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John’s Horror Corner: The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), an occult adventure movie starring Bill Pullman versus Voodoo.

September 17, 2021

MY CALL:  This was way less exciting than I recall, but every bit as interesting as I remembered; more like an occult adventure movie like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Cool movie still, but much more about story than gore or shock or scares.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Serpent and the RainbowFor more thoughtful movies investigating the occult, try Angel Heart (1987) or Lord of Illusions (1995). If it’s voodoo/Hudu you seek, try The Kiss (1988), The Skeleton Key (2005) and Spell (2020).

Specializing in exploring indigenous mysticism, anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman; Brain Dead, The Grudge) is hired by a biotech company to investigate the phenomenon of zombification in Haiti. More specifically, Dennis must find out how a man verified to have been dead and buried seven years ago is walking the streets today.

Collaborating with a local doctor Marielle (Cathy Tyson), Dennis is introduced to disturbed individuals who have allegedly died and been discovered alive (but not so well) years after, as well as the more influential members of the mystic community. And whereas he is warned of the black magician Dargent (Zakes Mokae; Dust Devil, Vampire in Brooklyn), really it is the entire voodoo community that has him watching his back during his investigation.

This is probably director Wes Craven’s (The Hills Have EyesScreamCursedDeadly FriendDeadly Blessing, A Nightmare on Elm Street) most plotty horror film. The story is rich and feels as much like an occult adventure like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) as it does a horror movie. Likewise, the monsters in this horror film are the humans, not those risen from the dead with clops of putrefied flesh sloughing from their bodies. So if you came for a fright-filled gorefest, you might have come to the wrong place. This film is more concerned with the integrity of its narrative and the horrors of man than it is with fitting the typical horror mold. Still, there is no shortage of creepy horrific scenes. That is, until the final scenes when things get a bit more crazy (like bonkerstastic crazy).

The finale feels like a completely different movie in terms of content. A man tears off his own head and throws it at someone! Sure we’ve already seen severed heads and visions of a corpse bride, but things are more amped-up now. A hallway of oddly long zombie arms reaching for you, a body bursting into flames, a spiritually hammered nail to the groin… it gets zany.

Overall, this classic remains an interesting watch. It may lack the body count or death scenes we expect from 80s horror. But this is a more thoughtful, storytelling film. Great for a rainy Sunday afternoon viewing.

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