THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)
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Flick is an entertaining supernatural thriller from director Wes Craven and supposedly based on a true story. It tells the tale of anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) who specializes in bringing exotic medicines and rare herbal remedies back to pharmaceutical companies for use in modern medicine. He is hired by the Biocorp to go to Haiti and investigate tales of a man named Christophe (Conrad Roberts) who allegedly died, was buried, and yet, has been seen walking around alive years later. They believe it to be the work of some kind of drug used in Voodoo ceremonies and want Dennis to get it. Alan takes the assignment and along with a pretty Haitian doctor (Cathy Tyson) delves deep into the Voodoo subculture to find this ‘magical’ powder. While on his mission he attracts the attention of the cruel and powerful captain of Haiti’s secret police (Zakes Moakae) and Dennis Alan may soon wish he never come to Haiti…if he even makes it out alive.
Craven delivers Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman’s script as more of a straightforward supernatural thriller for the most part and it is entertaining as such. He keeps us wondering if some of the supernatural elements are products of hallucinations due to the power of belief, locally made drugs and good old smoke and mirrors. It’s not till the last act that we realize there is some kind of dark magic going on here and then Craven allows his film to end with a more theatrical and somewhat over-the-top finale. This works as it keeps the film grounded for the most part than cuts loose with some Nightmare On Elm Street-like dream sequences and theatrics for it’s final confrontation. Craven’s film’s have frequently used dreams sequences all the way back to Last House On The Left and it is something Craven is good at and his visual style really comes alive in them. With the subject of Voodoo and hallucination, Craven can indulge himself and not have it get intrusive. There are a few moments that teeter on getting silly, but, for the most part it is chilling and entertaining and Craven maintains an atmosphere of foreboding as Pullman’s Alan delves deeper into a world he should leave alone. There are definitely some tense moments of both the supernatural and all too real nature and these sequences are quite effective. The make-up FX are good in portraying the bloodletting and corpses, though, the fleetingly used visual effects are a bit cheesy by today’s standards. We have a very atmospheric score by Terminator‘s Brad Fiedel and John Lindley captures Craven’s visual style and the exotic locations quite well, adding to the overall mood of exotic horror. It’s a story that gives Craven a chance to do something a little different and yet, played to his strengths. Not as engrossing as his best work but, a fun and spooky movie nonetheless.
Bill Pullman fits the roil of Dennis Alan well. He is a bit smug, but, not to the point of unlikable and of course, his experiences here humble the confident adventurer. He portrays a man who has been everywhere and seen much but, might have finally gotten in over his head. He does have a nobility and that may be the element of his personality that keeps us rooting for him even when he is cocky. Cathy Tyson makes for a good heroine, though she does become a more routine damsel in distress in the last act, and as a romantic lead is pretty and serves her role. Zakes Mokae makes a very memorable and creepy villain. He would be disturbing enough as the cruel captain of the secret police with a taste for torture but, his Dargent Peytraud is also a powerful black magic practitioner with a hobby of collecting souls. The South African actor brings a menace and brutality to the man, sometimes with just a smirk and a glare. We also have Paul Winfield and Brent Jennings as locals with a little magic of their own.
In conclusion, this may not be one of Craven’s best but, it is a fun movie and has plenty of creepy moments, as well as, some bloody ones too. Things may skirt the line between over-the-top and silly in the last act in a few spots, but, they stay on the correct side and it gives us a more theatrical finale after a grounded build-up. The cast are all suitable with Pullman a likable hero and Mokae a very disturbing villain. A solid and entertaining enough supernatural thriller that ranks along with The People Under The Stairs and Deadly Blessing as one of Craven’s more moderate but enjoyable films.