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I spent years of my life looking over my shoulder for Killer BOB. Granted, I watched Twin Peaks at the tender age of five as it originally aired (I know, I know) but that character had long lasting psychological impacts on me. Even at the age of 18, when I had my first re-watch of the series, I would keep the doors closed in my apartment out of fear that BOB might be in another room, watching me. It happened to me a few months ago as well, leaving my kitchen recently, turning off lights when that feeling of chills went down my spine. Was Killer BOB here?
I’m far from the only person I know that’s had a multi-decade fear of this fictional character. For a large number of Twin Peaks fans, my experiences are relatable. What exactly makes Killer BOB, or BOB as he’s more frequently called, so scary and that fear so long lasting? In this essay, I’ll be looking at that question as well as some of the mythology surrounding the character, and finally, examining the long running question of whether BOB was in fact a demon or simply, “the evil that men do”.
The Face of Fear
What exactly makes BOB so scary? There have been countless horror icons that don’t hold a candle to BOB in the fear department. Examining why BOB is able to induce such strong feelings of fright is a multilayered endeavor. His denim on denim look gives the character a sense of normality, almost as if he could’ve been the guy next door. There’s always something more scary about a villain that has a sense of relatability, the devil under your nose instead of the one you don’t quite believe in.
With BOB, the animalistic body movements help make him so distinctive. He doesn’t move like a human but rather, like an animal in the wild stalking his prey. Confident yet sadistic and his only goals are self motivated, BOB operates like a cold blooded predator. When you have a character who looks like someone you could theoretically know but moves like something not human, it creates a mental dilemma of sorts, an off balanced feeling. That dichotomy becomes more important as we continue to dive into the character.
BOB is presented to us as a demon, an other worldly monster who is hellbent on killing. There is something inherently more scary to many people about a demon than other supernatural entities because of both religious and folklore connections. The concept of a demon feels more believable, more realistic than some other form of “monster”. The classification of demon lends a certain sense of credibility to the fact that Killer BOB could in fact walk among us.
In addition to everything I’ve listed prior, Killer BOB is terrifying because of the sexual and ritualistic nature of his violence. He’s a rapist, a molester of children additionally, and his murders end the same; with the victim’s skull being bashed in, a letter from his name inserted under a fingernail of the victim and then lastly, the victims are wrapped in plastic and discarded into the water. The actions and methods of Killer BOB come across more like a serial killer you would be watching a documentary on rather than something natural. Much like with his look, BOB’s actions hit close to home. He’s more the guy a woman wants to avoid in a dark parking lot than a horror movie villain. This sense of realness, along with everything else mentioned, makes Killer BOB a truly terrifying villain.
The Evil That Men Do
There has long been a debate as to whether BOB was actually a demon possessing Leland Palmer or if BOB was simply a name and a persona Leland used when he gave into his darkest of impulses. Albert Rosenfeld famously coined the term, “Maybe that’s all BOB is, the evil that men do”, after Leland Palmer’s death in Twin Peaks Season 2. While the television series left things ambiguous, the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me pointed the finger squarely at Leland, never wavering in its position of Leland’s guilt. For many, this was the conclusion they felt gave Laura Palmer’s story the most power. A large number of victims of child molestation are victimized by adults in their life and certainly not by supernatural demons. By giving Laura’s story that sense of realness, her story became one of empowerment for victims everywhere. Her pain began to give a voice to the voiceless. Killer BOB was the mask her father wore for both of their benefit. Young Laura wasn’t ready to know the truth about who was harming her. She had to work to get to a place of wanting to know who was behind the mask. For Leland, hiding behind the persona of BOB allowed him to lead the double life he wanted. He could be the town’s lovable lawyer by day and sexual predator by night. Killer BOB was wish fulfillment, allowing Leland to lead the double life he wanted.
If we are to stick with this theory, we should look no further than David Lynch’s next feature film, Lost Highway, for further proof. A man commits an act so violent and disturbing that he mentally creates an alternate universe for himself, in some kind of fugue state, to emotionally cope with the things he’s done. Using the logic Lost Highway provided us, one could surmise that perhaps before Teresa Banks and before Leland began molesting his daughter at the age of twelve, there was another victim. Only with this victim, there was no Killer BOB persona. There was only Leland and giving into his darkest impulses was simply too much to bear. He needed a mask. He needed a way to cope with the pain some part of him wanted to inflict upon others. Thus, the creation of Killer BOB.
While that is all theoretical and in no way can be expressed as any kind of fact, we do know that Lynch as a filmmaker carries ideas over from one project to the next, sometimes longer, and allows these ideas to really develop over time. Was there any connection between Leland / BOB and Fred Madison / Pete Dayton? That is all up for debate but if nothing else, makes for good conversation. That being said, we can’t look at the premise that BOB is just the evil that men do without looking at the other possibility…
Killer Bob: The Demon
There are an equal number of Twin Peaks fans who believe that Killer BOB was an inhabiting spirit as that believe that he was a device created by Leland. Those that believe that BOB was in fact an entity of his own point to his appearance after Josie’s death, his relationships with his fellow Black Lodge denizens and his inclusion in Twin Peaks Season 3.
For me, as a person who studies Twin Peaks, I’ve always been fascinated by the power dynamics within the Black Lodge. I would stop short of saying there’s a hierarchy of any kind but there are power struggles. As noted by Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Killer BOB was getting stronger. He was getting more aggressive and more bold. He wanted Laura to kill for him but he was also feeding off her fear and pain. BOB was getting bold, doing things like showing up during the daytime when anyone could’ve seen him. He tormented Laura while she sat on the couch with Harold Smith. He was visiting Laura more and more frequently, feeding more off each visit, gaining more and more momentum. That was, until he was stopped dead in his tracks by MIKE / Phillip Gerrard.
Make no mistake about it, MIKE’s warning to Laura at the gas station and then appearing right before her death with the Ring were not acts of kindness. There was nothing good natured about this. MIKE, much like The Little Man From Another Place, wanted to keep BOB in check. They wanted to slow his momentum, keep him from getting too powerful. They didn’t want BOB to run free but rather to be a part of the Black Lodge’s natural order. These beings all had roles to play and BOB was the “hunter” of the group. He brought back the garmonbozia, but for TLMFAP and MIKE, their job was to make sure BOB wasn’t keeping it all for himself. They wanted their cut. BOB’s momentum was greatly reduced after Laura took the Ring and we would see Killer BOB all throughout Seasons 1 and 2 fighting to gain that momentum back, until he finally “broke free” in the cliffhanger finale of Season 2. Look no further than Season 3’s mysterious caller telling Mr. C that they wanted BOB back home for proof of BOB’s absence from the Lodge throwing off the dynamics of the underworld.
So what does this have to do with the “is BOB real or not” debate? A lot. It establishes that Killer BOB was a fleshed out character with his own motives and issues, separate of the Palmers. That he was more than just a mask for Leland and Laura, even if he did play that role in their abuser/victim relationship. Killer BOB was an independent entity, eager for fun and capable of causing a lot of havoc for both humans and those on the same spiritual plane as him.
One Plus One Doesn’t Equal Two?
Over time, my opinions on Killer BOB and the never ending debate about whether he or Leland should shoulder the blame has shifted. In my younger years, I firmly blamed Killer BOB. It was almost too devastating to imagine that a father could do these things to a daughter. Then, as I got older, I embraced that at the heart of this story was a tale of incest and the trauma it caused this teenage girl. I began to embrace how bold it was of Lynch and Frost to tell this tale, despite how difficult it was to look at, and began to really see BOB as more of a symbol than anything. Now, with some time removed (and a third season of material to study), my understanding has shifted again. Where I’m at today is that this debate doesn’t actually need to exist because both possibilities can be simultaneously true.
Leland is not absolved of his guilt. Fire Walk With Me made it clear that he knew what he was doing. This is not a case of Killer BOB taking over against Leland’s will and Leland having no say in the matter. Moments before Laura’s death, Leland says to her “I thought you knew it was me” and then Killer BOB says “But you knew it was me”. There is a tandem nature to the violence here, a mutually beneficial relationship where both Leland and BOB are getting something out of it. Leland got to act out his darkest desires with help from BOB, who got to hurt and run free. BOB wanted Laura because she could bring him more people to hurt. She could bring him men and women, young and old and his appetite would be fed while she repeated the cycles of abuse afflicted upon her.
The conclusions I’ve reached over time really boil down to both sides of the debate being right to some extent. Killer BOB is more than just “the evil that men do” but rather, a manipulative force that preys upon the evil that men (or women) want to do. BOB’s vessels aren’t without choice though and are ultimately just as much to blame as him. It’s almost like saying that the voices in our head that encourage us to do wrong belong to someone else and are capable of a lot of pain and suffering. Which is yet another reason why Killer BOB is such a haunting and terrifying character whose on-screen legacy will never fade.