"Uh, Mr. Robbins. Could you not be so blurry for just a second?"
War is Hell. Everything about war is Hell. The build up, the politics, the violence, the stress, the heartbreak, and the aftermath are all terrible and scarring. I've reviewed a few war-based horror movies, but the subgenre isn't particularly popular. There are plenty of war movies, some of the best ever made. Same with horror. But for whatever reason, the two rarely meet and when they do it's rather disappointing. Maybe horror movies don't have the proper budget to make a full-blown war movie. Maybe by injecting things like supernatural elements into the story take away from the horrors of war. Either way, most war-based horror movies leave a lot to be desired. Most, but not this one.
Jacob's Ladder is a 1990 psychological horror movie starring Tim Robbins as Vietnam veteran Jacob Singer. Jacob suffers a flashback from the war after falling asleep on the subway. When he gets off at his stop, he realizes he is on the wrong side of the platform and has to cross over the tracks. He is almost hit by a subway and when he looks into the last car, a faceless monster is looking back at him. He tries to ignore the incident and go about his life as a mailman, living in a small apartment in Brooklyn with his girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena, batteries not included, Rush Hour). Jacob's ex-wife Sarah sent over a bunch of his old pictures, including one of his son Gabe (Macaulay Culkin, Home Alone, My Girl), who died in an accident. His chiropractor Louie (Danny Aiello, Do The Right Thing, The Godfather Part II) gives him some advice about death and acceptance. He says that “if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.” As the days go by, Jacob's hallucinations begin to intensify as hideous monsters begin to appear. During a party, he sees Jezzie dancing and appears to turn into a monster herself. He contracts a fever and has hallucinations of his ex wife and kids. As the halluciations become more bizarre and terrifying, Jacob's old army buddy Paul (Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity, Constantine) asks to meet with him. Paul has also been suffering from hallucinations and is convinced that he is being followed. When they part ways, Paul's car blows up. Jacob is saved by a man in glasses whom he has repeatedly seen in recent days. At Paul's funeral, Jacob meets with the rest of his Army friends (Ving Rhames, Eriq La Salle, Anthony Alessandro) who confirm his suspicions: they all suffer from hallucinations and the army may be the cause of them. The reach out to a lawyer named Geary (Jason Alexander, Seinfeld, Pretty Woman) to see if they have a case, but the rest of the soldiers are threatened into backing out. Jacob is grabbed by men in a car and threatened to stay quite, but he manages to escape. After more hallucinations, he meets with the man with glasses, a former army chemist named Michael Newman (Matt Craven, Crimson Tide, Disturbia). Newman tells Jacob that he developed a chemical called “The Ladder” that would increase aggression in soldiers. Jacob and his group were administered the drug, turning them into vicious killers, but also leaving them with horrible side effects. With the hallucinations becoming unbearable, will Jacob be able to find stop The Ladder from destroying his mind?
"Aw, jeez. Did I drink Peppermint Schnapps again?"
I can't remember the last time I saw a good reality-warping horror movie like Jacob's Ladder. Like most movies that blur the lines of reality, Jacob's Ladder constantly makes you question what you are seeing. Did that person not have a face? Is that a giant tail? Did what just happen really happen or is what's happening now really happening. This happens quite frequently throughout the movie and it's a lot to wrap your head around. Why there is an element of confusion and deflection, this all adds to the overall sense of horror and terror which grows as the movie progresses. The hallucinations start off relatively small and build thanks to some truly scary looking monsters. In fact, they're are so scary, they were actually the inspiration for the monsters in the Silent Hill video game series. I felt that the various featureless monsters were the scariest. There was something primal and unnatural to them that just makes the audience feel uncomfortable.
There is a strong sense of mystery and suspense in the movie, which compels the audience to push onward, much like Jacob in search of the truth. We never quite not what is real or not, and even when the answers are finally revealed, the audience still not 100% convinced. Director Adrian Layne (Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal) manages to impress, especially since Jacob's Ladder is so different from everything else he worked on. Tim Robbins is very good as Jacob, serving as a good avatar for the audience. We are just as lost as he is and are searching for the truth. The movie has an impressive supporting cast featuring many well known actors. The list includes Danny Aiello, Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander, Eriq La Salle, a young Macaulay Culkin, and even a young Lewis Black in a “blink and you'll miss it” moment. There is a good amount of action and violence throughout the movie, keeping people interested when the hallucinations get to be too confusing. There is a good balance between quite scenes and harsh ones. The scenes during the Vietnam War look good, almost worthy of being in a movie like Hamburger Hill or even Platoon.
Your eyes are a beautiful shade of...uh...flesh
Jacob's Ladder is an intensive thrill ride that has plenty of action and even more scares. The monsters are quite unsettling while never being too “in your face” about scaring you. We are never sure what is real and what is not, making the movie that much more suspenseful. There is a good mystery throughout which keeps the audience interested. Both Tim Robbins and Elizabeth Pena are very good and it's fun to see who pops up in the supporting cast. There is some social commentary in the movie, questioning the government and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are no massive revelations. Jacob's Ladder is a good movie if you're in need of a strange mystery and a seriously good freakout.