01 September 2015

Wes Craven's THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW

THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW

German Title:
Die Schlange im Regenbogen

USA, 1988
Director: Wes Craven

9/10








Although it's not Wes Craven's best-known work, and also not his best work per se (that's "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), his 1988 horror film "The Serpent and the Rainbow" holds a special place in my horror movie heart as one of the eeriest, most impressive and most fascinating horror movies of the 80s AND in Craven's entire filmography. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist / anthropologist Wade Davis, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" takes place on Haiti during the last days of dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's regime, where Dennis Alan, a young anthropologist tries to get his hands on a mysterious voodoo drug that turns people into semi-zombies.
Things get dangerous when he encounters the commander of Haiti's Tonton Macoute, a powerful witch doctor and brutal torturer, who turns his search into a nightmarish ordeal...


I'm not exactly sure what it is that makes me love this movie so much, but I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that it is one of the very, very few films that is able to actually scare the shit out of me. It starts out quite odd and even a tad comedic, slowly becomes more and more eerie until it reaches the 40-minute-mark when the skeletal zombie bride comes along. From this moment on, I'm always hopelessly lured in, complete with sitting on the edge of my seat, eyes and mouth wide open. Damn, there's something about the movie's atmosphere that is so fucking compelling, I'm a fucking wreck whenever I watch it, and believe me when I say that I've watched this movie many, many times over the last 20 years, or so.


Craven created a dark and threatening mood, consisting of a very real, very believable depiction of the Haitian Voodoo magic, and the threatening oppression of the Duvalier regime, resulting in a marvellous little masterpiece, full of great scares, creepy settings, stunning practical effects and fantastic performances, most notably by Bill Pullman (a.k.a the most underrated American actor ever) who constantly manages to switch between fun mode ["Why are you in Haiti, Doctor Alan?" - "It says there on the passport... I'm a tourist. I came to see the sights."] and frightened-to-death mode ["Don't let them bury me!! I'm not dead!!"], Zakes Mokae as one of the most intimidating villains I've ever seen ["The pain I cause you, in the room upstairs, is nothing to the pain I can cause in your own mind."], hawt Haitian chica Cathy Tyson, Brent Jennings as hilarious witch doctor called Louis Mozart(!) and, in a way-too-small role, the ever-amazing Michael Gough.


Although there aren't too many jump scares or fright scenes, the few ones are all so effing frightening, I get goosebumbs just thinking about them, especially the one where Pullman suddenly awakes in a coffin that quickly fills up with blood, the one where he gets buried alive, and the one where a nasty arm reaches out of his soup. It all culminates in a fantastic finale with lots of Black Magic shenanigans, chairs that move by itself, Paul Winfield's character ripping off his very own head, fire, smoke, ghosts, skulls, blood and torture... ah, marvellous! Anything else to mention? Yup, the stunningly chilling -score by Brad Fiedel ("Termiantor 1+2"), the overwhelmingly gorgeous photography by John Lindley ("The Core"), and the awesome production design (David Nichols, "Swamp Thing").


Aside from the fact that "The Serpent and the Rainbow" focuses on dreams and nightmares almost as strongly as "A Nightmare on Elm Street", it is undoubtedly one of Wes Craven's most unique films. An excellently made and superbly terrifying horror film, radically different from your average zombie film, yet about as political as one of Romero's "Living Dead" films. A must-see!

Oh btw, if you're open for some Italo fun, I'd recommend to watch it as a double feature with Marcello Avallone's "Maya". It has nothing to do with "The Serpent and the Rainbow", but in style and atmosphere, it looks and feels very similar. Give it a try! :)

5 comments:

  1. It was an enjoyable film ... and we read about the "True" story in the late 70's , when Time ran a story of a man (who had been buried ) They thought that he was dead when actually this "Poison" (Poison glands from a New World Toad, and Puffer Fish as well as things like Duraba Grass all strong nerve-toxins...) put him in a death-like comatose state... he even had a facial scar from one of the coffin nails... all that reading was compelling to my young mind... we know much on "natural toxins"....

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  2. When I first saw this, I was a twelve year old zombie junkie and was disappointed that this didn't have the kind of zombies I was looking for then (Romero types)

    Now that I am older, I think it's high time I see this again. In honor of Mr. Craven.

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    1. Considering the fact that this is not a zombie film at all, you must have been one ignorant son of a bitch back then, huh? ;)))

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  3. I saw it in the theater and quite enjoyed it. I need to give it another watch in the late great Wes Craven's honor.

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    Replies
    1. Omg I would have LOVED to see this on the big screen... *sigh*

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