Horror Film Review: Jacob’s Ladder (dir by Adrian Lyne)


The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder asks the question, “Who is Jacob Singer?”

Is Jacob (played by Tim Robbins), a soldier serving in Vietnam who has just been severely wounded in an enemy attack and who is now barely clinging to life in a helicopter?

Is Jacob a withdrawn postal worker who lives in 1970s New York with his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), and who is haunted by horrifying visions of faceless, vibrating figures and viscous demons?  This Jacob is haunted by ill-defined past incidents.  Whenever he gets depressed, Jezzie is quick to demand that he snap out of it and that he stop thinking about anything other than the present day.  This Jacob can only watch as all of his old friends either sink into paranoia or die.  He hears rumors that they all may have been part of some sort of experiment involving LSD.  He’s sure that he served in the army but when he attempts to hire an attorney, he’s informed that the army has no record of him ever having served in combat and that they say he was discharged for psychological reasons.

Or is Jacob the husband of Sarah (Patricia Kalember) and the father of Gabe (Macaulay Culkin — yes, that Culkin)?  This is the Jacob who occasionally wakes up in bed with his wife and tells her that he’s been having the weirdest dream, one where he was living with “that crazy woman” from the post office, Jezebel?

Which one of these three realities is the truth for Jacob?  At times, Jacob himself doesn’t even seem to be sure.  Perhaps the one thing that you can be sure about in this movie is that whenever Jacob closes his eyes, he’s going to reopen them and discover that he’s in a different time and place.  Jacob spends almost the entire film trying to work out what’s happening in the present, what’s happening in the past, and what’s just happening in his head.

And, to be honest, it all gets a bit pretentious at times.  The film’s script has a lot on its mind.  In fact, it might have a little bit too much going on.  No sooner have you soaked in what the film has to say about denial and acceptance than you’re suddenly getting a crash course in MK-ULTRA and other mind-control conspiracy theories.  Whenever Jacob isn’t seeing demons and faceless apparitions, he’s being kidnapped by government agents.  There’s so much going on that this film can get a bit exhausting.

Fortunately, the film itself is such a triumph of style that it doesn’t matter that the script is a bit of a mess.  Director Adrian Lyne does a great job bringing Jacob’s nightmarish world to life.  Jacob seems to live in a world where the skies are permanently overcast and the streets are always wet after a recent storm.  When Jacob makes the mistake of walking down a subway tunnel, Lyne frames it as if Jacob is literally following a tunnel into Hell.  When a subway train rushes by Jacob, we catch disturbing glimpses of featureless faces facing the windows.  When Jacob sees a demon at a party, Lynne films the moment so that, just like Jacob, it takes us a few minutes to realize what we’re seeing.  And when Jacob is kidnapped and taken to a Hellish hospital, the scene is nightmarish in its intensity.

Tim Robbins gives a great performance as the emotionally withdrawn and haunted Jacob.  (In fact, he’s so good that it makes it all the more sad that he really hasn’t had a decent role since he won an Oscar for 2003’s Mystic River.)  He’s matched by Elizabeth Pena, who constantly keeps you wondering if Jezzie truly cares about Jacob or if she’s just another part of the conspiracy that seems to have taken over his life.

Jacob’s Ladder is an intensely effective, if somewhat messy, horror film.  Apparently, like almost every other horror film released in the 20th century, it’s currently being remade, with the remake due to released on February 9th.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Horror Film Review: Ghost Ship (dir by Steve Beck)


Way back when we first started this year’s horrorthon, Arleigh shared a horror scene that he loved.  That scene was the opening few minutes of the 2002 horror-at-sea film, Ghost Ship.

That scene featured a few dozen wealthy cruise ship passengers all getting bisected by a thin wire cord.  While a young girl named Kate (Emily Browning) watches, everyone on the ship’s dance floor literally falls to pieces.  Torsos slip off of legs.  Bodies split in half.  The captain’s head literally splits in two.  While gallons of blood gush everywhere, people vainly try to reattach their limbs.  Actually, some of them can’t even figure out which limb belongs to them.  By the time everyone’s collapsed, there’s a lot of arms and legs to sort through.

In short, it’s an absolute mess.  I wouldn’t want to be the person assigned to clean up after all that.

It’s also a rather brilliant opening, one that only takes a minute to go from romance and sophistication to bloody dismemberment.  It’s definitely the one moment that everyone remembers about Ghost Ship, which is a bit of a problem because, once that scene is done, there’s still 85 minutes of film to sit through.  Ghost Ship‘s opening is so shocking and visceral that there’s no way that the rest of the film can live up to it.

As for the rest of the film, it deals with a boat salvage crew.  Gabriel Byrne is Murphy, the captain.  Julianne Margulies is Maureen Epps, whose name might as well be Ellen Ripley.  Ron Eldard is Dodge, who is in love with Epps.  And then there’s Karl Urban, Isiah Washington, and Alex Dimitriades, who are all playing characters who you know are going to be doomed as soon as you see them.  When they’re told by a pilot named Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) that he’s spotted a ghost ship in international waters, they set out to claim it for themselves.

Of course, what Jack has spotted is the same cruise ship where, forty years before, everyone was chopped in half.  After Murphy, Epps, and the crew board the ship, they discover a large amount of gold.  They also end up seeing a lot of ghosts, including the young girl from the start of the movie.  To their credit, the crew decides to leave the ship as quickly as they can.  Unfortunately, after their tugboat explodes, escape appears to be impossible and it becomes obvious that they have been lured to the cruise ship for a very specific purpose.

The film encourages us to wonder what the ship wants from the salvage crew but the answer to that question is never really in doubt.  For that matter, it’s not really a shock when it turns out that one member of the boarding party isn’t what he claims to be.  Despite being a bit predictable, Ghost Ship isn’t a bad film.  It has a reputation for being disappointing but actually it’s an atmospheric and competently directed horror film.  Though the characters are all thinly drawn, the talented cast does their best to try to bring them to life.  If the film ultimately doesn’t seem to work as well as it should, it’s largely because nothing that follows can match the power of that opening.  You watching the film waiting for a scene that’ll match that opening scene and when it never comes, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

 

 

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.12 “Mr. R.I.N.G.” (dir by Gene Levitt)


Tonight on Kolchak….

After annoying his editor one too many times, Carl Kolchak has been assigned to write obituaries.  However, you can’t keep a good reporter down and, when Kolchak comes across the mysterious death of a scientist, Kolchak decides to investigate on his own.  Kolchak’s defeated vampires, werewolves, Cajun demons, and serial killers.  How will he do against something made by the government?

This episode originally aired on January 10th, 1975.

Enjoy!

Linda Blair In Oz: Fatal Bond (1992, directed by Vince Monton)


Fatal Bond is another Australian exploitation flick starring Linda Blair.

In this one, Linda plays a hairdresser named Leonie.  When a drifter named Joe (Jerome Ehlers) crashes a birthday party that Leonie’s attending, it’s lust at first sight.  Even though Joe is a violent womanizer who steals milk and headbutts anyone who looks at him crossly, Leonie still takes him home with her.  Soon, Joe is crashing in Leonie’s bedroom and Leonie is providing Joe with an alibi whenever the police come looking for him.  (Joe says that he has a lot of parking tickets.)  When one of Joe’s one night stands turns up dead, Leonie starts to suspect that Joe might be responsible.

Like Dead Sleep, Fatal Bond features Linda Blair as an American who lives in Australia and who has bad taste in men.  While Linda Blair has never been a great actress, she’s almost always brings grit, determination, and a will to survive to her roles.  Unfortunately, none of that is on display in Fatal Bond, where she’s such a pushover that she lets Joe take over her life.  There’s not really much to the whole serial killer storyline either, especially not when the murderer’s identity will be obvious to anyone watching.  There’s also another subplot in the movie about Joe searching for his brother, who has gone missing.  Fatal Bond doesn’t know if it’s a Linda Blair thriller or a standard Australian crime film.

Don’t be fooled by the sexy cover art.  I love a good Linda Blair movie but Fatal Bond was just boring.  If you do see the film, keep an eye out for Joe Bugner, the former heavyweight boxer who once fought Muhammad Ali.  Bugner has a small role as a lowlife criminal in Fatal Bond.  His partner-in-crime is Mel’s younger brother, Donal Gibson, stepping into a role that was originally earmarked for Russell Crowe.

 

 

Horror Scenes That I Love: Craig T. Nelson Freaks Out In Poltergeist


Admittedly, this is a pretty short scene.  It’s only 16 seconds, taking from the much longer climax of 1982’s Poltergeist.

That said, this is one of the greatest over-the-top moments in cinematic history.  Craig T. Nelson basically acts the Hell out of accusing his boss of …. well, you’ll see….

(Also, give some praise to the one and only James Karen, heroically bugging out his eyes there at the end.)

4 Shots From 4 Haunted Films: The Haunting, Poltergeist, The Conjuring, Crimson Peak


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, the Shattered Lens gets a little bit spooky with….

4 Shots From 4 Haunted Films

The Haunting (1963, dir by Robert Wise)

Poltergeist (1982, dir by Tobe Hooper)

The Conjuring (2013, dir by James Wan)

Crimson Peak (2015, dir by Guillermo Del Toro)

Halloween Havoc!: JUNGLE WOMAN (Universal 1944)


cracked rear viewer

Paula Dupree, the Ape Woman of CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN , returned in a sequel titled JUNGLE WOMAN a year later. While the former film has a kind of goofy charm to it, the sequel is a wretched concoction that’s not worth the time it’ll take me to write this – but I’m gonna do it anyway, so bear with me!

JUNGLE WOMAN is the very definition of a ‘quickie’, and I don’t mean that in a good way. A good chunk of the film is made up of stock footage from the original, including the stock footage that film used from Clyde Beatty’s THE BIG CAGE. Even so, it took three screenwriters to come up with this nonsense! The movie starts out okay, with a female fiend attacking a man, who gives her an injection, shown in shadow. But it quickly bogs down as we’re at a coroner’s inquest, with…

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