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One of horror master Wes Craven’s better realized films, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is still only mildly effective, working more as a curio about the factual zombies of Haiti than an actual scary horror movie. 

Based on the exploits of the real-life ethnobotanist Wade Davis, Havard researcher Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) is tasked by a pharmaceutical company to travel to Haiti to discover how the Voodoo practitioners have been bringing people back from the dead. 

Aided by Marielle (Cathy Tyson), who runs a local clinic, Alan steps knee deep into a world he doesn’t fully understand. To make matters worse, Haiti is in turmoil due to the despot leadership of “Baby Doc” Duvalier. 

Alan’s visit incurs the wrath of Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), the head of Duvalier’s secret police, the Tonton Macoute and soon the researcher’s life and soul are in mortal danger. 

Playing more like a docudrama, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is still interesting due to its handling of the Voodoo elements. It does veer into the supernatural at times where Craven gets to flex his FX muscles, but mostly stays grounded and human. This is definitely one of the director’s more mature films. 

Reactions to the film were mixed upon its initial release with many expecting a film more akin to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Ironically it does contain many of those dreamlike elements and most are quite effective, but they’re in service of a more adult film and not a teen slasher movie, so many were presumably left disappointed. 

If you are interested in the overwhelming slate of zombie-related films recently than you might enjoy seeing a different take on the venerable genre. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is certainly solid as a film, but not quite the horror epic that it might have been.

AUGUST 5, 2014