Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Director: Adrian Lynn

This was another tough one for me, since I am an avid horror fan.   Specifically, I am a zombie fanatic.  I have seen and read pretty much everything zombie related I could get my hands on.   Even some stellar gems like Meat Market AND the smash sequel Meat Market 2, I sh-t you not.  So I decided to remove all zombie (Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead) or zombie-ish (28 Days Later[REC]) movies from this list.  And technically, my favorite zombie anything is The Walking Dead, which is an AMC television show.  Which you should watch, because it’s brilliant.  And watch 30 Rock.  And Archer.

The more you watch horror films, the more you see that most are good in concept but passable to terrible in story.   Movies like The Ring and Saw have some pretty innovative concepts and some truly terrifying imagery, but fall flat when they attempt to neatly wrap up the story.  I could list the all the essentials of horror and regurgitate the same reasons for their awesomeness as countless other places.  Most of true classics (The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Jaws, Alien) were made years ago, before I was born and more importantly before the advent of CGI.   I have a problem with the blatant use of CGI in horror films.  It takes you completely out of the story when your mind instinctively thinks ‘well, that’s fake.’ That and the overwhelming number of borderline retarded characters that populate most films.  I have a problem empathizing with a character (which is essential for a good film) if he makes the most ridiculous decision since Christina Hendrix’s decision to marry this guy:

I am not a fan of gore for the sake of gore.  I prefer a good psychological descent into madness versus watching people have their eyeballs removed.   I dig the hell out of In the Mouth of Madness.  I prefer a haunted house to a guy with a hockey mask.  I tend to find myself watching The Shining or Poltergeist whenever they are on.  I’ve always believed that the true horror is what you make up in your head, so off-screen noises and subtle movements hold more value to me as a viewer.   Don’t show me everything.  Assume that I’m not a paste-eating idiot.  Let me fill in some of the blanks. You become more vested as a viewer when you are figuring out the story as the main character is.

I first saw Jacob’s Ladder (based on the short story The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce) when I was around 15 years old, right when I was beginning to expand my cinematic scope.  (Note:  The first movie I ever rented from Blockbuster was Freaks (1932), so I’m talking really expansive.)  I have never been so unsettled by a movie in a while.  And I’m not talking Last House on the Left or Irreversible unsettled (both feature vicious sexual assaults).  I’m talking about experiencing the deterioration of sanity as Tim Robbins’ character does.  You feel just as disoriented by the haunting hallucinations and strange occurrences as he does.  Or maybe I’m just remembering it fondly, which I found to be happening quite a bit when doing this list.

I don’t want to go into spoilers if you haven’t seen or really heard about this film, but it has some images and sequences that have haunted me since.  I can almost recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Black Swan.  They’re kind of, sort of similar.  But instead of ballet dancers, it’s Vietnam vets.  And instead of Natalie Portman sexily dry-humping her bed, you get Tim Robbins watching his girlfriend get buttf–ked by what looks to be a gargoyle.

How are you not sold on this yet?

Honorable Mentions:  In the Mouth of Madness, Dawn of the Dead, Poltergeist, Alien, The Exorcist, [REC], The Gate