Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

jacobs ladder poster 1990 movie review
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Smarter story than many horror films for the time

Modern viewers might find it a pretty obvious trick ending

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Jacob’s Ladder

Studio:  Carolco Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  November 2, 1990

MPAA Rating:  R


Something’s wrong here…

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam vet struggling with his return after the war. Once a promising young doctor with a wife Sarah (Patricia Kalember) and kids, Jacob now is a mail carrier with a girlfriend named Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña) and trying to repress memories of his family and the war. When Jacob and the members of his platoon begin having strange flashbacks filled with horrible images and monsters, Jacob questions if the government covered something up about their last mission. Now, Jacob finds he’s living a nightmare and finds himself trapped between reality and a world of horrors.


I don’t even know what’s going on here…but it is freaky

Jacob’s Ladder was directed by Adrian Lyne and gained quite a cult following after mixed reviews. The movie is a bit of who’s who of up and coming stars with appearances not only by Tim Robbins who hadn’t made much of a splash in Hollywood at this point (Howard the Duck isn’t a splash but a scream for help), but Macaulay Culkin as his young son Gabe, Ving Rhames as George, Eric La Salle as Frank, Jason Alexander as Geary, S. Epatha Merkerson as Elsa, and comedian Lewis Black as one of Jacob’s doctors.

At the time the movie came out, the idea of a non-linear movie was rather interesting.  It is more common now, but then it did take a while to figure out what was going on. A re-watching now (though I did know the ending) seems pretty obvious and much more obvious than other twist ending movies. It kind of just feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone.


Ok…starting to freak out here!

The horror also isn’t as dramatic as I remember it. When Jacob’s Ladder came out I recall being rather freaked out by it. Some of the twisted faced monsters are creepy, and there are few jumps that do get you. Instead of being a horror, I almost see it as more of a mystery or a thriller.

I will say that the film is stylishly shot and does look good. Jacob’s Ladder did a lot of experiment shots, nice use of light, and worked with the imagery to try to freak out the viewer. It had to be pretty modern to fit with the story and make it work.  In addition, the some of the soldier experiments mentioned in the movie are reported to have occurred and even in 1990, Vietnam was really still a hot-button topic.

Jacob’s Ladder is an average to above average film. I can see why some really like it, but I can also accept why others would dislike it. Though it does keep moving and keeps the viewer engaged, the story might be a bit too obvious for a modern viewer. I do enjoy the ending of the film, and its basic message and idea.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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