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. In the film, Jacob Singer’s experiences before and during his service in Vietnam result in strange, fragmentary visions and bizarre hallucinations that continue to haunt him.
Jacob’s Ladder was made by Carolco Pictures ten years after being written by Rubin. Though only moderately successful upon release, the film garnered a cult following and its plot and special effects became a source of influence for various other works such as the Silent Hill video game series. A remake, also titled Jacob’s Ladder, was released in 2019.
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 behaviour 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, where, after glimpsing what he believes to be a tentacle protruding from a sleeping homeless person, 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.