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The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Horror, Supernatural Horror
Wes Craven Wes Craven
Bill Pullman Bill Pullman
Cathy Tyson Cathy Tyson
Zakes Mokae Zakes Mokae
Paul Winfield Paul Winfield
Brent Jennings Brent Jennings

6.5 / 10 - 12 votes

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Review by Chad
Added: September 17, 2007
Wow... a great Wes Craven movie that doesn't involve Freddy Krueger or mutilated children running around under the stairs? Color me impressed. Sure, most people call the man a master and make him out to be one of the best directors of the last thirty years, but me? I call him a hack. You think I'm crazy? Really, what has he done that warrants the "master" and "excellent director" status that he receives from so many viewers besides Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare, and The People Under the Stairs? Granted, those are three very good movies, but it takes more than that for me to label someone as a master. However, as much as I may disagree with the general consensus about the man, I have to admit that The Serpent and the Rainbow was a particularly impressive offering from him.

Voodoo is the topic of the film, and unlike most other films that deal with this subject, it's done in a realistic fashion as opposed to the Hollywood version of Voodoo that most of us are familiar with. The storyline finds Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman), an agent working for a pharmaceutical company, heading down to Haiti to attempt to discover what it is exactly that the shamans and witch doctors use to turn people into zombies; after all, magic "isn't based in reality", so there has to be some sort of trick to it, right? Making his efforts just a wee bit more difficult than they already are is the fact that Haiti is currently in political turmoil, and Dennis discovers this firsthand thanks to the cruel Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), the leader of the local secret police who wants this American out of his country as soon as possible. With a little bit of help from local doctor Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson), Dennis discovers that there is indeed a medical explanation for some of the Voodoo magic, but he also finds that there's a little bit of supernatural elements involved as well...

First things first: The Serpent and the Rainbow is not a horror film for those of you who equate "horror" with "lots of bloodshed and a masked murderer." The horror that is found here is much more subtle than that and is based in reality rather than in the world of movie monsters, and personally, I found that that worked out much better than traditional horror films. However, if you can't stand a plot that takes its time developing and a story that is told through a lot of talking, you'd be better off heading down to your local theater and catching the latest Saw sequel rather than renting this one.

Now, I should point out that I'm very interested in the Voodoo religion and that I do believe in it to a certain extent (I know some Haitians who have seen some extremely bizarre shit, so there has to be something to it), and with that in mind, I may be just a little biased in my enjoyment of the film. However, I truly don't believe that that is the case; the film is filled to the brim with horrific imagery and an extremely imaginative story, and I truly believe that any mature horror fan will enjoy the hell out of this as much as I did.

By far the best part of the movie is the fact that - as mentioned - it's grounded in reality and takes its time with the material. Instead of breaking out Voodoo dolls and showing us gruesome murders in every other scene, Craven opted to instead tell a tale that is both believable and engaging. The story found here feels not like a traditional horror flick, but instead, a story that one of your friends would be telling you about a past experience: it just feels so real and sounds so convincing that you can't help but get sucked in. The fact that it's based on a (supposedly) true novel certainly helps this, but I have to give Craven credit for properly translating this to the screen.

As much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit that I did have a complaint about it, and said complaint deals with the grand finale. You see, instead of sticking with the slow-building and subtle style of film that had worked so well up until this point, Craven decided to go out with a bang and give us a more traditional ending with a showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, complete with plenty of supernatural elements that completely invalidated my previous "it seemed authentic" statements. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that it feels a little something like watching The Silence of the Lambs, getting sucked in by the realism and the performance, and then watching the film end with Hannibal Lecter revealing that he's actually a demon from hell with supernatural powers. Would Silence of the Lambs be the classic that it is had it ended like that? I think not, but that's one of the big issues with The Serpent and the Rainbow. And to think: Craven had restrained himself so well up until that point.

Still, I have to give this a recommendation even though that ending ruined the chance of this becoming a classic in my eyes. I did enjoy the film up until that point and I feel that it still has a lot to offer regardless of how it ends, but be prepared to be disappointed just before the credits roll. 7/10.
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Edd #1: Edd - added 09/17/2007, 08:23 AM
Based on how SCARY this movie was, I'd give it 6 points on that alone. With acting and overall feel, it's a 9/10
Tristan #2: Tristan - added 09/17/2007, 08:39 AM
Dammit Pullman is young in this. Haven't seen it, but it's currently downloading. I should probably hunt down the book first, but that would take a lot longer.
bluemeanie #3: bluemeanie - added 09/17/2007, 09:50 AM
Yeah, I'm not so much about this film. I love Wes Craven and the premise is terrific, but I didn't find the execution to be that great. It was lacking any real tension and didn't provide enough scares to really have me hooked. Don't even really consider this a horror film. 4/10.
Shakes #4: Shakes - added 01/22/2009, 01:02 PM
Horror film or not, dog, it's still a very good film. no point in rating it as a horror film, because it's more than that... 7/10
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