Dir.: Wes Craven
A few months ago I uncovered a tale of true horror: Ron Howard was listed in my stats at Letterboxd as my 6th most-watched director of all-time. To rectify that, I've been gradually but deliberately going through the filmographies of the directors in Howard's statistical vicinity to knock him down and, some day, off the list. Horror legend Wes Craven was within spitting distance of Howard, so even though I'm lukewarm on Craven overall, I've got a handful of his movies on my list for Octoblur 2018 as part of my effort to tell Howard to "Eat My Dust."
While most of my unseen Craven movies are also his most obscure, The Serpent and the Rainbow was major studio release, and I did see it once shortly after it was released on home video in the late 1980s. The only thing I could remember about it 30 years later, however, is that it didn't make much of an impression on me then, and I didn't recall it well enough it to rank it on Flickchart or rate it at Letterboxd within the last 10 years.
As Craven's first big Hollywood production following the massive success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow feels, for the most part, too conventional, too much like the work of a typically messy, half-crazy indie director trying to check his impulses and fit in with the big boys.
Surely, part of the reason why The Serpent and the Rainbow feels a bit too staid is the presence of Bill Pullman in the lead role as an adventure-scientist sent by a pharmaceutical company to investigate rumors of a "zombification" drug in Haiti. Pullman can be very good in certain types of supporting roles, but he's a bit too milquetoast to carry an exotic horror film. Handicapping him further, there also isn't much to his role, other than playing a flatly uncharismatic straight-man to nightmares and torture. Seeing Pullman in this role, which is sort of a wishy-washy "real" Indiana Jones, only too easily brings to mind his previous role, as the Han Solo-figure in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs: he's no Harrison Ford, and that might work in a comedy, but not here.
The Serpent and the Rainbow is based on the supposedly true experience of anthropologist Wade Davis, from whose book the screenplay was adapted. Davis must not have thought much of himself as a dramatic character, as there's no arc or tension here, despite Pullman's fictionalised version going through some pretty gnarly experiences. Cathy Tyson, from Mona Lisa, co-stars as a remarkably passive love interest. Maybe there was zombie powder in the coffee pots of the writers' room and casting agency. The only cast member who stands out is the lively, menacing Zakes Mokae, who doesn't need much to work with to reveal the sort of dynamic personality lacking elsewhere throughout The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Craven does, finally, let loose near the end, with an incongruously nutty finale featuring some fun special effects that could have come out of a Hong Kong "black magic" thriller. It's too bad that the rest of the movie plays it so straight and with so little life that the energetic climax means next to nothing.
The Serpent and the Rainbow was one of a trio of high-profile "voodoo" thrillers to come out of Hollywood during the late 1980s, alongside The Believers, and, the best of the lot, Angel Heart. Good movies addressing this subject are rare, indeed, with Val Lewton's 1943 I Walked with a Zombie still the standard-bearer.
Random theme emerging: 4 out of 4 Octoblur 2018 movies, so far, have featured characters set on fire.
Flickcharted: #2307 (45.27%)