The Serpent and the Rainbow is a story about an anthropologist, who happens to be on Haiti this one time, and comes across the voodoo cult practitioners, as well as some of its victims. He later learns that there is a special powder that can make a person into a zombie; he joins forces with a local doctor, and together they come in contact with a sorcerer, who can produce such powder, which he wants research and maybe make medicine out of it. As it happens, the country at that time is ruled by a dictator (Baby Doc Duvalier), and his chief of secret police also considers himself a wizard of dark arts. He doesn’t like the american hanging around, and eventually applies force to drive him out.
This film is one of the most curious kinds of movies out there. On the one hand, the mystical component of the story seems quite ridiculous (even mixed with scientific approach); the story overall is a little trashy; and the special effects are rather poorly implemented (which indicates low budget).
Interestingly enough, those things do not make it a bad movie, because there are other components to this blend that are really well-done, and they successfully counterbalance the bullshit. First of all, is the aforementioned scientific approach. As the concept goes, the powder is an extremely potent drug, a mixture of highly unlikely elements, which recipe has been polished for centuries; it causes a human being to go into a death-like state, but it’s effect withers out after some time, and it’s mostly due to the fact that such person would later awake already buried, as well as to the local cultural implications, that he or she would be considered to be a zombie enslaved by the one who applied the powder, and why they would also believe that. Its effect is extremely unconventional, but ultimately there is nothing mystical about it. Of course, this idea would later be spoiled a little bit by introducing obvious magic, most of which was pretty tacky. But to me it seems very powerful, and those later additions – more like insignificant husk.
Second thing I truly liked about it is the character of Dargent Peytraud, the chief of secret police, played by Zakes Mokae. In his portrayal this character appears as a man, who was utterly corrupted by the absolute power concentrated in his hands, so much so, he started to believe he possesses supernatural abilities – and that’s on top of obvious psychopathy, which was heavily exaggerated by his position. He managed to create a very comprehensive image, one that is quite frightening, for reasons that have nothing to do with any kind of mystics. And, once again, the admixture of witchery damaged that a little, but not at all critically.
Referencing the events of the film to the events of the real history was also a nice touch. All in all, notwithstanding the ridiculousness, and flashy special effects, this is a very interesting movie with some great findings, among which is a more or less plausible concept of zombification.
Released in: 1988
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Richard Maxwell, Adam Rodman
Performed by: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings, Conrad Roberts, Badja Djola, Theresa Merritt, Michael Gough, Paul Guilfoyle, Dey Young, Aleta Mitchell, William Newman, Jaime Pina Gautier, Evencio Mosquera Slaco
Entertaining quality: 4+ out of 5
Art quality: 4+ out of 5
IMDB page: link