Film Review: The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Release Date: February 5th, 1988
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Adam Rodman, Richard Maxwell
Based on: The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Badja Djola, Michael Gough

Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“By the way, Doctor Alan. What did you dream about this afternoon? A woman in your arms? The sea at your doorstep? Nooooo! You dreamt of me and of the grave. I know because I was there. And I can be there every time you close your eyes. The pain I cause you, in the room upstairs, is nothing to the pain I can cause in your own mind. Remember that… Doctor Alan.” – Dargent Peytraud

This is my favorite Wes Craven movie after the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. And honestly, it’s the only Craven film that I actually love after Elm Street 1

I think that my love of this is because of two things. One, I love voodoo horror. Two, due to the black magic in this film, Craven employed some of the same filmmaking special effects techniques that he did in A Nightmare On Elm Street, as the protagonist here, had several nightmares he had to progress through in an effort to conquer the story’s force of evil. So in some ways, it makes evil voodoo lord Dargent Peytraud somewhat like Freddy Krueger in how he fucks with his victims’ minds.

Speaking of Dargent Peytraud, Zakes Mokae is so fucking chilling as this character it’s impossible not to believe him, even when you know you’re a watching a movie. I mean, man… what a performance! It truly makes the picture and while I love Bill Pullman (who doesn’t?), Mokae completely takes over every scene he is in.

Also, this doesn’t take anything away from Pullman, this is one of my favorite roles he’s ever played. Honestly, it’s probably second behind his role as the president in Independence Day and tied with his performance in Lost Highway, as that one and this, are exceedingly good.

I love this story though, as it sees a doctor go down to Haiti in an effort to find this mythic powder that can revolutionize medicine for the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t want to spoil too much other than to point out that there’s a lot of voodoo in this movie, crazy mindfuck experiences and zombification of the magical kind.

The thing I love most about this film is how imaginative and creative the effects heavy sequences are ala A Nightmare On Elm Street. Wes Craven retrofit that successful formula he built a franchise off of and presented it in a new, cool way that worked exceptionally well. The final sequence of this film which leads to the showdown between Pullman’s Dr. Alan and Mokae’s Peytraud is visually astonishing.

I wish I had discovered this film when it was somewhat current but honestly, it would’ve scared the shit out of me, as a kid. Regardless, of having already seen and loved the first three Elm Steet movies by that point. I think I saw it at the perfect age, around fifteen or sixteen, and it kind of became a movie I obsessed over for a few weeks, as I watched it at least a half dozen times within a month or less.

The Serpent and the Rainbow is creepy, cool, imaginative and just a unique and kind of terrifying experience.

Rating: 8/10