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Jacob's Ladder (1990 film)

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Jacob's Ladder
Jacobsladderposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Produced by Alan Marshall
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Jeffrey L. Kimball
Edited by Tom Rolf
Production
company
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • November 2, 1990 (1990-11-02)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[2]
Box office $26.1 million[3]

Jacob's Ladder is a 1990 American psychological horror film directed by Adrian Lyne, produced by Alan Marshall, written by Bruce Joel Rubin and starring Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, and Danny Aiello. The film's protagonist, Jacob, is a Vietnam veteran whose experiences prior to and during the war result in strange, fragmentary visions and bizarre hallucinations that continue to haunt him. As his ordeal worsens, Jacob desperately attempts to figure out the truth.

Jacob's Ladder was made by Carolco Pictures ten years after being written by Rubin. It drew from several inspirations for its story and effects, including the short film An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and the paintings of Francis Bacon. Though only moderately successful upon release, the film garnered a cult following and became a source of influence for various other works such as the horror video game franchise Silent Hill. A remake, also titled Jacob's Ladder, is currently in production for a planned 2019 release.

Plot[edit]

On 6 October 1971, an American combat medic, Jacob Singer, is with the 1st Air Cavalry Division, deployed in a village in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, when his close-knit unit comes under sudden attack. As many of Jacob's comrades are killed or wounded, others exhibit abnormal behavior with some suffering catatonia, convulsions, and seizures. Jacob flees into the jungle, only to be bayoneted by an unseen assailant.

Jacob awakens in the New York City Subway, where an inexplicably locked subway station exit results in him almost being hit by a train. The year is 1975, he works as a postal clerk, and lives in a rundown apartment in Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Jezzie. Jacob misses his old family and experiences visions of them, especially the youngest of his sons, Gabe, who had died in an accident before the war. He is increasingly beset by disturbing experiences and apparitions, including glimpses of faceless vibrating figures, and narrowly escapes being run over by a pursuing car. At a party thrown by friends, he appears to witness an enormous creature penetrating Jezzie before he collapses with a dangerous fever. First-person perspective apparent flashbacks to his time in Vietnam show Jacob, badly wounded, being discovered by American soldiers before being evacuated under fire in a helicopter.

One of Jacob's former platoon mates, Paul, contacts him to reveal he is suffering from similar experiences but is immediately killed when his car explodes. Commiserating after the funeral, other surviving members of the platoon confess that they have all been experiencing horrifying hallucinations. Believing that they are suffering the effects of a military experiment performed on them without their knowledge or consent, they hire a lawyer to investigate. However the lawyer quits the case after reading military files documenting that the soldiers were never in combat and were discharged for psychological reasons. Jacob's comrades soon back down while Jacob suspects they have been threatened into doing so. He is abducted by suited men who try to intimidate him. Jacob fights them and escapes but is injured and nearly paralyzed in the process. He is taken to a nightmarish hospital, where he is told he has been killed and this is home, but his chiropractor friend Louis comes to his rescue and heals him. Louis quotes the 14th-century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart:

Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: "The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you", he said. "They're freeing your soul. So, if you're frightened of dying and ... you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth."

Jacob is approached by a distressed man who was seen treating his wound in a medevac helicopter and who also dragged him away from Paul's burning car. Introducing himself as Michael Newman, he tells a story of having been a chemist with the Army's chemical warfare division where he designed a drug he called the Ladder, which when ingested massively increased aggression. To test its effectiveness, a dose was secretly given to Jacob's unit before the battle, causing some of them to turn on each other in a homicidal frenzy. Michael's revelation triggers a vision of his wounding in Vietnam, in which he sees that his attacker was a fellow American soldier. Jacob returns to his family's home, where he finds Gabe, who takes him by the hand and leads him up the staircase into a bright light. In a triage tent in 1971, military doctors declare Jacob dead.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The horror of the movie would be in the revelation that hope is hell's final torment, that life is a dream that ends over and over with the final truth: that life was never real, that we are all creatures trapped in eternal suffering and damnation.

Bruce Joel Rubin[4]

The film's title refers to the Biblical story of Jacob's Ladder, or the dream of a meeting place between Heaven and Earth (Genesis 28:12). Its little-known alternate title is Dante's Inferno, in a reference to Inferno by Dante Alighieri.[5][6][7] Screenwriter and co-producer Bruce Joel Rubin perceived the film as a modern interpretation of the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.[8][9] Rubin said: "The inspiration in a sense is my entire spiritual upbringing. Once you have a meditative life you start to see that the world is really far different than what it appears to be. What appears to be finite is really couched in the infinite, and the infinite imbues everything in our lives."[10] Before writing his scripts for Jacob's Ladder and Ghost, which too was released in 1990, the Jewish-born Rubin spent two years in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal;[2][11] previously, he has also written afterlife-themed Brainstorm and Deadly Friend.

Rubin's work on Jacob's Ladder began in 1980, sparked by his nightmare in which he dreamt about being trapped in a subway. For several years, Rubin tried to sell the script, without success; Thom Mount of Universal Pictures said he "loved it, but it was not for his studio". Directors Michael Apted, Sidney Lumet and Ridley Scott all expressed an interest in making the film, but still no major studio was ready to invest in Rubin's "too metaphysical" stories as "Hollywood does not make ghost movies". Eventually, after Deadly Friend was filmed by Wes Craven in 1986, Rubin's screenplays for both Jacob's Ladder and Ghost were picked by Paramount Pictures.[8] In 1988,[2] Adrian Lyne, who described Rubin's work as "certainly one of the best scripts I've ever read", decided then to direct it instead of an adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities as he had originally planned (incidentally, Tom Hanks, an actor originally considered by Lyne for the role of Jacob, ended up starring in Bonfire). The ownership and policy changes at Paramount resulted in the cancellation of the project; the executives had doubts about the film's ending and the scenes taking place in Vietnam. The independent film studio Carolco Pictures decided to take over the production of Jacob's Ladder, giving Lyne a greater creative control[8] and a budget of $25 million.[2] Rubin became the film's co-producer, along with Mario Kassar, Alan Marshall and Andrew G. Vajna.

I can see why people didn't want to make it for so long. It reads like a novel, and it's very intimidating because it's written so descriptively. Bruce had these very literal images of heaven and hell that I didn't know how to bring off. How do you introduce a character with horns?

Adrian Lyne[8]

Lyne, who downplayed Rubin's "intimidating" Old Testament themes,[12] said that he prepared for making the film by watching "endless" documentary films about the war in Vietnam and reading "countless" chronicles of near-death experiences.[2] The film's plot device of a long period of subjective time passing in an instant has been explored by several authors. A particularly strong inspiration for both Rubin and Lyne was Robert Enrico's 1962 short film An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,[13] one of Lyne's favourite movies,[8] which was in turn based on Ambrose Bierce's 1890 short story of the same title.

Cast in the role of Jacob, Tim Robbins said the film presented for him "a great opportunity to go in a different direction. I love doing comedy, but I know I can do other things as well."[2] The film's military advisor was Vietnam veteran Captain Dale Dye,[14] who provided a five-day boot camp military training for the actors playing soldiers in the Vietnam storyline (including Robbins, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eriq La Salle and Ving Rhames). The war scenes were filmed in the Puerto Rico area of Vega Baja, featuring the UH-1 helicopters provided by the Puerto Rico National Guard.

All of the film's special effect sequences were filmed in camera, with no use of post production effects. In several scenes of Jacob's Ladder, Lyne used a body horror technique in which an actor is recorded shaking his head around at a low frame rate, resulting in horrifically fast motion when played back. In the Special Edition's commentary track, Lyne said he was inspired by the art of the painter Francis Bacon when developing the effect.[15] In his screenplay, Rubin used traditional imagery of demons and hell. However, Lyne decided to use images similar to thalidomide deformities to achieve a greater shock effect.[13] After many heated arguments,[2] Lyne managed to convert Rubin to his vision. Lyne and Rubin used the works of the artist H. R. Giger and the photographers Diane Arbus and Joel-Peter Witkin for inspiration; another influence came from the Brothers Quay's 1986 stop motion short film Street of Crocodiles.

Vietnam was really a means to an end. It was a plot device rather than something we were trying to make a huge issue of.

Alan Marshall[2]

In the film, Jacob is told by Michael that the horrific events he experienced on his final day in Vietnam were the product of an experimental drug called "the Ladder", which was used on troops without their knowledge. At the end of the film, a message is displayed saying that reports of testing of BZ, NATO code for a deliriant and hallucinogen known as 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, on U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War were denied by the Pentagon. Lyne said a part of the inspiration for this motif was Martin A. Lee's book Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and Sixties Rebellion, but noted that "nothing in the book suggests that the drug BZ — a super-hallucinogen that has a tendency to elicit maniac behavior — was used on U.S. troops."[8]

According to Lyne's audio commentary, test screenings indicated that the initial version of the film was overwhelming for the audience. In response, about 20 minutes of disturbing scenes, mostly from the last third of the film, were removed from the final cut.

Release[edit]

Theatrical release[edit]

Jacob's Ladder opened on November 2, 1990, distributed by TriStar Pictures. Jacob's Ladder: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack with the music by Maurice Jarre was released by Varèse Sarabande in 1993.[16] Rubin's companion book, released by Applause Theater Book Publishers on the same day as the film,[8] features a final draft of the screenplay, including the deleted scenes, and his essay on making of the screenplay and the film.[13]

Home media[edit]

The Special Edition DVD was released by Artisan Entertainment on July 14, 1998, containing three deleted scenes ("Jezzie's Transformation", "The Antidote" and "The Train Station") along with several other special features, such as audio commentary by Adrian Lyne and a 26-minute making-of documentary "Building Jacob's Ladder".[17] On September 14, 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray Disc by Lions Gate Entertainment and retains all of the special features of the DVD version, along with two trailers, omitting only a TV spot that came with the DVD.[18][19]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film took the number one spot at the weekend box office in North America, garnering ticket sales of $7.5 million from 1,052 screens.[20] However, the attendance dropped fast and its overall domestic box office result was only $26,118,851.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

According to aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of reviews of the film have been positive based on 61 reviews.[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C-" on an A+ to F scale.[22]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that watching it left him "reeling with turmoil and confusion, with feelings of sadness and despair," and called it a "thoroughly painful and depressing experience — but, it must be said, one that has been powerfully written, directed and acted." He awarded the film three and a half out of a possible four stars.[23] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that this "slick, riveting, viscerally scary film about what in other hands would be a decidedly unsalable subject, namely death," is "both quaint and devastating."[24]

However, Desson Thomson of The Washington Post felt disappointed with the film that is "ultimately flat on its surrealistic face, the victim of too many fake-art sequences."[25] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "Jacob's Ladder is so 'dark' it sucks Robbins right down with it. By the time Jacob is being strapped to a bed and wheeled down a hospital corridor strewn with bloody limbs, it's hard to care whether the Orwellian image is a hallucination or not. You just want out."[26] Kim Newman called the film "effectively the blunt remake" of Carnival of Souls.[12]

According to IGN's review of the DVD release in 2004, "After movies like Se7en, it may not pack the same subtle horror for today's audiences it did when it was first released, but it's still a great film."[17] IGN's review of Jacob's Ladder's 2010 Blu-ray release called it is "an emotionally poignant, creepy horror masterpiece."[18] According to Slant Magazine, Jacob's Ladder is "a bizarrely cohesive hybrid of war movie, character study, art film, and horror flick" and "the very act of watching the film is so emotionally draining that the viewer leaves the film feeling worked-in; the thought of repeat viewings is daunting yet insatiable."[19] John Kenneth Muir called the film's nightmarish hospital scene "one of the most terrifying moments in all of 1990s horror cinema." Muir further wrote: "In its musings about death, about the end we all fear, Jacob's Ladder proves a deeply affecting and meaningful motion picture. After a screening, you'll immediately want to hug the people you love and then go outside and breathe the fresh air, or otherwise affirm your very existence."[27]

Rubin's script was included on the list of "Hollywood's ten best unproduced screenplays" by American Film magazine in 1983.[2] In 1991, Jacob's Ladder was nominated at Horror Hall of Fame II for best horror film, losing to The Silence of the Lambs. The film was also featured in Bravo's 2004 documentary miniseries The 100 Scariest Movie Moments[28] and in the 2009 book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. In 2013, the Jacob Burns Film Center Projectionist Andrew Robinson chose it as his favourite scary movie.[29]

Legacy[edit]

Jacob's Ladder greatly inspired the horror franchise Silent Hill,[30] including the video games Silent Hill (1999),[31] Silent Hill 2 (2001),[32] Silent Hill 3 (2003),[33] Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004),[34] and Silent Hill: Homecoming (2007),[35] as well as the series' 2006 film adaptation by Christophe Gans.[36] The film's influence on their works was recognised by Ryan Murphy, writer of the 2011 TV series American Horror Story: Asylum,[37] and by Shinji Mikami, director of the 2014 video game The Evil Within.[38] Kim Manners prepared for directing The X-Files episode "Grotesque" by listening to the music from Jacob's Ladder.[39] The music video for the 2010 song "Nightmare" by Avenged Sevenfold is a homage to the famous hospital scene from the film, chosen because the band's deceased drummer The Rev was a fan of the film.

Jacob's Ladder as a film is directly referred to in Silent Hill 2 and especially Silent Hill 3.[40] Other references include the 2002 The Twilight Zone episode "Night Route", the 2005 film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and the 2010 The Simpsons episode "The Squirt and the Whale".

Claytown Troupe used a sample of Michael's quote 'It's a fast trip...' at the beginning of the track "Rainbow's Edge" in the 1991 album Out There. UNKLE sampled dialogue from the film in their 1998 "Rabbit in Your Headlights" and again in 2003 in "Inside". VNV Nation's track "Forsaken" from the 1998 album Praise the Fallen ends with the quotation from Eckhart. "Devils" from IVardensphere's 2011 album APOK begins with the same quotation. A sample of Jacob's cry 'Stop it, you're killing me!' is used in "Next in Line" in Nevermore's 1996 album The Politics of Ecstasy. Terminal Sect extensively sampled the film for their track "Where Angels Fall".

The film's possible influence can be arguably seen in many other works ranging from M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 hit psychological horror film The Sixth Sense[41] to Peter Arnett's controversial 1998 CNN report "Valley of Death" about the 1970 Operation Tailwind.[42] Jeff Millar of Houston Chronicle wrote that Giuseppe Tornatore's 1994 psychological thriller A Pure Formality uses the plot device of Jacob's Ladder mixed with several other sources.[43] According to Premiere, Massy Tadjedin's 2005 psychological thriller The Jacket "is a film for those who don't remember Jacob's Ladder, perhaps for someone like Jacob himself", as it "resembles Jacob's Ladder too much for its own good".[44] PopMatters called Michael Hurst's 2006 horror film Room 6 a "Jacob's Ladder lift".[45]

Remake[edit]

The remake is currently in production, being directed by David M. Rosenthal and written by Jeff Buhler and Sarah Thorp. The film stars Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Nicole Beharie, Karla Souza and Guy Burnet.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jacob's Ladder (18)". British Board of Film Classification. November 6, 1990. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Time Golden, Up 'Jacob's Ladder' And Into the Hell Of a Veteran's Psyche, The New York Times, October 28, 1990
  3. ^ a b Jacob's Ladder at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ Paul Meehan, Horror Noir: Where Cinema's Dark Sisters Meet, McFarland, 2011 (p.259).
  5. ^ John Flowers, Paul Frizler, Psychotherapists on Film, 1899-1999: A Worldwide Guide to Over 5000 Films, Volume 1, McFarland, 2004 (p.309).
  6. ^ Pamela Jaye Smith, Inner Drives, Michael Wiese Productions, 2005 (p.217).
  7. ^ Eric G. Wilson, Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film, Bloomsbury, 2006 (p.123).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hartl, John (1990-11-01). "Adrian Lyne Met A Metaphysical Challenge". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
  9. ^ Golden, Tim (1990-10-28). "FILM; Up 'Jacob's Ladder' And Into the Hell Of a Veteran's Psyche". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
  10. ^ Tricycle: The Buddhist Review - Volume 1, Buddhist Ray, 1991 (p.77).
  11. ^ Carrol Lee Fry, Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film, Associated University Presse, 2008 (p.77).
  12. ^ a b Tom Ruffles, Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife, McFarland, 2004 (p.192).
  13. ^ a b c Bruce Joel Rubin, Jacob's Ladder, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 1990
  14. ^ Almar Haflidason, Dale Dye: Part 2 - Stop Whining at Me!, BBC, October 2003
  15. ^ "Jacob's Ladder". Widerscreenings.com. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  16. ^ Maurice Jarre. "Jacob's Ladder: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-07-23.
  17. ^ a b Mike Drucker, Jacob's Ladder: The living nightmare of a movie has a pretty decent DVD., IGN, November 8, 2004
  18. ^ a b R.L. Shaffer, Jacob's Ladder Blu-ray Review, IGN, September 14, 2010
  19. ^ a b "Jacob's Ladder | DVD Review". Slant Magazine. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  20. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (2000-08-17). "'Jacob's Ladder' Climbs to Top of Ticket Sales. - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  21. ^ "Jacob's Ladder (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  22. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger (1990-11-02). "Jacob's Ladder". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  24. ^ Janet Maslin, Movie Review - Jacob s Ladder - Review/Film; It's Scary, Yes, and Death Has a Role, The New York Times, November 2, 1990
  25. ^ Desson Howe, 'Jacob's Ladder' (R), Washington Post, November 02, 1990
  26. ^ Owen Gleiberman, Jacob's Ladder (1990), EW.com, Nov 02, 1990
  27. ^ John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1990s, McFarland, 2011 (p.105).
  28. ^ "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments: 100 Scariest Moments in Movie History - Official Bravo TV Site". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  29. ^ "Halloween Countdown – Day 8: Jacob's Ladder » Jacob Burns Film Center Blog". Blog.burnsfilmcenter.org. October 26, 2013. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  30. ^ John Gaudiosi, Resident Evil And Silent Hill Producer Samuel Hadida Talks Wolfenstein And Onimusha Movies, Forbes, 11/02/2012
  31. ^ Bernard Perron, Silent Hill: The Terror Engine, University of Michigan Press, 2012 (p. 55-56).
  32. ^ Interview with Silent Hill 2&#039,s Artist Takayoshi Sato, IGN, August 17, 2001
  33. ^ Silent Hill 3 Interview, IGN, June 12, 2002
  34. ^ Daniel Etherington (2004-10-01). "Silent Hill 4: The Room". bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2007-12-27. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  35. ^ Grayson, Vincent. "Silent Hill 5 Interview: Jason's Philosophy, Jacob's Ladder, and Pyramid Head". Shacknews.com. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  36. ^ "Interview Silent Hill: Director Christophe Gans". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on 2016-03-28. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  37. ^ Jessica Lange Sings 'The Name Game': 'American Horror Story: Asylum' Goes Musical, HUFFPOST TV, 01/03/2013
  38. ^ Lucy O'Brien, "Am I dying, Louie?", IGN, May 16, 2013.
  39. ^ Brian Lowry, The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files, Harper Prism, 1995 (p.158).
  40. ^ "Behind the Many Mysteries of Silent Hill from". 1UP.com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
  41. ^ Charles Derry, Dark Dreams 2.0: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film from the 1950s to the 21st Century, McFarland, 2009 (p.223).
  42. ^ Jerry Lembcke, CNN's Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam's Last Great Myth, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003 (p.77).
  43. ^ Jeff Millar, 'Pure Formality' so pretentious is hurts, Houston Chronicle, 10/06/1995
  44. ^ Brian W. Fairbanks, I Saw That Movie, Too: Selected Film Reviews, 2005 (p.201).
  45. ^ Bill Gibron, Room 6, PopMatters, 8 August 2006.

External links[edit]