The Serpent and the Rainbow (Wes Craven, 1988, USA)

The Serpent and the Rainbow, released in 1988, is positioned in Wes Craven's middle period between the immense success of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). While the horror auteur is best remembered for those two films, some of his middle-period works often go unrecognized. We previously reviewed Craven's underrated 1991 film The People Under the Stairs on this blog, and The Serpent and the Rainbow also fit into that category. The film is based on a 1985 non-fiction book by anthropologist Wade Davis, who spent time researching the scientific fact behind Haitian Vodou and zombies.

Davis originally intended the book to be adapted by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson. And there is something adventurous about the film - despite the gore and horror (and there is much of it), at its core, The Serpent and the Rainbow is closer to Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone. Bill Pullman, playing Dr. Dennis Alan, is the stand-in for the Wade Davis character, who finds himself pulled into the underworld of Haiti while investigating tetrodotoxin, the "zombie powder" produced from puffer fish. Cathy Tyson plays his love interest, Dr. Marielle Duchamp, while the memorable South African character actor Zakes Mokae plays his main adversary - Dargent Peytraud.

While Serpent in narrative has more the character of a procedural crime thriller than many of Craven's other films, where it succeeds is in its visuals. The film, which was shot in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is a visual feast. One almost feels like they are there on site, with the colors on the screen popping. There is respect here for the local traditions that you don't often find in horror movies, and for that, Wes Craven and his team should be appreciated. Brad Fiedel's pulsing electronic score is also worth noting.



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