The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)

JUNE 21, 2008


Until Night of the Living Dead, “zombie” movies were usually about voodoo, not flesh eating. Since then, it’s been rather uncommon that a zombie movie deals with the “real” facts about zombie-ism, so I was hoping that The Serpent And The Rainbow would be a fine attempt at making a modern “old school” zombie movie, but sadly it’s mainly just a giant bore.

The main problem is the script itself. Unlike many of his peers, Wes Craven is a guy who rarely dips into the world of adaptation. With the exception of Scream, he wrote all his best films himself. But not only is this film based on a book, it's also adapted by two folks who aren't Craven. So it just doesn't really feel like one of his movies. The only thing in this film that connects to any of his other work is a scene where our hero is attacked by a chair, something he also explored in Shocker. But yet, his contributions to the genre forever give his name more weight than some no-name director, and thus more is expected out of him.

Another problem with the film is the complete lack of danger. Bill Pullman narrates the film, so his survival is fairly obvious, but also, he goes back home (to Boston!) a couple times in the film, which breaks what little tension the film has built up from the “stranger in a strange land” scenario. If he can just hop a plane whenever he feels like it, what’s the danger? If not for the finale and the endless nightmare scenes (another slight connection to Craven’s other work), it would come off more as a ripoff of Medicine Man* than a horror movie.

Pullman’s good though, in a rare straight lead role. He’s not all dark/moody like in Zero Effect, but he’s not the lovable 2nd banana from his romcoms either. It’s a role for a more traditional A-lister, and if the film was more successful, it’s easy to see that he would have gotten more leads (instead of being part of ensembles). The supporting cast is also good, particularly Brent Jennings as a con man who turns out to know what he’s doing. It’s just that the script by Richard Maxwell (based on Wade Davis’ novel) gives them nothing to do. There’s no rising action, no real feeling of danger, and the political uprising subplot that plays a heavy role in the film’s finale practically defines “shoehorn”. The whole movie is just treading water until the final 10 minutes, and by then it’s too little too late.

This film is sandwiched in between two of Craven’s most delightfully silly movies (Deadly Friend and Shocker), so it’s nice to see him trying something more serious. But honestly, I think in the end it would have worked better had it not had horror type elements at all, and was just a straight up mystery/adventure type deal.

On a more positive note - I beat Grand Theft Auto IV today! It's the first one I have ever finished, having usually gotten bored with doing the same things over and over. Bless the Xbox achievement points system for inspiring me to press on and complete it (plus do lots of side quests). Now, on to Alone in the Dark!

What say you?

*I know Medicine Man came after this movie, but a. I saw it first and b. it's way more awesome. No one in this movie yells "I FOUND THE CURE FOR THE 20TH CENTURY AND NOW I'VE LOST IT!", for example.


  1. As a fan of the novel, I absolutely hated this movie. :P

    Your review is much more fair and thorough than mine would have been. :) For that, I love this blog.


  2. Why thank you!

    Is the book worth seeking out? Seemed like it would be an interesting story - if anything, the attempts to make this a horror movie was what sunk it. If it was presented as a straight fact-based drama I'd probably enjoy it a bit more.

  3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the Wade Davis book is a novel. It's non-fiction. The film version is fictionalized to make it a "horror movie". Kind of appropriate when you think back on the first zombie movie, WHITE ZOMBIE, which was inspired by the non-fiction book "The Magic Island."


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