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Film / The Serpent and the Rainbow

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"Don't bury me... I'm not dead!"

The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 horror film directed by Wes Craven. It is, in a broad sense, a zombie movie, but one of the more traditional, pre-Night of the Living Dead (1968) voodoo types. Originally filmed in Haiti, where a majority of the action takes place, the political and social unrest meant moving the entire production to the nearby country of Dominican Republic midway through production for the safety of the cast and crew.

Anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) travels to Haiti to investigate rumors of a drug used by black magic practitioners: one allegedly capable of transforming the living into zombie slaves. He meets with Marielle Duchamp, a Haitian medical doctor who has been working closely with cases of zombification. One of her most recent cases is a man named Christophe, a fresh zombie with a better memory than usual. In their investigation, they meet with Louis Mozart, who, despite being something of a con man, is willing to provide them with the mysterious zombie drug.


Meanwhile, Haitian paramilitary leader Dargent Peytraud notices Dr. Alan's investigations, and seeks to intimidate him into leaving the country. Alan stands up to the man, only to have his dreams haunted by visions of Peytraud, and the living dead.

This film provides examples of:

  • Always Save the Girl: Why Dennis goes back to Haiti again.
  • Badass Boast: After purchasing a vial of zombie powder from Mozart, Dennis Alan loudly calls him an idiot, says "You want to know what I think of your powders?", pours the entire vial into a drink, then chugs the mixture. Before leaving, he hisses: "It's piss." He actually used slight of hand to switch the real vial out for one of his own; ultimately, it was a move meant to psyche out Mozart enough to give him the real powder.
  • Big Bad: Dargent Peytraud.
  • Buried Alive: This is part of the zombie-creation process.
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  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Dennis flees Haiti, but ... events in Manhattan convince him to return.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The eating of glass mentioned below. The woman dining with Dennis back in the US, gets controlled by Peytraud, and does this right before she tries to kill him
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Peytraud lights a cigar with a blowtorch, while preparing to torture Alan.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Done by Peytraud to Allan when he doesn't want to leave the country.
  • Creepy Cemetery: Several scenes.
  • The Dragon: Gaston, Peytraud's right hand (and also the one who dresses as Baron Samedi).
  • Evil Sorcerer: Peytraud.
  • Groin Attack: With a nail. "I want to hear you scream!" In the first case, Peytraud only tries to terrify Allan without actually doing much damage. When Allan does it to Peytraud at the end, however...
  • The Hero: Dennis Alan.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: At least, in the sense that it the religion was highly sensationalized (see below).
  • Ironic Echo: "I want to hear you scream!"
  • Just Think of the Potential: Dr. Alan is working for a pharmaceutical company that believes the zombie powder can be used as a safe anesthetic; something that might prevent patients from dying on the operating table as the result of anesthetic shock.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: When Alan is about to be tortured by Peytraud he tries to bribe him, but he answers the he doesn't want money and all he wants is to "hear him scream".
  • Masochist's Meal: A woman, apparently under the influence of possession, eats part of a wine glass.
  • Mind over Matter: As part of the climax, Dennis Alan gains telekinesis.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Peytraud is pretty blatantly based on both Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier (being a voodoo sorcerer) and Luckner Cambronne (being the head of the Tonton Macoutes). Given that the Duvalier family still had many supporters when the film began production in Haiti despite Papa Doc's son and heir Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's recent ouster, one suspects they were more concerned about harm coming to the celebrities acting in the film.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The most terrifying sequence of the movie is arguably when Allen is buried alive by Peytraud. The camera shows nothing but blackness inside of the coffin while Allen gasps for air and screams for help.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Dennis Alan suffers through this more and more frequently as the movie continues, eventually having to cope with waking hallucinations.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Discussed ("If you don't like the word 'zombie,' you can choose another word").
  • Off with His Head!: Mozart gets his head cut with a sword, and Lucien's zombie decapitates himself with his bare hands.
  • Our Souls Are Different: They are stored in ceramic pots.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Averted. See You Keep Using That Word.
  • Religious Horror: Voodoo or vodoun, in this case.
  • Scary Black Man: Peytraud, as well as his men.
  • Secret Police: The Tontons Macoutes.
  • Slasher Smile: Peytraud often shows this.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Dennis Alan at the end.
  • Torture Technician: Peytraud personally supervises Alan's torture.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film was inspired by a book of the same name, by a Botanist who went to Haiti to scientifically analyse the substances used in Voodoo rituals and investigate the legends of powerful Houngans who could re-animate the dead as zombie slaves. Turns out the truth is somewhere in the middle. Zombies are real, but they're not actually dead, it's just a combination of fugu poison, oxygen deprivation-induced brain damage from being buried alive for a while and a healthy dose of the power of suggestion.
    • In fact, the author, Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis, was extremely unhappy with the film, because it ended up presenting voodoo in the sensationalist Black Magic sideshow light that he notably avoided in the book. There are several passages in the book in which he condemns the way Hollywood has demonized ''vodoun'' religion in film.
  • Witch Doctor: Peytraud.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Haitian dictator Dargent Peytraud keeps a collection of them.


Example of: