Horror Movie Review: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

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.

On October 6, 1971, an American infantryman, 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 stabbed with a bayonet by an unseen assailant.

Jacob awakens in the New York City Subway, 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, Jezebel. 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.

Jacob is increasingly beset by disturbing experiences and apparitions. Including glimpses of faceless vibrating figures, and narrowly escapes being run over by a pursuing car. He attempts to contact his regular doctor at the local VA hospital. But after first being told that there is no record of him ever being a patient there, Jacob is told that his doctor has died in a car explosion.

At a party thrown by friends, a psychic reads Jacob’s palm. She tells him that he is already dead, which Jacob dismisses as a joke. After declining to dance with her, he appears to witness an enormous creature penetrating Jezzie before he collapses. At home, Jacob experiences a dangerous fever, which Jezzie attempts to bring down with a painful ice bath. Jacob briefly wakes up in another reality where he lives with his wife and sons, including a still-alive Gabe. First-person perspective scenes of apparent flashbacks to his time in Vietnam show Jacob, badly wounded. And being discovered by American soldiers before being evacuated under fire in a helicopter.

Can Jacob get through this? Will he find the help he needs, or is it just too late? Watch and find out.

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Jacob’s Ladder is a mind-bending and poignant tale. Although not without its flaws, it’s well worth viewing.

Platforming off an incredible performance from Tim Robbins, the movie evokes thought and discussion on an important real life issue. Giving recognition to the suffering of veterans post-war and the horror they face, especially before the public acknowledgment of PTSD.

Visuals are so striking and subtle in places, with flashes and glimpses of horror, that it’s easy to feel the trauma oozing from the screen. Although it’s more of a thriller than a horror, I understand dialling it back some to make it not too beyond what a general audience could handle. The effects are all practical, so naturally they’re realistic and fantastic.

The pacing is a bit slow and the film can be confusing at times. Additionally, his current life could have been contrasted with more scenes of him bonding with his family and squad. It’s hard to see how his life is a waking nightmare when we see little of what it was like before.

Overall, Jacob’s Ladder definitely leaves its mark and creates real food for thought. A bit confusing but has a great concept and the ending caps it off nicely.


  • Sally Powell

    Editor/Writer - Stay at home mum educating the horror minds of tomorrow. If it's got vampires or Nicolas Cage in it, I'm sold. Found cleaning bums or kicking ass in an RPG. (And occasionally here reviewing all things horror and gaming related!)

Jacob's Ladder
  • The Final Score - 8/10
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