The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

the serpent and the rainbow

“In Haiti there are secrets we keep even from ourselves.”

The Scoop: 1988 R, directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, and Zakes Mokae.

Tagline: Don’t bury me… I’m not dead!

Summary Capsule: A doctor goes to Haiti to investigate zombies and finds some things can’t be explained with a microscope.


Eunice’s rating: You remind me of the babe…

Eunice’s review: There are two schools of zombie. What I like to call Post Modern Zombie – After Night of the Living Dead viral beings who’s fear comes from being chewed on like a piece of fried chicken- and Classic Zombie, that is to say do do that voodoo that you do so well. The Serpent and the Rainbow falls under Classic Zombie.

If you want something rare and ungettable from a shaman or witch doctor ethnobotanist Dr. Dennis Alan is your man. Whether it’s his ability to fake belief in the spiritual, his lack of fear of personal injury, or his cute boyish Bill Pullman charm he can get the keepers of sacred millennia old potions to give him the secrets. After a rather eventful trip in the Amazon, he comes back to find recorded evidence of someone who had died coming back and walking amongst the living – i.e. a zombie. Coming to the conclusion that it must be some sort of drug that causes the subject to only appear dead, and later revive, he’s hired by a pharmaceutical company. After all, if there were such a drug it could be used in surgeries and cut down on deaths from complications with anesthesia. So he flies down to Haiti to meet with the – female and smoking hot, of course – psychologist who sent the information in the first place.

And from there the net of Very Bad Things tightens around Dr. Alan as he goes down a terrible rabbit hole.

There are some horror films that require patience because they like the slow burn. S & R is one of those. While there is some spookyness right from the beginning, it’s a movie that builds slowly. A nightmare here, a possession there, it isn’t really until the last quarter of the movie that it moves into full on horror territory. Most of the scary comes from the character Dargent Peytraud, a fanatic who keeps people in line through fear of torture and fear of making them a zombie. Played by Zakes Mokae, the slightly amused yet intense way he looks at Dr. Alan, as if to say, ‘No matter what you do I’ll know about it and I can come get you at anytime,’ is as unsettling as any of the freakiness.

And how about that freakiness? It’s like a smorgasbord of phobia triggers! Afraid of being buried alive? How about spiders? Dead bodies, maggots, snakes, the occult, torture, blood, needles, or a general sense of not being able to escape? It’s got you covered.

Another thing is it, mostly, sidesteps the frustrating “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!” anti-logic. Not only does our protagonist acknowledge that the wisest course is retreat, but he has good, or at least better than usual, reasons to stick around and it’s believable he would. His work, as we’re shown in the beginning, has led him down dark roads before, this is just another job he’s being paid to do. Also, if he can bring back a sample of the zombie poison, it could mean preventing the death of thousands. If he just up and leaves, the fates of the people who helped him are on his head. While I don’t require my horror to make sense, it does make for a nice change every once in a while.

It isn’t perfect, however. The tone and rhythm feel very late 80s/early 90s, which won’t work for everyone. The practical effects and make up still look pretty good, but the special effects at the end (obviously saved up for a wow factor) haven’t aged so well, to the point of looking silly. Like I said, it takes its time, but then the ending feels rushed, and is perhaps tied up a little too neatly. And while it’s a good horror movie, with the acting and story being mostly solid and the images often creepifying, it’s not great.

But if you’re looking for a different species of zombie and the perfect sort of movie to curl up on the couch, turn the lights off, and allow yourself to be freaked out a little The Serpent and the Rainbow is a good way to go.

No really, honey. All brides are beautiful.


  • Have to appreciate that they say “inspired by” instead of “based on” the 1985 book by Wade Davis. Aside from the setup of an ethnobotanist being sent down to investigate the zombie phenomena, the movie and the book have almost nothing in common. Davis, who agreed to sell the rights on the condition that Peter Weir direct and Mel Gibson star (obviously neither of which happened), was vocal about his displeasure with the movie.
  • Due to political strife and civil turmoil in Haiti during the production, the local government informed the film crew that they could not guarantee their safety for the remainder of the shoot. The crew subsequently relocated to nearby Dominican Republic to complete filming.
  • If someone smiled at me like that and then told me to drink something… I wouldn’t.
  • So she makes a point of saying she’s one of only three doctors in an under staffed, underfunded asylum/hospital, and yet she has all this time to go gallivanting about? The cute boyish Bill Pullman charm strikes again!
  • Seriously, Bill Pullman looks and sounds like he’s about 13.
  • Worst dinner party ever.

Groovy Quotes

Marielle Duchamp: The way Dr. Schoonbacher spoke of you, it was as though you could walk on water! Now I know why, *** floats!

Christophe: I heard the dirt falling, falling over me. The darkness press me down.

Dargent Peytraud: Do you like it? Your pretty, white, face… I asked you a question.
Dennis Alan: Yeah, I like it.
Dargent Peytraud: I like it too. I leave the face.

Dennis Alan: I’m a U.S. citizen! Think about that!
Dargent Peytraud: I don’t see the Ambassador here, do you?

Dargent Peytraud: I want to hear you scream!
*Dr. Alan screams*
Dargent Peytraud: Not GOOD ENOUGH!

Dargent Peytraud: By the way, Doctor Alan. What did you dream about this afternoon? A woman in your arms? The sea at your doorstep? No. You dreamt of me and of the grave. I know because I was there. And I can be there every time you close your eyes. The pain I cause you in the room upstairs is nothing to the pain I can cause in your own mind. Remember that, Doctor Alan.

Lucien Celine: Whatever happens, death is not the end.

Dennis Alan: Don’t let them bury me! I’m not dead!

Dargent Peytraud: No, no, no! No rest! You’ll see it all! You’ll feel it! The cold in the coffin, it is worse. Much, much worse.

Dargent Peytraud: When you wake up scream, Doctor Alan. Scream all you want. There is no escape from the grave.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Skeleton Key
  • I Walked with a Zombie

One comment

  1. nice review! i picked this up on the cheap for halloween weekend to finally officially watch it, and i have to say that your review said everything i could have said much more eloquently. excellent work!

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