The Serpent and the Rainbow Reviews
This film has an interesting, and in horror, not always effective, structure where the first two thirds are spent on genuine plot and character development, with only hints at the lurking malice to come in all its gory. Craven pulls off this tough format with utter grace and natural pacing. The horror stuff kicks in at an hour into this 90 minute feature, and it's a regular Craven wallop of effective and inventive horrific distortions of reality. So it's a divided film (but the parts compliment and tie together). The first segment is legitimate drama and if done through to feature length by a non-horror director, would be praised as such. That's what makes the horror part work - that Craven's whole film balances and feels real in its plot and characters. So much horror films cannot achieve this.
Bill Pullman does a really stellar job as the scientific Westerner scouting for the next pharmaceutical breakthrough in a dangerous politically upset poorer nation. His character falls into the Haitian world so well, that the second half, wherein Voodoo takes center stage, the magical and spiritual elements his character once doubted now seem wholly real, and for him, beyond lethally dangerous. We can believe that souls are really at stake; this is what any good drama with Voudon or or Christianity or paganism or any faith-based practices aims toward.
The production design is stellar. The Voudon temple setup reminds me of old Hammer Voodoo films.
Reflecting on many of the earlier non-supernatural action sequences in the movie, I really like Craven's action style in the 80s, and think he doesn't always get acknowledged for his extreme flair for orchestrating action because his primary peer their is John Carpenter. (They are each complete masters of the action horror, but Carpenter is utterly and incomparably genius with his action directing, and Craven is utterly and incomparably genius in his talent for horror.)
The three primary zombie (or zombified) examples here are just plain great. The makeup is subtle and the sell is in the acting and scene framing and lighting. The harsher and gorier bits (which are non-zombie but still atypical and advanced in concept) are very 80s; they're NOT BAD but they have that distinctly 80s makeup aesthetic going on and the big tell is in a poorly done decapitated head.
Like how the finale reconnects the spiritual and physical worlds - while a small group combats for their souls, a nation-forming revolution ensues in the streets above.
For me, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is one of those rare scary movies that thoroughly engrossed me. It's a heart-pounding, solidly acted (particularly by Mokae), elaborate movie with lots of local flavour since the film-makers had the good sense to film it on location in Haiti. The atmosphere is so heavy that it's palpable. I would consider it to be one of the better Wes Craven pictures which I have seen. It's probably not one of his better known films - I think that most of them get kind of over-shadowed by the original "Nightmare on Elm Street" and the "Scream" trilogy. But I would suggest that interested viewers seek it out. It takes Dr. Alan and the viewer on an interesting if morbid journey.
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".