After achieving huge international success with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), Wes Craven did his best to push the self-destruct button on an already chequered career by directing the pretty poor made for TV movie CHILLER (1985) and the dreadful made for nothing better than the celluloid recycling bin DEADLY FRIEND (1986). Those of us who had lost faith (and indeed several friends to whom we had recommended these post ELM STREET disasters without checking out their awfulness first) were consequently somewhat relieved when THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW didn’t turn out to be as awful as THE HILLS HAVE EYES II (1984) or SWAMP THING (1982) or MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010) or…
I’m probably being a bit unfair, but suffice to say with a Wes Craven film, you never know if you’re going to get cinematic gold like THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) or SCREAM (1996) or, well, most of his other films. Anyway, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW has just had a new DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Fabulous Films and it’s one of the movies on Craven’s filmography that’s definitely worth a look.
Anthropologist Bill Pullman gets sent to Haiti by horror legend Michael Gough to seek out the drug used for zombification, the quite reasonable rationale being that it could be used in anaesthesia, saving millions of lives and making millions of dollars for company boss Paul Guilfoyle. In his attempts to find the secret, Pullman ends up having a serious run in with local police chief and all-round voodoo villain Zakes Mokae, who hammers a nail through Pullman's scrotum to prove he means business and, when that doesn’t prove a sufficient deterrent, he gives Pullman a dose of the drug and arranges for him to be buried alive. Bill gets out, though, and ends up battling Mokae in a dreamworld face off.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, while worth a look, is not an entirely satisfactory film. Based on a non-fiction account by anthropologist Wade Davis of his actual attempts to secure the 'zombie drug', the film feels as if it wants to be a docudrama but someone keeps poking at it with an exploitation stick. As a result we get some excellent nightmarish sequences, a sex scene, and climax that feels very ELM STREET indeed, but all these bits sit uneasily with the rest of the film. The opening suggests a troubled production, with voiceovers to cover the cracks in the editing, but fans of Craven’s (good) work should stick with it and they’ll be rewarded.
Fabulous Films offers THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the print looks like it hasn’t been subject to any tidying up since the 1980s. I cannot believe there aren’t some amazing stories to tell about the location shooting and why the film came out feeling rather jumbled, but sadly there’s no commentary track or making of here, just a trailer.
Fabulous Films released Wes Craven's
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW on Region 2 DVD
and Region B Blu-ray on 20th April 2015