Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a New York City postman who is growing increasingly disturbed by his past experiences in the Vietnam War. And that's not all, his current life seems to be taking on a sinister edge as he sees mysterious faces everywhere, and is nearly run over by a subway train and an out of control car. He can't confide in his girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña) and has no one to turn to until an old Army buddy contacts him with news that whatever is going on is happening to him too...
Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay for Jacob's Ladder was handed around Hollywood for a fairly long time before being made, securing a reputation as being one of the best unfilmed scripts, even being the subject of a magazine article to highlight its quality. Director Adrian Lyne had a record of hit movies, but seemed a strange choice for this tale of spiritual horror, and the film only became a cult success, nowhere near the scale of Flashdance or Fatal Attraction.
But it shouldn't be overlooked, as it really is something special. The world Jacob inhabits is constantly shifting, leaving him confused and afraid. The briefly glimpsed faces appear to come from beyond the living, and he begins to refer to the menacing forces around him as demons; in the memorable party scene, his girlfriend looks like she is being sexually assaulted by some huge monster, triggering one of Jacob's fits.
The plot may play the "and then he woke up" card a little too often, but once you work out what is going on it's probably necessary. We are told many times, in no uncertain terms, what state Jacob is in, but there are a number of other points to be taken in, too, which leaves Jacob, and perhaps you, in a condition of disorientation. When the members of his army unit become involved, the film turns into a conspiracy thriller, with military experimentation taking centre stage. After all that, the ending is not so much a twist as a confirmation.
Jacob's Ladder may be a horror film in genre, but it's an unusual one: it's one of the few chillers that seek to reassure you, to tell you not to be scared. Louis, the chiropractor (Danny Aiello), holds the key when he tells Jacob about the angels and the devils. And the introduction of that conspiracy angle means that, although Jacob and his unit have committed a terrible act, they were not responsible and their sins are absolved. Robbins' perfectly judged, nice-guy performance holds the story together through its odd combination of flashiness and sorrow, and the film leaves you curiously at peace by the philosophical close. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Slick, commercial British director whose background in advertising always guarantees a glossy sheen to his films. Made his debut in 1980 with Foxes before scoring big hits with such films as Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, all of which were controversial at the time but now seem distinctly ordinary. More interesting are Lyne's less obviously commercial projects - the frightening, hallucinatory Jacob's Ladder, a sensitive adaptation of Lolita, and the relationship drama Unfaithful.