A Life Force in the Darkness: Jacob’s Ladder at 30, NASA Horror Posters, FANGORIA Merch, And More!
In this Issue:
- Horror History: A Life Force in the Darkness
- Image of the Week: It’s Cold, Red, and Dead
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: Watch More Horror
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
A Life Force in the Darkness
When I was casting Daniel Isn’t Real, I would talk to the actors I met about Tim Robbins’ performance in Jacob’s Ladder. The way, for me, it exemplified the contrast between a thematically bleak world and the expression of a character’s inner life. Ironically, the one actor I couldn’t do this with was the one I cast; Miles Robbins, Tim’s son. I couldn’t point to that performance without chaining him to his dad, and so I had to find other ways to reference the particular energy I was looking for. That particular aliveness.
There are two crucial elements of a horror movie I look for: how it makes you feel, and how the horror resolves itself. So how does Jacob’s Ladder make me feel? Terrified, anxious, overwhelmed, and yet elated, excited, and engaged. But better than any other movie I can think of, it replicates the ongoing feeling of living with trauma.
I thought of the film the other day as I was making a Spotify playlist to celebrate the election. Let’s hit these LA streets and honk!! “Born in The USA” led me to “This is America.” Then the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” in a nod to mail-in ballots. Jacob is a mailman, too. And I flashed on the incredible scene when a group of teen girls skip up from their stoop to serenade him with this song. Like a coy Greek chorus, surrounded by the filth and smoke and rust of their urban inferno. For a few bars of an old pop song, there’s joy.
And then I flashed back to the 2016 election. To that shock of displacement. Suddenly, you are in an alien world that is somehow still your home. I remember saying to my friend, “I’ve been thinking of Jacob’s Ladder.” She said she’d been, too. It captures the feeling of a worsening. None of us escape it. I felt it during my most painful breakups. I felt it during the days and weeks and months following the death of my mother 17 years ago.
Jacob felt it in Vietnam. He felt it when his child died. He felt it when his marriage collapsed. He felt it when he was stabbed in the guts with a bayonet.
The terror of death powers Jacob’s fear of recognizing the truth — this is horror not in that we are afraid of being stabbed to death but instead we are afraid of what will happen after we’ve been killed. The inciting incident is Jacob being murdered. But the real fear, the enduring fear, is a cosmic one — how to face the unthinkable, the unknowable. The inevitable.
But for all its horror, Jacob’s Ladder is about peace. The struggle to find it and the sacrifices demanded to achieve it. Jacob’s fight rages from the Vietnam War to a metaphysical battle. And it only stops when he accepts death.
“He looks peaceful,” says an army doctor, standing over his corpse, “but he fought like hell.” He fought to be alive. Which is exactly why the movie demands the life force of Robbins’ performance. Every moment we’ve seen has been Jacob fighting to be alive, which is why it demands a performance crackling with an unending life force.
It was not easy to restrain myself from bringing this all up, even in passing, to Miles. After all, my obsession in making a movie like Daniel — about isolation and depression — is to spite the theme through an affirmation of life. But then, five days into rehearsal, Miles paused in the middle of a scene (I’ll let you guess which one) and said “This reminds me of Jacob’s Ladder.”
“Jacob’s Ladder?” I said, keeping it cool.
Miles said that movie was one of the reasons he wanted to do our project. He’d recognized the homage to one of his favorites of his father’s movies.
So we laughed and we talked about it, and continued trying to build our own life force up out of the darkness.
This piece has been abridged to fit the format of The Bite. Visit our blog for the full version.
Adam Egypt Mortimer is an LA-based writer+director who made Daniel Isn’t Real, Some Kind of Hate, and the upcoming Archenemy which releases December 11, 2020. Chat with him on Twitter.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
It’s Cold, Red, and Dead
NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Office was back this year with another set of stylishly terrifying Galaxy of Horror posters including this one for the fictional Galactic Graveyard, and they’re all free to download.
GALAXY OF FEAR, THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN, AND MORE
It was Friday the 13th last week, and Jason Voorhees actor Kane Hodder had some sage wisdom for horror fans.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “gee, I’d really love to go zip lining into Godzilla’s mouth,” a new theme park in Japan has just the ticket.
If you’re looking forward to Freaky on VOD, this ranked list of Blumhouse’s 13 best movies should hold you over until the end of the month.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote about the notion of nihilism in slasher films and how Freaky is part of an empathetic evolution.
British production designer Drew Brockbank spent the last several months in quarantine building an incredible dollhouse of horrors with each room replicating scenes from horror movies.
The Only Good Indians author Stephen Graham Jones spoke about horror literature and the powerful impact of his latest novel on the genre.
For more reading suggestions, Tor.com has you covered with all the new horror and genre-bending titles hitting bookshelves this month.
Meanwhile, The Independent has some classic haunting novels to recommend.
Nerdist revisited the thrills and chills of Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear YA horror novels.
A 2011 film by Michael Goi called Megan is Missing has gained newfound popularity thanks to TikTok, and Goi has a very necessary warning for viewers because of its shocking content.
This list of behind-the-scenes horror movie trivia may actually surprise you.
THINGS WE LOVE
Watch More Horror
How can we argue with a slogan like that? FANGORIA is back and they’ve got tons of great new merch like this killer shirt with an essential call to action for horror fans everywhere.