Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Telling Tales Out of School: Jacob's Ladder

The Gods of Sync are a capricious lot, often dive-bombing into our lives with tantalizing morsels of interconnectivity, which answer one question at the same time they ask a thousand more. 

And so it is that just as a game-changing realization broke through the fog of my garbled thoughtstream, strange signals from the Synchrostrata dropped upon my head like tiny little drops of cosmic dew...

Subsequently, a recent (and somewhat ill-advised) attempt at rewatching Jacob's Ladder put the final pieces of the puzzle into place with this nutty fan theory about TXF that I've stewing over.

Or did it?

I've watched Jacob's Ladder at least a hundred times, probably a lot more than that. I used to watch the VHS, rewind it, then watch it again. Every night, for a quite some time.

There's something very, very wrong with me. I'm the first to admit it.

Actually, I think I just stopped counting around the hundred mark. That's how I roll with things that trip those old OCD circuits in the old bean. Drives the missus crazy.

Anyhow, having spent way too much time in the first decade or so of my life A., hallucinating, B., experiencing perilously high fevers, C., having extremely vivid nightmares, and D., suffering long stints in a very grim and dodgy municipal hospital.† Jacob's Ladder just seemed to resonate on levels I rather wish it did not.

What's more, one of my earliest memories in life was us taking my uncle to Logan Airport to catch a number of connecting flights back to Viet Nam, where he flew Medevac choppers for the Marines (crazy SOB dropped out of college to go tear-assing around 'Nam, looking for the shit).º

And if all that weren't enough, I used to have this recurring nightmare when I was a wee wane of being a soldier in some Mitteleuropean forest. It always ended with some German soldier leaping out from behind a big ol' tree and carving out my guts with a bayonetted rifle, oddly enough.

At one point I chalked this up to spending so much time in my wee-wanery on the immediate outskirts of Fort Devens, then known as the "US Army Intelligence School." Later, not so much. 

In any event, it's safe to say that with two close family members in the service during Viet Nam -- and Fort Devens looming like Mordor -- that the military was a powerful presence in my young and impressionable mind.

While I've been mulling all of this lunacy over in my mind, crazy Aunt Rosanne threw up a video titled the "Ladder of Jacob," in which she lays down some confusing pseudo-Kabbalah flibbledy-fleh, which I realize is redundant.

Even so, it got some of the conspiracy vloggers a bit agitated for a spell there.

Then I discovered-- much to my horror-- that Jacob's Ladder was the latest victim of the egregious-remake virus that plagues Hollywood like piles. 

From what I was able to gather from the evidence available, it looked absolutely shiteous, like even worse than the Wicker Man remake. From the cast alone I got the vibe that it was on the level of some crappy straight-to-video suckfest that even Redbox would pass on.

In fact, opinion on the project seemed overwhelmingly negative and so it appears that, in a rare lapse of terrible judgment that...

This guaranteed-abortion had been languishing in a locker somewhere since 2016. My take is that whatever distributor lost a bet and/or was tricked into unleashing this drivel probably came to their senses and decided not to drop this steaming load of runny poo on the public's heads (and by extension, the cinematic arts).

Well, this is all positively scintillating, I hear you thinking, but what does all this have to do with The X-Files and this latest bonkers theory you've been babbling about? Let's go to the VHS tapes...

Jacob's Ladder was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who made his first big splash in TinselTown with his story for the 1983 film, Brainstorm

Significantly, this was Natalie Wood's last film before her death by drowning, a drama that also co-starred Christopher Walken. 

Note also the presence of Louise Fletcher in Brainstorm, the actress who won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a film inspired by Ken Kesey's days as an MKULTRA test subject. 

I don't think you need a tutorial by Dr. Colin Ross to glean the subtexts here.

Fletcher later went on to co-star on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as a priestess of the Prophets, a (very) thinly-veiled incarnation of the Council of Nine. Because why wouldn't she?

Significantly, Brainstorm was released less than a month before The Dead Zone, in which Walken portrays a psychic who acquires his gifts after an NDE. 

As you have all come to expect by now, Dead Zone co-star Martin Sheen first came to prominence in The Outer Limits, in particular an episode in which our man Leslie Stevens deigned to tell some tales out of school concerning military MK programs.

('Nightmare' was originally scheduled to run on November 25, 1963, on account of of course it was).

Rubin later generated some big dollars with his scripts for Ghost and Deep Impact but couldn't get any bites for Jacob's Ladder, which languished in studio slush-piles until British director Adrian Lyne-- fresh off his mega-smash Fatal Attraction-- took a cotton to it.

Lyne really needs to be considered a co-writer for this film since Rubin's original script was heavily revised on account of not really being all that great. I'm generally a fan of Rubin's work but I must admit the original screenplay for Jacob's Ladder is pretty corny business. So Lyne took out all the Temptation of St. Anthony monsters and whatnot, arguing that audiences would just laugh at horned devils and the rest. 

Lyne then developed an entirely new visual vocabulary for the demons, riffing off the motions of helicopter rotors for the horrific seizures the demons display. Lyne also steals huge swathes of Friedkin style and mood from The Exorcist, an obvious touchstone for this film.

There are more traditional demons in the mix but you never saw them out of anything more than the corner of your eye. And so it was that a million 90s metal videos-- and the Silent Hill franchise, apparently-- were born.

As was The X-Files.

So I've been puzzling over this weird pattern that runs throughout the entirety of the X-Files franchise and that's that every episode dealing with aliens and/or the series' Mytharc was paired in the running order with an episode dealing explicitly with mind-control, and very often mind-control programs and their corollaries such as hallucinogens, cults, hypnotism and violent sexual fetishism.

I don't know exactly what it means yet but it's way too consistent and obsessive to be coincidental. In fact, the Mytharc episodes quite often fold in MK and related topics straight into the plotlines, including the very first episodes of the entire series.

What's more, Chris Carter's other major series Millennium often did the same, pairing its pilot with a follow-on episode ("Gehenna") explicitly concerning hallucinogenic drugs and a mind-control cult.

Millennium also eventually got around to Carter's great obsessions, namely psi programs and government mind-control programs. The radically tale-telling-out-of-school third season's first two episodes dealt with a family of remote viewers (all with Betty Fraser Eyes, not-coincidentally) being hunted down and killed.

The last two episodes of the series blew up the premise of the series altogether by arguing that the Millennium Group (originally portrayed as a simple consulting group but then recast as a Crypto-Masonic cult) were in fact programming all the serial killers the show had served up in order to justify their existence and accrue power and influence.

The Jacob's Ladder influence on The X-Files has always been lurking in the background, by my own reckoning at least. 

But if in fact my hare-brained hypothesis is correct and that The X-Files is really about two subjects involved in a long-running eugenics (and psi) program and that the aliens and whatnot they encounter are either staged hoaxes and/or hallucinogenic-inspired delusions then the Jacob's Ladder connections suddenly take on much greater significance.

My latest screwball proposal is that not only are our heroes being used to breed superhumans, they're also being used to Rik-Dekker runaway subjects of previous genetic experiments. They're programmed to think they're all monsters or aliens or whatever to salve their consciences.

Don't laugh; that's essentially what TXF-clone Fringe was about.

So your Toomses and your Flukemen and your tumor-tasters are all labrats that were either let loose into the wild or escaped. Mulder and Scully's job was either to bring them back or rub them out. More often the latter.

This is not idle speculation on my part; this was in fact the actual stated plotline of first season episodes like 'Eve', 'Young at Heart' and most importantly, 'The Erlenmeyer Flask'.

If so, the much-maligned (and admittedly dreadful) second and third installments of the 'My Struggle' storyline suddenly take on a whole new dimension, especially given the former's climax on a bridge. Why?

Because Jacob's Ladder was partially inspired by the Ambrose Bierce short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

I mean, that's Chris Carter for you. Fractal.

The essential plotline of Jacob's Ladder-- combat soldiers in Viet Nam being used at subjects for hallucinogenic drug testing-- was basically put out there on Front Street in the 11th season episode, "Kitten."

I can just picture the story meeting: "OK, it's getting near the end of the line here. If we're going to just flat-out rewrite Jacob's Ladder, it's now or never."

This episode even spelled out an actual program; MKNAOMI, in this case.  

And in case you hadn't noticed the pattern, 'Kitten' is followed by 'Ghouli', which fully introduces us for the first time to young William Mulder, the ultimate product of the post-war eugenics program. To sweeten the pot, one of young William's mental powers is of-- wait for it-- mind control. 

Oh, and who exactly plays the part of William?

None other than Miles Robbins.

Son of Jacob's Ladder star Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.*

But that's not the only direct connection between Jacob's Ladder and The X-Files.

There's also Brett Hinkley who co-starred in 'Genderbender' as --you guessed it-- a mind-controlling (yet amorous) Amish alien.

Bonus factoid: Said amorous Amish aliens ("the Kindred") are based on the Shakers, whose main settlement was right outside-- wait for it-- Fort Devens. We used to drive by it all the time.

There's also Pruitt Taylor Vince, who co-starred in 'Unruhe' in the fourth season. This will probably come as a total shock to you all, but 'Unruhe' deals with mind-control drugs and techniques. Plus, Psi.

Stunning, I know.

There are other weird details. Mark Snow's score to 'The Jersey Devil' lifted the Bulgarian Choir riffs from the Jacob's Ladder soundtrack back when they weren't yet a cliche. X-Files director-producer Kim Manners said he prepped for 'Grotesque' (amazingly about demonic mind-control) by playing that very same soundtrack.

There are the Faceless Aliens (which we encounter in Scully's hypnosis session in 'The Red and the Black'), who look like that gruesome fellow from JL.

There's also the fact that 'Sveta' (from the scorching first installment of 'My Struggle') looks and sounds a whole lot like Elizabeth Peña in Jacob's Ladder, only considerably less sexy.

No shame in that, as there aren't a lot of people who could possibly be as elementally sexy as Elizabeth Peña is in Jacob's Ladder.  

There's other stuff, like the Mulder-hospital scenes in 'Kill Switch' and 'The Sixth Extinction'. Mulder's ice-bath in 'Endgame.' The inexplicable car explosion in Fight the Future. Emily's ascension in 'All Souls.' Probably loads more that haven't yet come to mind yet.

But you can't help but wonder, if the events seen in Jacob's Ladder are all the fantasies of a drugged and dying soldier (lifted by TXF in 'Amor Fati') does that in fact speak to my theory that the events of The X-Files are all the result of the heavy mind-control programming that is either seen or implied again and again and again in that series?

When adding up your sums, do remember that Carter's short-lived Harsh Realm also revolved around the military and fake realities and his pilot for The After was meant to be a rumination on Purgatory, as is Jacob's Ladder. 

So there's kind of a pattern going here, don't you think? 

º Oddly enough, he'd end up working in a rather-notorious state mental hospital when he got out of the service. Still haven't pieced that puzzle together yet. Not really sure I want to.

† I would later come to learn that one Mrs. Amy Anderson was quite often at that same hospital and ostensibly for the same reason. Much to my dismay.

* I actually ran into Miles Robbins-- quite literally-- one odd night on Sixth Avenue. I was dashing for the PATH station and nearly tripped over a very harried-looking Susan Sarandon and her enviably-sizable brood. He was just a baby then.

But wait; there's more!

At the time, our first son looked exactly-- and I mean exactly-- like Macaulay Culkin in the film. It's why my wife always left the room during Jacob's Ladder rewatch time (he looks more like Daniel Craig now, just thinner). 

And because the Universe is insane, when I saw the film I had also just started seeing a chiropractor, who in standard dream logic looked nothing like Danny Aiello but rather much more like Elizabeth Pena (she was from Mexico City, in fact). 

Actually, my beautiful Mexican chiropractor looked exactly like Robey did in Friday the 13th, the Series, which is another weird synchling given the whole TXF connections with that show. She was even a redhead. My life has been very odd.