Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
(18) Running time: 113 minutes
Director: Adrian Lyne
Writer: Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Whenever i hear the song “wait a minute Mr Postman” an image of Tim Robbins’ Jacob Singer pops into my head: casually strolling home from work as a group of black women sing the song to him. He laughs with them and seems happy. Suddenly, on a quiet back alley road a man jumps out from way back and screams “LOOK OUT!!!” and a car chases Singer as he swerves to get away, eventually jumping into the gutter. As the car speeds past, an image of some demonic figure in the passenger seat growls, and as we see the car speed off, the back seat passengers head is uncontrollably shaking. To say Jacob’s Ladder has scared me for life is an understatement, it fuckin petrified me!!
I have seen many mind-fuck movies, many dark movies about journeying to Hell, but never have i seen something quite like this before, or since for that matter. Jacob’s Ladder is a true, one off experience which will never be bettered. It’s the sort of film people tend to forget ever existed, however, once you mention it, the person you are talking to will turn a very pale colour and look slightly nervous “oh yes, I remember that film, scared the hell outta me!”. Damn right it does. Jacob’s Ladder is filled with the sort of imagery you would only see in nightmares, surgeons with no eyes, a thieving Santa, arms and legs splattered over hospital floors, people on subway trains with tails and receptionists with horns! Jacob’s Ladder is not a pleasant watch, and it also forces you to concentrate.
Jacob Singer is leading what he thinks is a normal life, he’s married, got a job as a postman and he’s happy. However, he keeps getting flashbacks to a horrific night in Vietnam, and he feels Demons are around every corner. It’s a film totally based on paranoia, or is it? The opening scene is one of the greatest shock openings of all time. Jacob and his army crew are having a good laugh in the woods until there’s “movement in the tree line!!!” They open fire like maniacs and what follows is a shocking, gruesome and bloody disturbing scene, what a way to open a film! Brilliant! The film moves on with Jacob’s flashbacks and visions getting more and more intense and more and more violent. His poor wife cannot understand, and in one truly disturbing moment she screams at him “Anybody in there, ANYBODY HOME?!!” As she says it, her eyes darken and it almost looks like, for an instance, she turns into a Demon.
The film is full of sudden bursts of horror. At a party, Jacob freaks out as he sees his wife dancing with a huge Demon, wrapping its tentacles around her, and after at home he burns up and almost dies. There’s the famous hospital scene where Jacob is wheeled on a hospital bed into, what would literally be described as Hell, there’s crazy people in the ceilings and body parts and blood all over the floor. This is one dark film, and it’s damn scary too. One of the few moments of hope comes from Jacob’s chiropractor, Louis, who Jacob constantly tells “you know you look like an Angel”. So the big question is, is Jacob dead??? Well, you have to see for yourself.
Jacob does eventually catch up with his old Army chums, and they believe the Army did experiments on them and they try to seek justice. All the guys are paranoid wrecks and it’s written all over their faces in some truly exceptional performances. But, as ever, Tim Robbins shines as Jacob, a mesmerising performance and so utterly convincing, it’s a top top job from Robbins. It’s also a top job from director Adrian Lyne who creates this nightmare world with ease. You are drawn in, drawn in so far as to the point of possibly questioning your own existence at times. It a master class in atmosphere, tension and a story so heavily involved you almost feel like you’re actually in it! A horrific score of haunting, deep sounding music adds to the tense atmosphere of pure dread.
Jacob’s Ladder is a nightmare, a horrific vision that is guaranteed to stay with you. It is a deeply disturbing film, full of images that won’t easily be erased. And with Tim Robbins doing such an awesome job, Jacob Singer is not a guy you will easily forget