The Serpent and the Rainbow
Dir: Wes Craven
Star: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Paul Guilfoyle
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1988
Format: DVD R2

Following a story of a man allegedly turned into a zombie in 1978, Harvard anthropologist Dr. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) travels to Haiti and begins a nightmarish journey into the eerie and deadly world of voodoo.

Upon arrival in Haiti, Dr. Alan discovers that an evil presence that haunted him on his last assignment, in the Amazon jungle has followed him to Haiti. Stranger still is the evil sense of foreboding he feels when he sees Peytraud (Zakes Mokae) the sinister leader of the secret police, for the second time. The first time he saw him was during a "vision" in the Amazon on his last assignment, where a shaman gave him a potion to find his animal totem.... which incidentally guided him 200 miles through the Amazon jungle to civilisation after the shaman and everyone in his village were brutally murdered by forces unknown. Alan's assignment takes on a life of its own as he is bounced from charlatan to graveyard as he searches for a mysterious powder which is said to have the power to kill you and bring you back to life........ as a zombie.

Yet again, cult horror writer / director Wes Craven , the man who gave us Fred Kreuger, delivers a chilling and unnerving story to intrigue, terrify and tantalise us. Perhaps one of the most worrying factors to this film is that it is based upon the story by Wade Davis of his own experiences as he was thrust into the dark world of the supernatural and black magic. Davis was the real life Dr. Alan who journeyed to Haiti in order to study the Voodoo arts for the purpose of "medical research". As usual, Craven builds a chilling atmosphere with good use of direction and photography, framing the story well. The Serpent and the Rainbow is not your usual or typical voodoo movie. Wes Craven gives the film an objective, intelligent and nice approach to the heavy, voodoo story superbly crafted from the original story by Wade Davis. The film does carry that distinct and welcome Wes Craven feel, which will mean it is bound to be a hit with his fans and equally likely to frighten anyone of a sensitive disposition. Craven always manages to build his horror features with traditional horror film elements whilst also bringing something new to the mix. Once again, he delivers a chilling and stimulating film, which despite one or two unintentionally amusing / cheesy moments, that are admittedly down to the age of the film and effects technology at the time, is an often hair raising and thought provoking watch. Overall the film has some impressive direction but there are one or two moments that let it down a little due to some unavoidable cliches.

Craven weaves an intelligent story and immerses the viewer into the politically turbulent Haiti of the late seventies / early eighties, whilst subjecting them to the dread that Allen feels as he is plagued by terrible nightmares and startling hallucinatory visions brought on by an Amazonian shaman and various nefarious voodoo practitioners. Fans of Wes Craven will most likely be able to differentiate between the real and nightmare worlds as he evokes a distinct feel to these elementals, consistent in his films. There is plenty of black magic imagery scattered throughout and some memorable moments featuring snakes, spiders and an obligatory scorpion and that isn't including the large portion of the film spent in cemetaries. The film also broaches the subject of voodoo and religion and is packed with symbolism plus some imaginative visuals, framed by Pullman's narrative which offers some exposition to those finding it difficult to follow or grasp the story and its concepts. The narrative also offers some understanding of the situation in Haiti at that time under the repression of the idealogical regime of dictator Doc Duvalier.

Bill Pullman heads a good cast and delivers a good performance. He isn't the greatest of actors and after Independance Day you would be forgiven in thinking him wooden as a hobby horse, here he actually does a good job despite being rather unconvincing as an ethnobiologist / anthropologist. Cathy Tyson does a mediocre job as psychiatrist Dr Duchamp as her role becomes enveloped in a terribly camp and cheesy French accent. She works well with Pullman and apart from a brief nookie scene in a cave she doesn't appear to do a lot in the story and is a bit redundant for the latter part of the film. The excellent Zakes Mokae puts in an eerie and disturbing performance as the evil Peytraud, sinister chief of the "Ton Ton Macoute" (Baby Doc Duvalier's secret police). Paul Winfield always seems to get terribly under used in films, and this is unfortunately no exception as yet again we get a "now you see him, now you don't" performance just before he is subjected to another, typically undignified ending.

At first glance you may think that you have a typical dumb voodoo / black magic horror flick, but this is in fact an original, haunting and thought provoking film which doesn't feature one voodoo doll. Although there are plenty of other stereotypes in there and quite shamelessly too. Takes a lot for granted in terms of viewer beliefs and if you don't believe in a "soul" or have no interest in "soul recognition" then this is unlikely to grab your attention and will play out like an arty horror flick. Not a film to watch with a closed mind and thats for sure. Looking deeper into the film there may be a slightly more ambiguous ending but that is for those who choose to look that far. As it is, much of the horror for some would be the thought of being zombified, to be fully aware of everything going on but unable to do anything about it and the real terror coming from the thought of being buried like that.

As far as voodoo films go, this is one of the better ones and neatly avoids bumbling through most of the usual cliches and it even evokes a certain sense of dread, due to a cool atmosphere. Possibly heightened by the fact that you know this is based on a real story. The film deals with and handles the voodoo concepts sensibly and intelligently, avoiding the typical sensationalised pitfalls that so many other films fall into. The real problem comes toward the end, where it degenerates somewhat and becomes a fantastical, protracted and ultimately fruitless finale.

Not brilliant but a good film and entertaining whilst managing to conjure up some powerful visuals. More could have and should have been done with the ending, which also features a cheesy leopard apparition moment which you can't help but laugh at. One thing you won't laugh at though is the excruciating torture scene, where the sinister Peytraud tells Alan that he wants "to hear you scream". That one scene is enough to make the toughest of men squirm or flinch and maybe even bring a tear to your eye.


Don't bury me, I'm not dead!


In Haiti, there are secrets we keep even from ourselves

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Pretty good quality transfer, but occasionally grainy
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 Dissappointing stereo soundtrack but still quite effective
Dull static menu
Theatrical trailer
Verdict Dissappointing release in that it only has a stereo soundtrack, is still missing several scenes from the US version and has basically no extras. This is a film which deserves a better release, as it is one of Wes Craven's lesser known cult offerings.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home