The Serpent and the Rainbow
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 308th review!
Well, I officially go back to work today and I’m kind of bummed about it. Oh well... For today’s movie, for weeks I was searching high and low to find it without much success. Eventually I got discouraged so I decided to use the free trial of Cinemax so I could watch...
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). Cinemax
Apparently I’m on a Wes Craven kick because this is the third movie of his I’ve reviewed this month, and the second in a row. Bill Pullman is Dennis Allan, an anthropologist in Haiti investing a so-called zombie drug. A man who was declared dead and was buried was caught roaming around very much alive but not in the best shape. A pharmaceutical company wants Dennis to find this drug so they can use it for anesthesia in surgeries which they say could save 50-to-60 thousand people a year.
From there, Dennis is caught in the middle of a political revolution, superstition, voodoo practitioners, both good and evil and a secret police that doesn’t like him snooping around the island. The closer he gets to answers and the drug the more danger he finds himself in because everything is a lot more real than he thought coming in.
This is probably the best use of voodoo I’ve ever seen in a movie. Normally it’s just a prop used to make a bad guy more menacing or extend his reach, but in this one, bear with me here, but it makes it seem believable. Voodoo is so ingrained in the way of life of everyone living there, it’s more than just a plot device. At one point Dennis asks his guide if the ceremony they’re at is Catholic or Voodoo. She responds by saying Haiti is 85% Catholic and 110% Voodoo. It’s not just a gimmick, in the movie, baked into the fabric of society.
From the very beginning Dennis tells you there’s something in the air, he can feel some dark presence getting closer to him, but he doesn’t know what it is. At the start he’s in the Amazon researching herbs when a shaman gives him a potion to drink to “see” the danger. During his hallucination he plays with a jaguar and it’s the cutest thing in the world! He’s rolling around with it and rubbing its belly, filling with me a huge feeling of intense jealousy. I’d like to point out that’s probably the only time I was jealous of the character.
Anyways, he sees a vision of man with an alarming smile before he comes to and sees the entire village has been seemingly murdered along with his helicopter pilot. Later, in Haiti, he comes to learn the man in his hallucination is the head of the secret police that keeps getting more and more aggressive with him. As far as bad guys go, he’s a good one. He’s not physically imposing, he’s short and a little doughy but he can mess you up big time. Outside of the political power he wields, the man uses black magic and the zombie drug to “kill” you, and when you wake up he takes your soul and you’re forced to do his bidding. His reach is also very long as he’s able to get to Dennis while he’s in Boston in probably the best scene in the movie.
It’s not so much scary, but it sets one helluva mood. There’s not too much action, but you’re never given a moment to relax or let your guard down. At any second things can change; from the man’s voodoo, his secret police, hell, Dennis is in even more danger when he’s sleeping! The best word I can use to describe the feeling when watching this movie is “unease.” Everything can, and usually does, change at the drop of a hat and it’s often not clear if it’s for the better or the worse.
The characters are good, both the main and the side ones. Dennis is a likable fellow you root for, the bad guy is an incredible asshole you really want to see get his ass kicked, but I think my favorite character is a dude named Mozart. Dennis goes to him to get the zombie drug in the form of a powder and Mozart has all the makings of a used car salesman. It’s fun watching him bullshit Dennis using his best showman gimmicks and tricks because the actor is really into the role and you find his sliminess charming. It’s only when Dennis embarrasses him in front of a crowd that Mozart agrees to help him for real and we’re treated to more of his fun antics.
In conclusion, it’s not the best horror, but it’s a very solid movie. The special effects are cool, the scenery is great and the Voodoo feels real, it’s more than just a gimmick it’s an actual, terrifying weapon. Plus, the stakes are incredibly high for our heroes. In this, death is only the beginning. If the baddie gets to you, he gets your soul and you’re essentially his slave. Lastly, I laughed out loud that the finishing touch on the last fight involves a man taking a shot to the dick.
7.5 Dr. Chainsaws!
The Serpent and the Rainbow
A terrifying story of one man's nightmarish journey into the eerie and deadly world of voodoo.
Directors Wes Craven
Starring Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae
Genres Horror, Drama, Suspense
Subtitles English [CC]
Audio languages English