THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) is an absolute classic from the master of horror Wes Craven. It’s the kind that just doesn’t get made anymore, and that’s a real shame. The film was based on a book of the same name. The author Wade Davis only agreed to sell the rights under the pre-requisite that Peter Weir would direct the film and that Mel Gibson would star. You kind of feel bad for Davis because neither of those men had anything to do with it.
The Serpent and the Rainbow can be considered a zombie film, but not in the traditional George A. Romero flesh-eating sense. Let me give you a quick history lesson on zombies (Note: I get really annoyed when people are actually afraid of a zombie apocalypse happening in real life!). Zombies as we know them were simply a figment of George A. Romero’s imagination. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was the birth of the modern zombie. Before that there was White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi and I Walked With A Zombie (1943) in those they were the traditional kind, basically slaves who are brainwashed which is much closer to the truth. The true roots of the Zombie stems from Haitian voodoo, in which people from that country would be put into a mind controlled, zombie-like state. The Serpent and the Rainbow tackles that kind of zombie.
This is a very interesting topic that isn’t tackled very often in film. The fact that horror can somewhat translate to real life and work to make the story even more frightening or at the very least convince you to never vacation in Haiti. The movie was really filmed in Haiti and due to the civil turmoil in the area, the local peacekeepers informed the cast and crew that they could not guarantee their safety. The filming had to later be relocated and finish up shooting in the Dominican Republic. The culture of the area is worked into the movie and it really adds a nice authenticity.
Bill Pullman stars in the film and he does a really great job. His acting is better than most performances you’d see in horror movies to come out around this time. He gets quite a beating throughout the film. He tumbles down stairs, falls all over the place, gets buried alive, attacked by various jungle animals, harassed by the local militia, drugged with zombie powder, hell, he even has his dick nailed to a chair! You really feel bad for the guy. He goes through so much. He get’s the crap beaten out of him over and over again but he keeps trying to survive. He keeps failing too but he tries and that’s what matters. Or maybe it doesn’t matter, once you get your dick nailed to a chair it’s probably time to pack it in. The weird thing is that later on in the movie after he gets his dick nailed to a chair, he has a sex scene and that’s a little weird.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is part scientific adventure film and part mind trip horror. The actual scares work really well, aside from some slightly awkward fire and telepathic effects towards the end. Something that makes the horror elements work so well, is how the shots hang just a little longer than you see in most movies of this kind. Let me explain; there are a few “scare moments” that you can see in other films, i.e. someone being pulled to the ground, someone in a room being flooded with blood, etc. Well, this film extends these shots after most would have just cut away. When a person is being dragged to the ground, you see his entire body go through the serpent bloodbath grass and watch as he is pulled through dirt and roots into a giant pit. When a person is in a room being flooded, the shot doesn’t cut until the blood goes above the actor’s mouth, covers their eyes and eventually begins to drown them. It’s the length of these shots that elevates it above other similar horror films.
Perhaps the best aspect of the entire movie are the drug induced freak out scenes. They are crazy, over the top, and wildly imaginative. They’re quite similar to the dream sequences Wes Craven did for the Nightmare on Elm Street series and are a blast to watch. It’s a messed up trip, just seeing all the wild, weird stuff that Wes Craven throws onscreen. It’s a true assault on the senses, which might sound like a bad thing, but quite the contrary. They are probably some of my favorite horror scenes from any movie.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is a film that sometimes goes unnoticed so do yourself a service and watch it if you haven’t already. In fact, even if you have seen it, watch it again. It’s one of my favorite Wes Craven films and that’s saying something.
THIS REVIEW IS PART OF THE: