Wes Craven's horror films have always had a way of drawing me in. This is why I watch them; and this is why I even like a couple of them. While "Scream" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" are still the man's best films, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" sees him on a particularly good day.
Maybe I say this because "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is a horror movie that worked well for me. I openly acknowledge the fact that not everyone will like it, but there's plenty about it that I admired and enjoyed. The film covers familiar grounds, and tells its story with simplicity, but that ends up working out fine for the movie itself. It moves around nicely, and contains impressive, sometimes surreal imagery. It is another fine showcase of Craven's love for nightmares, and it is a fine, perhaps even beautiful mess.
Bill Pullman plays an anthropologist who is sent on a mission to Haiti, in order to investigate a mysterious drug which is said to be connected to zombification. People claim that the drug has allowed the dead to rise and prosper once more. The drug, however, is only used in Voodoo religion. Thus, Pullman's character must adapt to the culture and practice, while earning the trust of some locals. But who can be trusted, and who can be feared?
Throughout his exploits, things both fascinating and terrifying occur. Pullman finds a man who can create the drug for him, and he tries it on himself. It is dangerous; it is peculiar. Pullman suffers from nightmares of zombies in bridesmaid gowns, serpents, and blood-filled coffins. There are some memorable sequences of visual perfection to be found here, and Craven introduces us to bizarre and macabre images. For example, there is a scene where a man dies, and a scorpion emerges from his mouth. There's something surreal and abrupt about the scene, although I can't quite put my finger on it. But maybe, just maybe, that's why I liked "The Serpent and the Rainbow", warts and all.
Bill Pullman plays a convincing part; as a genuine hero character. There's nothing special about the performance, but the actor brings enthusiasm and undeniable dedication to the role, so its undeniably entertaining and enjoyable in equal doses. The real performer here might be Craven; who understands ever-so-well that some of the best horror comes from the places where we can go, or might have been. "The Serpent and the Rainbow" incorporates realism into its story, even if sometimes it comes off as preposterous. That seems to be the point; and it makes it all the more fun to watch this movie. I liked it, I was entertained by it, and while it's no classic or masterpiece, it's worth watching.
I was most surprised by the way the film's story treated Voodoo. The film is based, or inspired by the novel of the same name by Wade Davis. I am told that the book is not a work of fiction; and there really was a drug that could, presumably, bring back the dead. There was criticism about the accuracy of the novel, but anyways...that's besides what I'm covering. I appreciated the film's approach to Voodoo because it is all about the practice/religion. It's not like a roadside attraction, as it would be in many other films. Craven respects the existence of Voodoo; and his film is interesting enough in its exploration of the subject. It's nice to see Wes Craven make a good movie that's not a slasher film, and his home is still horror, but he likes making films like this one, and man, he's damn good at it. For Pullman's solid performance, Craven's fantastical imagery, and the intelligent approach to Voodoo religious practices, I say you should see "The Serpent and the Rainbow".