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Jacob's Ladder (Arrow Recommends)

Jacob's Ladder (Arrow Recommends)
09.25.2017by: The Arrow
10 10


"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: A Vietnam Vet turned postal worker (Tim Robbins) begins to doubt his sanity when he starts seeing frightening entities pop out of the woodwork. What is going on? Who can he trust? Jump on this ladder!

“The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. " - Louis

LOWDOWN: Many of screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin’s scripts have dealt with death or/and the afterlife: Brainstorm (1983), Deadly Friend (1986), Ghost (1990) and his directorial effort My Life (1993) come to mind but my favorite of his is without a doubt the 1990 horror charged emotional juggernaut JACOBS LADDER (WATCH IT HERE).

As directed by 80’s-90’s “it-boy” Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks and his big hit Fatal Attraction); the picture tanked at the box office upon its initial release but went on to find its audience on VHS, TV and on disk. As it should! It was not only ahead of its time in terms of the type of cinematic offering it was (Shyamalan wouldn’t have career without JACOB’S LADDER having paved the way) but lots of its macabre iconography also would up inspiring many of the horror films that followed (House on a Haunted Hill for example over-killed the shaky head gag).

It’s funny because for so long there have been countless debates as to what was TRULY going on in the picture (for those who don’t know, it's a tad of a mind-f*ck). But personally, I never felt too confused about it all and I guess I have Catholic school to thank for that – cause the title alone pointed me in the right direction. The term JACOB’S LADDER is actually from a passage in the Bible (Genesis 28:10) that sees a man named Jacob have a vision/dream of a ladder (or a staircase) that connects earth to heaven. All I'll say! So with that in my back pocket, I had an inkling of what to look for in the film. With that stabbed, I definitely wasn’t prepared at how emotionally stirring the ride would be and at the amount of layers it would Frisbee my way. 

JACOB’S LADDER was a grim and gloomy piece on every echelon. The look of the picture was grey, the varied surroundings decrepit (easily the most shitastic looking subway station ever put on film), there was a constant aura of dread & oppressiveness dripping off every frame and our lead character was carrying a f*ck load of demons/pain on his shoulders. Heavy f-ing stuff! As the clock ticked forward and the revelations were nade dropped, I wasn’t always 100% on where I was, what was the present, what was the past, what was real or what was in Jacob’s minds eye, and that for me was part of the magic of the movie. Every time I see the damn thing I notice something new, make further decisions as to the happenings and get more out of it. Yup, it just keeps on giving! 

Horror wise; the visions/creatures/hallucinations at play were striking in concept (some of them inspired by Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs with an obvious one being his “Man with No Legs” shot) and impactful in Gothic execution. Kudos to Mr. Lyne for being adamant in having all of the SFX done live/in camera with ZERO post-production tweaks done on them what so ever. It gave the macabre elements an added sense of realness hence upping their power when they whip-lashed onscreen. It also helped matters that Adrian Lyne was on fire! The lad has always had a keen eye in terms of visuals and here was no exception. His shot compositions were novel, his used of slow motion and silence ingenious while his often unorthodox rhythm/timing gave the whole a distinctive aura. Now THIS is filmmaking!

The cherry on top was the well-rounded and visceral performance by Tim Robbins. This had to be one of his most complete and powerful showcases (right alongside his turn in The Shawshank Redemption). The lad hit a myriad of notes and nailed them all with gusto. He was well supported by the likes of Matt Craven, Elizabeth Pena, and the GREAT Danny Aiello. NOTE: Look out for Jason Alexander aka George Costanza playing a lawyer that acts a lot like George Costanza but with more hair. END OF NOTE. Add to all that goodness a handful of tear jerking moments, a powerful score by Maurice Jarre, a bold sensuality and an ending that never failed to gut-punch me and you get masterpiece in the genre, one that has and keeps on surviving the test of time.

Anything negative to spew? Nope! Sure having Macaulay Culkin be the kid wasn't ideal cause he’s the “Home Alone” brat for me. But not the movie’s fault, they cast him before he became famous. My only beef would be that I have yet to digest a Director’s Cut. You see, Lyne snipped 20 minutes out after a Test Screening baffled the duh audience. Not sure if he felt it was the right thing to do or the Studio leaned in on him to do so, but either way, having seen 3 of the 4 scenes that were cut out (they are on the Blu-Ray as an extra), my instinct tells me that they would work wonders reintegrated into the whole of the narrative. Somebody, make it happen! PLEASE!  

In closing; JACOB’S LADDER will mean diverse things to different people as it is somewhat left open to interpretation. Although, as I mentioned, it is a very bleak experience, for me, underneath all of that darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. Basically: you can always make peace with everything, death included, by “letting go”. Well that’s my take anyways. If you’ve never seen this movie, I strongly urge you to give it a watch, if you have seen it, well, Halloween is around the corner, ideal timing for a re-visit. 

PS: I just found out that there’s actually a remake of Jacob’s Ladder (they are in Post right now) on the way. It’s directed by David M. Rosenthal (The Perfect Guy), was re-written by Jake Wade Wall (The Hitcher remake) and Michael Ealy stars as Jacob. Word has is that they are taking the same premise but leaning more towards action than horror. Well…  I can tell you right now that I’ll never see it and I may buy the Blu Ray just to have the satisfaction of throwing it in the trash. This has disaster written all over it. Sigh...

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