HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Four – 10/04/18

10/04 – 1990: JACOB’S LADDER

 

I was a pretty big Adrian Lyne fan when JACOB’S LADDER came out. I mean, come on! FOXES, FLASHDANCE, FATAL ATTRACTION, NINE AND A HALF WEEKS.  If anyone had the kind of eccentric visual flair that would translate very well into horror, it would be him. Plus, the script was by BRUCE JOEL RUBIN (BRAINSTORM, GHOST, DEADLY FRIEND). How could I not anticipate this movie?

Well, anticipate it, I did.  And hate it, I did, too (sorry for the “Yoda-isms”). But the strong emotions that it evoked in me and the audience I saw it with – who were about as pissed-off as I was by the ending – may have been Lyne’s intention all along. It just took me a decade or two to realize that. And now I kind of see it in a different light than before, because…why? I can relate to it better, now that time has passed, and I have a bit more life experience under my belt? Maybe.  But enough about me. The movie is what’s important here, and if you’ve never seen it before, it’s one of those where you owe yourself the chance to start it at the very least.  As with any cinema, you can always bail if you’re not into it.

TIM ROBBINS plays Jacob Singer, a Vietnam vet affected by a pretty severe case of a kind of dissociative disorder. In English, that means he has an extreme problem keeping fantasies, nightmares and delusions separated from reality, and that’s if he can keep track of when and where they happened.  Or even if they happened to him at all.

He may be back ‘in country’, but it doesn’t appear that he came back alone, as he is constantly bombarded with horrific visions and images that only he is able to see. He literally brought his demons back from the war with him, and they seem ready to skin him alive…and do things much, much worse than that.

Only two seemingly bright spots in his life give him a reason not to go completely fucking looney tunes: his sympathetic girlfriend, Jezzie (ELIZABETH PENA) and a good friend who’s also his “doctor”, Louis (DANNY AIELLO.)

It seems that the harder Jacob tries to run from the apparitions pursuing him, (in a series of eerily shot, terrifying set-pieces), the more intense and terrifying his experiences become, leading to a climax where…well, I won’t say here, but I will give you a hint: think back to when you studied Ambrose Bierce in high school English. And for you more literate types, that is one helluva huge spoiler.

JACOB’S LADDER was, to my knowledge, my first exposure to the concept of an ‘unreliable narrator’, where the lead character you’re invested in either purposefully, or through no fault of his or her own, are caught up in circumstances that convince you that one thing is happening, until you find out at the end that everything you thought you knew was dead wrong.  Which explained the pissed-off audience.  And little did I know – it wouldn’t be the last time I encountered this kind of thing in a film, especially a horror film.

But overall, Lyne, the cheeky bastard, did a splendid job of mind-fucking his viewers, as he should have, following the Rubin script. And it is pretty much one of Tim Robbins’ best performances.  Not to mention that the striking and disorienting special visual FX were the kind of images that no one had really seen at that time – not outside of a weird MTV video, anyway. Now, it’s par for the course for many horror films, and usually considered “tried-and-true.” Whether or not I think it’s Lyne’s best work is irrelevant now.  When people ask about good horror films with a Vietnam theme, I always mention JACOB’S LADDER in the same breath as Bob Clark’s groundbreaking cult classic, DEATHDREAM, or even “ANTHONY M. DAWSON’S” CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE.


Posted by Samuel Glass

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