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'Peaks' Preview

David Lynch’s film prequel to his hit TV series “Twin Peaks” could crash and burn

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the woods, a full 14 months after ABC pulled the plug on Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s film prequel hits 600 to 700 theaters on Aug. 28. While the director’s $9.5 million Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, about Laura Palmer’s last seven days, might well pull in good crowds during its opening week—the TV Peaks counted up to 10 million hard-core fans, after all—the international reaction has been so wildly mixed it has created doubts about Lynch’s future as a visionary genius.

Despite a smattering of applause, Fire opened largely to boos and actual nausea at the Cannes Film Festival, a response attributable to the bloody, sadomasochistic murder scene between father and daughter in the film’s finale. Some viewers reportedly couldn’t eat their post-screening dinners because of the trauma (though cuts have since been made to secure an R rating). The Cannes buzz was not only that the film was a disaster but that Lynch had hit creative bottom. The movie, wrote Variety’s critic, ”feels like Lynch treading water.” Elsewhere in France, even though Lynch has held cult status because of 1986’s Blue Velvet and 1990’s Wild at Heart, the series didn’t do well and the movie went bust.

Yet Fire is a huge hit in Japan, luring overflow crowds since opening last May, during the festival. A factor: Both Lynch and Twin Peaks have been ragingly popular there since the series came out on video, laserdisc, and pay cable last year, although it has never been aired on regular Japanese TV.

So where does that leave Peak‘s prospects in America? No one will know until Aug. 28, because the distributor, New Line Cinema, isn’t showing it to U.S. critics. The company’s marketing president says, not altogether convincingly, that reviews won’t matter. ”The interest is definitely out there,” insists Sandra Ruch, citing an extra-large print order for Fire posters from theater owners for sales to fans. A reported increase in mail-order receipts for Peaks merchandise like books and VHS tapes from Twin Peaks Press in Vancouver, Wash., would also suggest that the country is still high on the director. ”The fans are going to go, regardless,” Ruch says. ”They may hate it when they see it, but they’re not going to not go to it.”

There is some fear that the recognition factor may be weakened because many of the series’ most familiar figures (Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen) didn’t take the leap from small screen to large. But others did, including Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Ray Wise (her wacko dad, Leland), Kyle MacLachlan (Agent Dale Cooper), Catherine Coulson (the Log Lady), and vocalist Julee Cruise, along with the music of Angelo Badalamenti. And there will be ample doses of typical Lynchian fare on hand: nudity, violence, debauchery—the big three. ”I hope we don’t get creamed on the political side,” says Fire screenwriter Robert Engels. ”This is not a safe movie.”