The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Wes Craven directs Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson and Zakes Mokae in this supernatural thriller where an adventuring biologist investigates Haitian voodoo during the real life island coup of the mid-1980s.

Probably the first Wes Craven movie I watched as a boy. I probably found it accessible as it doesn’t really descend into out-and-out horror until the final 30 minutes. Until then it is a looser, coarser Indiana Jones rip-off (bizarrely rooted in an academic factual book). The action can’t hold a candle to Temple of Doom and Pullman is far too silly a screen presence to convince of either heroics or threat. It also has the feel of a truncated epic. The story takes place over a long period of time but characters, plotlines and time shifts are waived off with bolted on narration and cutting room footage. Maybe the longer version has some quality girth to it. Criticisms aside this proves a fine showcase for black character actors of the period; Mokae, Paul Winfield and Brent Jennings elevate limited B-movie parts. And the spookhouse finale has a chaotic relentlessness to it. Craven buries his protagonists alive, resurrects them, owns their soul, unspools reality, unleashes rotting hell on them. He puts us the audience right into their shoes as he does all this. It is a symphony of constant shock sequences and one that absolves The Serpent and the Rainbow of its initial wobbliness.

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