The Serpent and the Rainbow
- Bill Pullman as Dennis Alan
- Cathy Tyson as Marielle Duchamp
- Zakes Mokae as Dargent Peytraud
- Brent Jennings as Louis Mozart
- Paul Winfield as Lucien Celine
Loosely based on a true story, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a strange and atmospheric journey into the world of Voodoo which is both eye-opening and chilling.
Dennis Alan is a young Harvard anthropologist who specialises in finding unique herbs for their abilities within the field of medicine and science. He is approached by a prominent pharmaceuticals company who want him to investigate a most bizarre case. In Haiti, a man was pronounced dead and buried years before. Yet somehow he has surfaced and is among the living, literally it seems he has been brought back from beyond the grave. Believing it to be the work of some powder used within the Voodoo religion, the company send Dennis to the unstable country to investigate and see if the drug could prove beneficial back in the States. Dennis is skeptical as to this as he doesn’t believe in any sort of religion and takes the side of science over faith. Although unsure, he accepts the task and journeys to the country. Once there, he is aided by the beautiful Dr Marielle Duchamp and local Voodoo priests Louis Mozart and Lucien Celine. Yet with political unrest and chaos beginning to ignite, Dennis finds himself in more danger. He comes into vicious contact with the corrupt police chief and sadistic witch doctor Dargent Peytraud, who warns him to leave or else suffer. Unafraid, Dennis continues to poke around for the nature of the strange powder. Yet as he ventures deeper, he becomes the target of Peytraud who begins to plague his dreams with vivid and brutal scenes and horrifying hallucinations. Now Dennis is not just fighting to discover the mysterious properties of the powder, but to save his soul from being taken.
Wes Craven is a very deft director of horror and always knows exactly how to scare us. Here he is a bit more subdued with gore, but more than makes for it with the hallucinogenic episodes and strange rites portrayed. The Serpent and the Rainbow is unique in the way it portrays Voodoo. By having the film set in Haiti, it gives extra atmosphere and lets us journey into a world we are unfamiliar with and is quite unexplored. This isn’t sanitized Voodoo that we’re used to seeing, this is more in-depth and strange and all the better for it. This is where the movie derives its horror from, the unknown beliefs and things we are uncertain about. The subtext of revolution and political upheaval provides the film with that added sense of danger. With a slow-burning pace, it nicely builds to thrills and mystical ventures into a nightmarish place of terror and chaos. I do feel that some of the pace could have been improved upon, with some scenes going on for too long. Yet, throughout the majority of it, the slow pace is an asset. The same can be said of the narration provided by Dennis, at times it is quite interesting to hear but in others it feels too insistent for its own good. Yet these are minor quibbles with what is for my money an underrated horror movie, backed by a strange percussive score that perfectly captures the mood and terror.
Bill Pullman is great in the lead role, encompassing an arrogance that none of the spirit talk is real that later gives way to terror as he battles for his life. Cathy Tyson makes the best of her underwritten role, by giving Marielle a pluck and determination. However the real acting highlight from the film is Zakes Mokae in his portrayal of the corrupt and sinister Peytraud. With slithering intensity, booming voice and creepy smiles, he embodies such a memorably terrifying character that will frighten many. Much of the horror in here comes from Mokae and his delivery as he inflicts both mental and physical pain on Dennis. In supporting roles, Brent Jennings and Paul Winfield do their best as Voodoo practitioners.
Despite some flaws along the way, The Serpent and the Rainbow stands as an underrated and terrifying movie.