The Zombie of the Veil: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Sarah Luka

I will admit at times that I confuse John Carpenter and Wes Craven because of many of their movies are filmed in a similar manner. Especially moments of body gore like in The Thing and thus with this movie. I’m not insulting either director when I say this, in fact I love both of these directors and their movies but sometimes the lines do blur a bit. This film was suggested to me and naturally I love Wes Craven movies, the first Scream and The People Under the Stairs will remain favorites of mine.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, based on a book by Wade Davis, stars Bill Pullman as Dennis Alan, an anthropologist sent to Haiti by some random, unnamed pharmaceutical company to look for a mysterious drug used in voodoo ceremonies to bring people back to life as zombies. The one major thing here that I love about this movie is that they use the traditional sense of zombies, not the flesh-eating ghouls that were made famous by Romero or the zombies from other films that prevail in most modern movies. The zombies used in this movie are the reanimated, soulless dead person that is brought back by supernatural means. In the case of this movie the main villain Dargent Peytraud, played by Zakes Mokae who acted in another Wes Craven movie ‘Vampire in Brooklyn’, revives people to use them for his own unspoken means.

As I said before, I love Wes Craven but this movie felt flat to me. The action scenes, the few there were, just felt and looked corny to me. Many of the scenes felt rushed in their attempt to get you to what I’m sure were major plot points but many of those scenes had moments of ‘blink and you’ll be confused on what you’re witnessing.’ I had to rewind the movie quite a bit for these moments and still I was confused on what they had to do with the movie. Like the confusing forced romance between Dennis and the local doctor Marielle Duchamp, who at the beginning didn’t widely believe in voodoo or anything of the sort. The romance felt like a filler that didn’t need to be there and at times took away from the center point.

The movie wasn’t all bad. I will continue to praise the use of the Haitian voodoo zombie not used much nowadays but still greatly enjoyed. The Serpent and the Rainbow isn’t the first movie to use the Haitian voodoo zombie trope, that honor goes to White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin and starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Robert W. Frazer and John Harron. White Zombie was released in 1932 and was the first showing Haitian voodoo zombies on screen being used to do their master’s bidding. We don’t see much of that happening in The Serpent and the Rainbow, the only time we really see any semblance of this is when Dennis is sleeping and Peytraud attacks him in his dreams and frightens him or during the revolt that drove out Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier when Dennis rushes to save Marielle.

The film ends as it begins, with a message to the crowd explaining that the drug Dennis procures from Louis Mozart is being studied by both the United States and Sweden. The film ends ambiguously and leaves you wondering if anything will happen. This movie, while a fun film, wasn’t one of the best Wes Craven has come out with but it is a different one from his usual Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series. The movie felt weighed down by the effects and poorly drawn out plot but I will sing its praise of bringing attention back to a long-forgotten grandfather genre of the Haitian voodoo zombie. This genre is always overlooked for the more gorier and scare inducing flesh eating zombies we have over flooding main-stream media. I would suggest this movie, as it was for me, for anyone wanting to get into other Wes Craven movies and to familiarize themselves with an older horror genre that I feel should be brought back.

I will give this film 3 out of 5 tarantulas in a grave.

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