As far as Religious Horror goes, it’s impossible to talk about the genre without discussing the finer points of Jacob’s Ladder. The movie features Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, a mailman who tragically lost a son (McCauley Culkin). Haunted by the loss and his involvement in Vietnam, Jacob makes his way as best he can.
The film then breaks into three different narratives. In one narrative, he’s living with a girlfriend named Jezebel who seems to want to separate him from his tragic attempt at fatherhood. In a second narrative, he’s still married to his wife and his son is still alive. A third narrative which is linked to both (but independent of either) involves Jacob’s time in Vietnam as a medic.
While much as been said about the narrative and its various interpretations, the thing that makes it interesting is that it’s steeped in allegory and draws on the biblical story of “Jacob’s Ladder” as a “Stairway to Heaven“. In fact, Jacob is haunted much more literally by his past than most people have cause to claim.
The reason why this movie works so well is because it means something to those who watch it. For those in it for the horror gore, it features some truly disturbing scenes including faceless demons, surgical refuse, and nurses with tumors growing out of the back of their heads.
Meanwhile, his old war buddies are trying to figure out what happened to them in Vietnam, and end up getting picked off by one. At the risk of interpreting, the story is really about letting go and moving forward.
In contrast to much of the horror films that see production in any decade, Jacob’s Ladder leverages its mystery to tell a parable of a man who cannot let go of his past and is put through hell (or at least purgatory) in order to reconcile his (very literal) demons and ascend to heaven (one would guess).
In my estimation, it is the top offering in the genre of religious horror for its psychological acuity and its willingness to indulge its religious convictions.