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Friday, January 1, 2010

Jacob's Ladder and Silent Hill

By Joan Seth

Picture is (C) copyright to Tristar Pictures

Jacob's Ladder was a psychological thriller movie released in 1990. It has been cited as one of the best horror films to date, with its innovative film making techniques, its central themes inspired from biblical imagery and its strong messages about alleged illegal drug testing on US soldiers during the Vietnam War.

In the Bible, Jacob's Ladder is a ladder to heaven, described in the Book of Genesis, which the biblical patriarch Jacob envisions during his flight from his brother Esau.

In this movie, the ladder is effectively portrayed at the end; where Jacob [Spoilers] ascends a ladder into a path of light to meet his dead son. It had been revealed shortly before the ending that Jacob was already dead during the war, and the whole movie was a dying hallucination. He finally breaks free of his earthly attachments and is finally at peace. [Spoilers]

The horror scenes in this movie would ultimately influence one of the greatest Survival Horror games of all time - Silent Hill, developed by Konami. This game would then further influence the genre showcasing extremely gory and macabre movies dealing with horrible monstrosities, and death/purgatory.

Silent Hill deals with a lot of themes; namely Psychic phenomena, Occult and religious rituals, Demonology, Spiritual Hauntings, etc. It mainly focuses on the fictional town of Silent Hill, where a cult called The Order resides. The cult, formed during the Civil War period, practised human sacrifices and necromancy in order to resurrect an ancient deity, who they termed as God. This God was supposed to lead them to Paradise.

There are three ways which the town manifests itself: as a normal populated town, as a deserted town filled with fog and a demonic and decaying town filled with disturbing gore and hellish imagery. Only the last two manifestations of the town can be accessed by the player.

The town is essentially filled with demonic creatures, which seemingly only the main character can see. Were they born out of the player's inner desires and greatest fears? The town itself was seeped in supernatural forces to begin with, the macabre doings of the cult only seemed to strengthen these forces even further.

One would like to think of the town as a living entity, or being possessed by a demonic presence. In this town, all your fears and desires would be feeding the town as a form of energy. In return, the town manifests this acquired energy in the form of monsters which attack the player.

Furthermore, the presence of the town's executioner, dubbed Pyramid Head seemingly serves only one purpose - to execute any characters who have sinned. Pyramid Head resembles a pale, muscular man covered with a white, blood-soaked robe reminiscent of a butcher's garb. His weapon of choice for executions is giant knife. He also wears a large, red, triangular helmet that covers his head completely, which only seems to inflict pain on the wearer.

Picture is (C) copyright to Konami Corporation

Here's a run down of the scenes which did not just so much influence Silent Hill, but were effectively portrayed in a similar fashion in the game.

1) Subway train - As Jacob prepares to disembark the train, he looks at a homeless man sleeping on the floor of the train. It's a peek and boo miss - does the man actually withdraws into his coat what looks like a demonic tail?

Picture is (C) copyright to Tristar Pictures

2) Subway - After narrowly escaping being run over by a train, Jacob continues on to Bergen Street, the same street Heather was looking for in Silent Hill 3. The rest of this creepy scene in the subway has also been played out in many Silent Hill games.

3) Party - Jacob sees a demonic figure dancing and having sex with his girlfriend. Demonic figures are a central theme in all of the Silent Hill games.

4) Hospital - Jacob is robbed and hurts his back. He is brought into a dark and creepy hospital, filled with deformed people, blood and body parts on the floor and walls and is finally wheeled into a operating theatre for surgery to be performed by a 'Evil Doctor'. This scene is essentially replicated in almost every Silent Hill game.

Picture is (C) copyright to Tristar Pictures

5) Operating Theatre - Just before being wheeled into the operating theatre, Jacob sees a figure manically twisting its head at an impossible speed and angle. This head twisting body horror effect was used by director Adrian Lyne by removing frames from footage shot at normal speed. This effect was also portrayed in many of the games.

The best quote of the movie came from Louie, Jacob's friend and chiropractor. He quotes Meister Eckhart: "Eckhart saw Hell too; he said: 'the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you,' he said. 'They're freeing your soul. So, if you're frightened of dying and... you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.'"

Jacob's Ladder required the viewer to think for themselves, letting them form their own perceptions of the film rather then being fed by the director. If you do choose to go on Jacob's journey with him be warned, it is not always pretty, but you will come out of it gratified that for once in film you have the freedom to think for yourself.

Without a doubt, Jacob's Ladder has been one of the best influences on horror gaming history and till date, it remains one of the creepiest and disturbing films ever.


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