The story begins when Jeffrey (MacLachlan) returns home to Lumberton, North Carolina, after his father suffers a stroke, and finds a severed human ear in a nearby field. The seeming indifference of the police prompts him to investigate on his own. Using information provided by Sandy (Laura Dern), a detective's daughter, Jeffrey seeks out sultry lounge singer Dorothy (Rossellini), the victim of sexual blackmail by psychotic criminal Frank Booth (Hopper), who has kidnapped her husband and son. Though Jeffrey is drawn to Sandy, he's also attracted to the tortured Dorothy, leading to a descent into the town's strange, seedy underworld (and a ruthless, bizarre beating from Booth). Through Jeffrey's dogged interference, Booth is ultimately brought to justice, and the town returns to "normal."
Location as character: Though it takes place in Lumberton, 'Blue Velvet' was shot on location in Wilmington, North Carolina. In the film, Dorothy lives in the ominous-looking Deep River Apartments, actually the city's Carolina Apartments, located at 420 Market Street. (The apartment's interiors were shot on a sound stage at Wilmington's EUE/Screen Gems studios.) The six-story brick building, bedecked with old fire escapes, has a slightly spooky, noir-ish quality; very appropriate for the disturbing events that take place there. Jeffrey first visits Dorothy's apartment disguised as an exterminator, steals the key, and later sneaks back to snoop. This is when he (and we) witness the film's most disturbing scene as a crazed Frank brutalizes Dorothy. The building's outside stairwell, front entrance and facade are all featured prominently throughout the movie, especially in scenes leading up to Jeffrey's final confrontation with Frank.
Historical significance: The Carolina Apartments were built in the early 1900s by architect Robert Louis Shape, who was inspired by apartment buildings lining New York City's Fifth Avenue. (Shape supervised construction of the iconic New York Stock Exchange Building and his architectural firm would subsequently build several other notable structures in the city and on Long island.) The Carolina was also a filming location for crime thrillers 'The Bedroom Window' (1987) and 'Track Down' (aka 'Takedown,' 2000), as well as several television shows.
Fun fact: Though Vallens' apartment is supposed to be on the seventh floor, the actual Carolina Apartments are only six stories high.
Directions: By car from Wilmington international Airport: head west on Airport Blvd. toward Gardner Rd.; turn left at N 23rd St.; turn right to merge onto US-74 W/Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy.; continue straight onto N 3rd St./NE Cape Fear Bridge; continue to follow N 3rd St.; turn left at Market St; the Carolina Apartments are on the right.
Visitor Info: The building is a private residence, so it's not generally open to visitors. However, every November Wilmington hosts the Cucalorus Film Festival; as part of this year's festivities (Nov. 11 – 14) , local filmmaker Benedict Fancy will host tours of 'Blue Velvet' filming locations, including the Carolina Apartments.