Wade Davis (book), Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman
Bill Pullman as Dennis Alan
Cathy Tyson as Marielle Duchamp
Zakes Mokae as Dargent Peytraud
Paul Winfield as Lucien Celine
Brent Jennings as Louis Mozart
Conrad Roberts as Christophe
Through people in my life I have come to know a little bit about Voodoo. Most horror movies that deal in some way with this religion have absolutely no idea what it is really about. “Creative license” is injected, it seems, to make the whole horror movie scenario more dark, scary and foreboding.
In reality Voodoo is not based on evil premises as is often portrayed, but instead has it’s foundation in Catholicism. The Spirits that are such cornerstones of Voodoo are, in effect, angels with God and Jesus reigning supreme over all. And, there is a dark side.
It is the dark side where the elements of control over others and evil show themselves, and this dark world of evil Voodoo is indeed scary. The trouble is, when making a movie with Voodoo elements it takes time and effort to explain the reality of the practice… and it is much easier to just rely on the frightening stereotypes instead.
This is not the case in The Serpent and the Rainbow. The story starts with anthropologist Dr. Dennis Allen (Bill Pullman), an “Indiana Jones” so to speak traveling the world looking for the herbal concoctions used by primitive tribes to cure various ailments. Many of these “home brews” use rare plants and other ingredients in combinations not conceived of by modern science, and offer creative cures and treatments that are highly sought after by United States drug companies.
In The Serpent and the Rainbow, a quest for the drug that creates “zombification” leads Dr. Allen to Haiti during a time of particularly difficult political upheaval for that country. The Haitians believe that the dead can be brought back to life by a powerful Voodoo practitioner, and when this is accomplished the soul of the arisen becomes a slave to the one that brings the body back to life. The U.S. drug company executives believe that this feat is not accomplished through magic, but through a drug that can cause a person to appear dead until it wears off some time later. Sounds like a perfect anesthetic!
Unfortunately for Dr. Allen the military leader in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae) is also a Caplatas (Voodoo priest that practices black magic), and he does not want his secret “zombie drug” to be exposed. Using guns, torture and magic the military leader of Haiti launches an assault for the soul of Dr. Allen.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is not a history lesson about Haiti and Voodoo, but a very scary and creepy horror movie that happens to get some of the details about Voodoo right. That is part of what makes The Serpent and the Rainbow so scary. There is just enough truth and historical accuracy to make the magical attacks convincing.
The effects are fantastic. Because Dr. Allen is often attacked in his dreams the visuals and situations can cross the line of reality and still be plausible. Dr. Allen being pulled into the earth while being grabbed at by the rotted corpses of all that had been buried there before is a notable example.
I have never been to Haiti, but I have been to “Little Haiti” in Miami Florida. Many of the residents of this beach-side district continue living in a manner similar to their ways in their home country. Many of the street scenes in The Serpent and the Rainbow were carbon copies of scenes I have witnessed in Little Haiti, including Voodoo priestesses (called Mambos) sitting in folding chairs outside their botanical shops fanning themselves and the children dashing through active markets. Those details alone were enough to add a hint of realism to The Serpent and the Rainbow, and the eeriness progressively escalates from there.
Watch The Serpent and the Rainbow because it is scary, eerie and fast-paced, with a great hero and an even greater villain. And if you happen to know for a fact that the outdoor scenes were actually patterned after Miami and do not resemble Haiti at all, please don’t tell me.