Jacob’s Ladder

“If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away.”

The Scoop: 1990 R, directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins, Danny Aiello, and Jason Alexander

Tagline: The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer’s nightmare is that he isn’t dreaming.

Summary Capsule: A guy descends into the murky afterlife. Or he’s having an acid trip. Vote for your favorite ending now!

Justin’s Rating: Hey, Satan, paid my dues – hey, I’m in a rockin’ band

Justin’s Review: There are few greater blessings and few worse curses than being saddled with an overactive imagination. On one hand, it’s a boon to storytelling and other creative projects, and I’ve always relied on my imagination to fill in the parts of my life that are boring beyond belief (read: long meetings). On the other claw, my imagination loves for me to suffer. Ever since I was a little kid, I vividly imagined the worst, scariest things of the night that undoubtedly lurked in my basement and closets. To be honest? I’m 31 years old, and I still make sure every closet in the house is closed before bedtime.

So as the years go by, I’ve honed this unwanted power to freak myself out to greater and greater heights, and as a result, I’ve made a decision to stop feeding my brain truly freaky images that might come back to (evil laugh) haunt me. Renting Jacob’s Ladder went against this choice, especially with the same “rapid head” twitching that wigged me out in House on Haunted Hill, but these are the agonies I suffer to bring yet another cult movie to our fair domain.

Few people knew how to take or interpret Jacob’s Ladder in 1990, and while it’s gained a certain cult notoriety since then, not many more people today can shed a clear light on its proceedings. What we know is this: twitchy Vietnam soldier Jacob (Tim Robbins) experiences an “incident” in the jungle after his platoon is attacked, and they all go crazy. Or get the muchies. Flash-forwards a few years, and Jacob is a mess of a postal worker in NYC who continuously witnesses odd events, such as faceless men abducting people, demons on the subway, and New Yorkers being kind and friendly. As things get more and more surreal, Jacob is tasked for figuring out what the bloomin’ onion is going on.

It’s here that the film divides into two lengthy explanations of the weirdness. Either Jacob’s platoon was the secret test-case of a highly controversial aggression drug (nicknamed “the ladder”), or Jacob died and is in a hell of some kind. While I’m not in the business of spoiling anything for you, I will point out that the downfall of this premise is that the film can’t have it both ways: it’s either the ladder drug or an afterlife adventure. And whichever one is revealed as the “real” explanation, it makes the other viewpoint seem silly and somewhat pointless.

What is left to savor are odd, potentially frightening scenes (although this is not nearly as terrifying as some of the images that more modern horror directors have produced) that demand you disconnect from directly caring about the plot in order to feed upon the atmospheric circus. Now I’m all for Tim Robbins being slammed around by creepy demons who have nothing better to do with their daily schedule than put on a puppet show for a guy who was late delivering their mail, but I have to admit that the scares would’ve impacted me more if I had something to care about in this movie.

Therefore, I shall take this DVD and toss it to the dead girl who crawls on my ceiling at night and tell her to share it with the monster in the bathroom drain. I think they have a thing going on between them, and I’m pulling for them big-time.

“Okay, dear? When I said I needed to take a cold shower, this was NOT what I had in mind.”


  • The “Hell” sign on the subway
  • It’s the Home Alone brat!
  • He reads Dante’s Purgatorio
  • George from Seinfeld
  • All ads in the subway and Bergen Street station are anti-drug ads.
  • Jacob and his visions never appear together in the same shot.
  • Director Adrian Lyne uses a technique in which an actor is recorded waving his head around in blurred and horrific fast motion. Filmmakers have since achieved the effect by digitally removing frames from footage shot at a normal rate. The horror videogame franchise Silent Hill borrows this technique in the second, third and fourth sequels of the game, although it is not seen in the Silent Hill movie.
  • The film is also viewed by many, including the screenwriter, as a modern interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Groovy Quotes

Louis: If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth.

Army Officer: Mr. Singer. What an appropriate name for a man who can’t shut up.

Jacob: You know you look like an angel, Louie? Like an overgrown cherub. Anyone ever tell you that?

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • House on Haunted Hill
  • Silent Hill
  • The Cell


  1. “Ever since I was a little kid, I vividly imagined the worst, scariest things of the night that undoubtedly lurked in my basement and closets.”
    Oh yeah. As a teenager I would see, say, a cover for a book about a demonic scarecrow killing a summer camp full of horny kids and think “pshshsh, yeah.” Later that night I’d be in bed, awake, too terrified by the thought of marauding demon scarecrows to sleep. Wondering just how that would work. The possession, I mean. There’s no body, really. No blood, no bones, no eyes, no flesh, so…how? Would the demon…just…I don’t wanna think about that any more OH SHIT I DID MUUUUUUUMAAAAA!

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