Wes Craven has given us a lot of great movies over his illustrious career from his debut with Last House on the Left, right on through the Scream series of movies. But his production has been decidedly peppered with a few clunkers along the way and The Serpent and the Rainbow is one of those that missed the mark.
A story of Haitian voodoo and zombies (long before Zombies were über cool I might add), the plot is superficial at best, devoid of any real thrills or action, and even boring at times.
After dabbling with some of the local concoctions doled out by a Haitian shaman and being surprised by the potency of the hallucinogenic results, scientist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) returns home where he is approached by a pharmaceutical firm with a special request in mind. Presenting evidence that they believe proves the existence of a miraculous anesthetic, they tell Dennis they want him to go back and find the source. The ‘evidence’ purports that a man buried seven years earlier has been confirmed to be alive and well and to be stalking cemeteries.
Dennis, however skeptical, returns to Haiti where he meets a nurse, Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) who helps him in his quest, but not before he falls under the suspicion of the dreaded “Tontons Macoutes”, the paramilitary force sustaining dictator ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s corrupt regime. The cat-and-mouse game between Dennis and the commander of the Tontons Macoutes, Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), includes both induced visions and genuine acts of aggression, but that is what the rest of the movie boils down to.
How the presence of a zombie is supposed to prove the existence of the anesthetic is never made clear, but that’s the least of confusing parts of the film. Evidently an allegory for the evil regime being represented by the evil’s encountered by Dennis in his quest, the best the film has to offer are a few light scares and actor Paul Winfield in a too brief role as friendly Voodoo priest.
Wes must have been indulging in some of that elixir when he made this one. Skip it and check out many of his much better films like The Hills Have Eyes, Cursed, or even any one of the Scream quadrilogy.