Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Jacob's Ladder. (1990) Adrian Lyne
Films like 13 Tzameti, ils, Sheitan, Martyrs, À l'intérieur (Inside), Frontière(s), Calvaire, and Vinyan probably left me a bit slack-jawed and dazed, hoping to only see reruns of "The Golden Girls" or "Eight is Enough." They're brutal films that follow up older Euro-horror like
I Stand Alone, Irréversible, and Haute Tension, some of which aren't even officially in the the horror canon but can nevertheless be labelled horrifying and grotesque. Last year was a hard year for me, the perfect year for October's horror fest to fully jar the envelope of my senses. It was a year and an October that don't need to be repeated.
This year I've decided not to go that route, a route that had me ending with Strangers and Vacancy and Wolf Creek. Not that all the films I watched last year were awful. They weren't. But they were all grotesque, and maybe only reserved for that one October in life.
So this year as October's personal horror fest creeps its way to me again, I find myself meandering back to classics, even alterna-classics of the genre. Not classics like Vampyr or Nosferatu -- I've seen those classics quite enough. I guess Jacob's Ladder would qualify as a great example of the kind of alterna-classic horror I'm trying to describe. It really isn't a horror film at all. But there are elements of tense horror in its downright terrifying moments of suspense. It is also a film that stands the test of time. Twenty years after its initial release, its non-linear command of the senses is as strong and sharp as when it was made.
The story follows Vietnam vet Jacob Singer, who having returned from active duty is slowly losing his mind. I've never been much of a Tim Robbins fan -- he's an actor I've seen countless times who just kind of remains "out there" for me -- but he is riveting as Singer, wandering from scene to scene, one moment with his wife and children, the next supposedly separated from them and living with his girlfriend, and always somehow strangely still in Vietnam -- we're never actually sure where he is until the final reveal, which is solid but no pre-fall M. Night splendor.
As he starts to form beliefs about his wandering existential crisis, he thinks he's losing his mind in one moment, and in another, he flat-out believes he's in hell. The first astounding ten minutes ease the viewer straight into Singer and his story. A great foreshadowing takes place -- on the subway he looks up at two advertisements. One reads about being "Crazy in New York," the other about life being "Hell" when you're on drugs. This movie feels like it's on drugs, and most movies that attempt this aren't able to make it work. Jacob's Ladder makes it work, and it works you over in nightmare fashion.
I'm diving into a few films like this for this year's personal October fest. Some, like Donnie Darko, The Shining and Eraserhead I've seen a hundred times each and still find them perplexing and fun with each additional viewing. Others, like The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980) and The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982), will be quite new to me. If I've seen them, I don't really remember it. I was only ten and twelve years-old when they came out! But they're films I've heard good things about in recommendation from folks I can trust. It's good to have folks you can trust when you're a film buff.
It feels like 2010 is going to bring me great viewing and Halloween fun. Hope yours is safe and excellent, too.