Shellie Gray has been thrust face first into the horrors of Wes Craven’s most mature genre film.
“Don’t let them bury me! I’m not dead!”
Loosely based on Wade Davis’s ethnographic account of his experiences in Haiti, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 (Mmm… smell that vintage goodness!) offering from Wes Craven, who momentarily eschews his more slash and stab inclinations to give us an eerie tale of voodoo, claustrophobic paranoia and the primal fear of being buried and still breathing.
Dennis Alan (played by a gravelly and handsome Bill Pullman), is sent to Haiti after a stint in the jungle to investigate the case of a man deemed dead and buried over a decade ago, who has recently been seen up and pottering about (pottering, stumbling around like a zombie, same thing). The pharmaceutical company that are funding him to go have the notion that if this man was in fact in a deep coma and then somehow brought out of it, this would of course be the ideal thing to use as an anaesthetic over here in the ‘civilised world’.
Whereas most films that concern themselves with voodoo (who do, you do, I do what? Remind me of the babe!) tend to bend elements of voodoo into the narrative in whatever way better serves the story they are trying to tell, The Serpent and the Rainbow, differs in the way that the story itself seems plausible.
This effect is generated by the almost documentary style Wes Craven presents the film in. From the voice overs by Dennis, to the feeling that we are intruding on something quite scary and secret. The location of the film itself, both in Haiti and when Haiti got a bit hairy for the cast and crew, in the Dominican Republic, lends an air of natural authenticity to proceedings. There is a sensation of actual danger, perhaps influenced by the film’s production issues. There is never really a sense that we are watching people in costumes on sets. In short, there is a certain believability to the way the story is presented, with just enough truth in it to make it damn intimidating.
Away from the naturalistic appearance of the narrative, there are some extremely effective dreamlike/hallucination sequences. Both occasionally deliriously trippy and full of instinctual and primal fears, these are for me some of the best parts of the film. The Val Lewton esque sequences with a distinctly deceased corpse bride for example, is liable to make you forget that phrase is normally used in conjunction with a cutesy- goth Tim Burton film.
Scenes later in the film, (I won’t give too much away, but boys, I’m a girl, and I crossed my legs and winced in sympathy) are powerful and intense, without ever really falling into the splatter and shock trap. All in all, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a solid and compelling film, which snares you with its uneasy and commanding sense of threat.