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Wes Craven's The Serpent & the Rainbow with Bill Pullman (Arrow Recommends)

Wes Craven's The Serpent & the Rainbow with Bill Pullman (Arrow Recommends)
04.08.2017by: The Arrow
7 10


"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: Dashing (yes, dashing) scientist Dennis Allan (Bill Pullman) is sent to an “in chaos” Haiti by a pharmaceutical company to find a concoction that is rumored to kill and then revive folks i.e. create zombies.  Allan is tossed into a dangerous world of political unrest, superstition and dark magic. But no worries he still finds time for a poon-snack!

LOWDOWN: The late WES CRAVEN (I still can’t believe that he passed on…) left us with quite the horror legacy. Although the masses know him for his big guns like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and SCREAM, Craven left us with many more macabre goodies to reckon with and his 1988 THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is definitely one that should be on your must-see radar. Re-released on Blu-Ray last year and given the deluxe treatment by SCREAM FACTORY; now a whole new generation can sink their choppers into this little horror gem's neck. I hadn’t seen it since the 80’s, did it still hold up today? Yup! I dug it.

Very loosely based on ethnobotanist (I have no idea what that is either - Google time!) Wade Davis “true story” book of the same name (GET IT HERE); THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW made for quite the unorthodox foray into zombie land. The pace was of the slow burn variety, with the narrative taking its time to gradually set up its pieces in the name of checkmating us in the end. It was obvious that Craven was going for a more mature genre effort! Trying to up his game if you will. And I was hooked in the whole way through, wooed by the exotic locations (they shot in Haiti and then when it got too nuts there, they finished in the Dominique Republic), the arresting surreal imagery and the mysterious world that is the region's spirituality – a mix of Voodoo and Catholicism (loved that Cathedral /Shrine in the water... nice). I was utterly fascinated by what the film showcased in terms of the latter aspect! I actually yearned more of it, but more on that below. 

On Craven’s previous film DEADLY FRIEND, WB forced the lad to bend over and inject Krueger –ish elements through re-shoots. Well the same went down here, specially when it came to the last act which went GONZO with the trippy and morbid happenings. Personally the clash of tones didn’t work in DEADLY FRIEND, but it did here, for my sorry ass that is. Some have argued that the SERPENT finale betrayed the more low key shenanigans that preceded it and although I can see where folks are coming from, I disagree. The last act gave me the much-needed crescendo that I was craving from this story. Although a tad hokey here and there, on the whole it packed quite a wallop and left me a satisfied horror loon. A low key cap-off would not have worked as well for this jerk.

Then we had the cast which was tops all around. Bill Pullman was at his tough yet vulnerable best, Cathy Tyson was affable (I wish she was given more to do though) while Zakes Mokae gave quite the freaky/menacing performance. I wouldn't want to bump into that dude while stumbling drunk in an alley that's for sure. Brrrrr. Add to all that jive a confident directing style by Craven (subdued for the most part but heightened when it counted), an intoxicating score by Brad Fiedel (yes of The Terminator fame), all kinds of eerie bits and mucho practical effects wizardry (by Dave and Lance Anderson) on display and you get a solid bitter genre pill!

Granted you could see the inner struggle on the screen throughout: the grounded/elevated film Craven wanted to make versus the more NOES inclined product that the Studio wanted – but even with that clash of personality in tow – the picture still managed to hold up as a whole. Any sour grapes? Some. I heard that Craven’s original cut was 3 hours long. Now I agree that’s way too f-ing long, but I wish more of the meat had survived in terms of the final outcome. There’s a lot going on in this film; politically, scientifically and spiritually and further exploration of these topics would have been groovy.  As the end credits rolled, I was personally intrigued by the spirituality angle. That whole Christianity meets voodoo hybrid they got going over there has peaked my interest and I’m definitely going to read up on it .

And I was I alone in finding the narrative structure to be more episodic than it should have been? It sometimes came off as chunks pieced together as opposed to a smooth/uniform story. Moreover, further character development would have been esteemed (specially the “love story” or should I call it the “wam-bam – we’re done” story) and I felt that they rushed through some crucial plot turns, especially during the last block. When you put your lead in a crazy situation - don't save him so damn soon!

With that gutted and slammed on the table, even with its flaws, if you consider yourself a serious horror fan, you gotta tap THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (WATCH IT HERE)! Although it wasn’t all that it could have been, the warped subject matter and the nature of the rocky production resulted in something that is quite unique. 

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