next. It felt like everyone in the movie knows a secret that no one else knows and Bill just seems to be a totally reactionary character who’s come to terms with his hallucinations. If you don’t already like Cronenberg’s work, you may not like this. But if you’re up for something different and weird, give it a shot! You’ll either love it or hate it. Enjoy!!


Also in this is Julian Richings, Louis Ferreira, Ian Holm (Tom Frost), Peter Boretski (creatures)