Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Bill Pullman
Brent Jennings Cathy Tyson
In my book, this was the first flick that showed Craven's brilliance as a horror filmmaker was not going to abate with time.
Part of the success is due partly to the fact that "Serpent" is based on a true story. But it's also intelligently done as a drama as much as a horror film, and came a long way toward "legitimizing" the genre in the late 1980s before it the genre went into hibernation in the early 1990s.
While attending Harvard, anthropologist Wade Davis traveled to Haiti and discovered a real-life drug that literally turns people into zombies—making them appear dead, then resurrected.
His book about his experience, "The Serpent and the Rainbow," was more an excursion into the folklore of the region than a horror tale, but leave it to Craven to change that. Davis agreed to sell the book rights on the condition that Peter Weir direct and Mel Gibson star. Obviously that didn't happen.
In Craven's version—replete with severed heads, zombies and a gruesome torture scene no male will ever forget—the Davis character (Pullman) is on a mission to find the drug for a corporation and finds himself in a psychic voodoo war against a political leader in the country. Eventually he's turned into a zombie himself—and is totally conscious at his own autopsy and then burial.
With a large budget and great performances by Pullman as Wade, Tyson as his African love interest and Zakes Mokae as the Haitian leader who uses voodoo to oppress his people, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is an excellent, accessible horror film with one of the most gruesome torture scenes in a film since ... well, "Last House on the Left."
An absolute must-see.
-- Review by Lucius Gore