“If you’re frightened of dying, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.”
I’m of the opinion that the less you know about Jacob’s Ladder beforehand, the better the initial experience will be. Full of metaphor, overt spiritual themes and clever yet mildly disturbing visual effects, this psychological horror film by British director Adrian Lyne takes you through the mind of former Vietnam soldier Jacob Singer, on a quest to discover the origins of his weird visions.
The film feels drug-induced in a sense, and this is actually a core plot point, but in the end there’s a touching story related to love, loss and the importance of family to be found here if given the chance. Like many other horror films, though, Jacob’s Ladder suffers from the stigma attached to its genre; some audiences shy away because it might be ‘too scary’ for them, while others become concerned that the horrific images it portrays are somehow real (the Train Pulling into a Station effect seemingly still exists*).
But peering directly into the human soul is often terrifying, and this is what Jacob’s Ladder does. I like the film most of all for the inspiration its imagery provided to the survival horror genre and one of my favourite video games, Silent Hill (1999). Check it out, if your tender nerves are up to the task.
*I’m referring here to the classic 1895 French documentary film, which featured a train coming towards the screen and terrifying audiences in the process, many of whom weren’t familiar with this new visual mode of storytelling. They reportedly screamed, got up from their seats and ran away, as the train came ‘towards them’. No doubt some would have been scarred for life and subsequently labelled the cinema as an evil place of sorcery…