Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Like The People Under the Stairs, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a Wes Craven film that I'd seen before and remembered unfavorably, and which I've decided to return to, thanks to its streaming availability on Netflix. Both movies have fared better on their second viewing.

In the case of The Serpent and the Rainbow, it's because I watched this one at work several years ago on a personal media player. It was not a good way to see a movie for the first time, because I wasn't supposed to be doing it. I wasn't consciously trying to get fired, but we were waiting out the shutdown of our office after the corporate buyout, and I'd gotten into a position where I was more or less indispensable until the need for my position went away. I was efficient at my own job and sick of doing other people's work for them, so I committed my extra time to long lunches and the occasional movie. I had to look busy, though, otherwise people would ask me for help. I missed a lot of the important visuals, and I only vaguely understood what was going on.

Look, I'm aware that it was a pretty appalling way to approach my job, but it was also a pretty appalling job by that point, and I was sick of being asked to come in for ten hours every Saturday to compensate for my boss' best friend who took 40-minute smoke breaks and spent four hours of every day sleeping on her keyboard, okay? And you know what? I watched movies on the weekend, too. And I powered through Jo's work, and it was just fine.

I uh, take my current job a quite bit more seriously. Not the point.

So The Serpent and the Rainbow stars Prezident Lone Starr himself, Bill Pullman, as Dennis Alan, an anthropologist who is sent to Hati by a pharmaceutical company looking for the Next Big Thing in anesthesia. His goal is to study and bring back the drug used in Haitian Voodoo to create zombies. Alan doesn't believe in any of this stuff, but he's game for the expedition and certainly for the paycheck.

In Haiti, Alan meets a cute doctor who offers to assist him in his search. He runs afoul of the local authorities who capture him and drive a nail through his scrotum, which is how you say "Yankee, go home" in Haitian. Sooner or later he meets an Actual, Genuine Witch Doctor named Mozart, who offers to help him make the drug, but Alan must share in its preparation.

Through all of this, Alan is having vivid, disturbing dreams, and which are beginning to become prophetic...

The Serpent and the Rainbow is a good movie, but it's not a great movie, nor is it fun in the way I like my horror movies to be. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure this qualifies as a horror movie for me. It's more a fish-out-of-water story with horrific elements. In that way, I'm reminded of Angel Heart, which I reviewed last year, which which I found similarly difficult to classify. It's fairly serious, and it has a difficulty time balancing between Dr. Alan's real-world experiences, and the horror, which is mostly in his mind. There are very few supernatural events in the film's real world, and it feels weird when they start showing up, especially at the ending where the movie's villain gets his just deserts.

That ending is a sticking point for me. It fits the rest of the story, but not the execution of the rest of the story. Do you mind if I tell you that it involves the bad guy being strapped down in his own torture chair by invisible spirits who drive a nail through his scrotum? I hope not, because I just did. Anyway, it sounds silly the way I describe it, and it feels silly when you see it. It's the kind of moment where the audience is supposed to stand up and cheer for the bad guy's misfortune. At B-Fest, this is where the audience chants "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" A little levity isn't out of place in a movie like this, but this is pandering.

I do like it, though. Wes Craven was obviously trying to flex his directorial wings here, and he does a nice job. This is not the kind of movie he usually makes, and with the exception of the ending, he pulls it off well. Maybe the ending is his way of throwing a bone to the idiots in the audience who thought they were going to get Freddy Goes Haitian?

Click here for the trailer.
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