#25: The Serpent and The Rainbow
You may have noticed I haven't watched a single zombie movie in the last 25 days. Here we go:
Don't let them bury me; I'm not dead!
Okay, so, it's not a zombie movie. Not like these guys, or this girl, and especially not these guys. Many of you are disappointed, but I'll be the first to admit it: I'm tired of zombies. Sometimes I'm sure we've done them to death. I enjoyed Zombieland as much as the next person, but maybe that was a cue to scale it back for a decade or so? While we're still working that out, I'll be here watching this anthropologist's nightmare in Haiti, where the real "zombies" are.
The Serpent and The Rainbow concerns voodoo zombification, a part of the Vodun faith practiced in Haiti. Vodun, a mixture of healing arts and Christianity is a complex religion, and it is where somebody probably got the idea for those Night of the Living Dead sort of zombies. However, catch up on your occurrences of reported actual Haitian zombification - it's enough to spark some unease in the pit of your stomach.
This Wes Craven film is one of my favorites, not just for its gorgeous setting and presentation of Haitian culture, but because it has a real knack for creeping up under your skin. It is based on a true story, in that the screenwriters adapted the story from a non-fiction narrative by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. His experience isn't quite so dramatic as this, but, zombi powder? A real thing.
I spoke for about three sentences in my critique of Scream 2 about some problems with race and cultural presentation in characterization. In short, I found it problematic. In this earlier film, much more akin to its predecessor, The People Under the Stairs, I find exactly the opposite - a realistic and powerful presentation of community and culture that honors the place and the people within. I think the fact that it manages to keep that feeling, in the midst of a rather extra-villainous villain, is impressive to me. And although the supernatural element is imperative, it is not so exaggerated that it lampoons any part of Vodun or its practice. In fact, I'd say it's very faithful to faith - something Wes Craven is no stranger to thematically or in real life (he was raised Baptist in the midwest).
In A Nightmare on Elm Street, it's belief that gives Freddy Krueger his power to kill you inside a dream. In Scream, morality and traditional values are being openly critiqued, defied, and rewritten. In The People Under The Stairs, faith in the neighborhood (as well as Mommy and Daddy's loose - very loose - use of biblical lessons) is what allows Fool to escape the confines of a literal hell-in-a-basement scenario. If I stood by the Auteur theory on this one, I could confidently find Craven's career directorial through-line to be one dedicated to examining the nature of human faith. And like the very best philosopher, he rarely answers, only continues to question - what is it to live? to die? to move between? I don't believe the answers to be important, however, I do think it's clear that Wes Craven's films illustrate human beings having a universal good in common - a soul. That's never clearer than it is here, as Dennis Alan's is taken from him, and he's left for dead - though he is anything but.
Zombie hand retreating into soup. "Aren't you hungry, Dennis?" Nope. Not anymore.
Other Things to Notice:
Wes is a practical effects man. Things get a little loony with some early CGI towards the end (this always seems to happen in Act II, doesn't it?), but everything before that demonstrates how well his camera is trained to capture the best of makeup effects and visual trickery.
That zombie bride pulling her jawbone down is gross.
Dennis's nightmares in general are terrifying and cerebral. I know this is a horror film, and veers directly into blood, guts, and torture territory, but the first half is a really tight thriller, the dreams serving as the only inkling that anything truly supernatural is occurring. This one is particularly unnerving. This one, too.
And I told you Bill Pullman would be back. Love Bill. He's a bit of alright, always.
*For a double dose of "The Bills," as I like to call them, enjoy the bizarre Brain Dead (not to be confused with Peter Jackson's Dead Alive aka Brain Dead), with both Pullman and Paxton! For no reason other than my two favorite Bills are present and accounted for.
This concludes #WesCravenWeekend.
It seems unfair, because there are so many films, either produced, written, or directed by Wes that we could have devoted the entire 31 days to him. And, if I've managed to do anything in looking at 4 of his works, I hope it's convince you that he deserves all 31 of them. May the Master rest in peace - but not so much that he can't drift into a nightmare or two.
If You Like It, Watch:
Red Eye: A true thriller, directed by Wes in 2005. Set on a plane with a terrorist plot, it is exquisitely tight in concept and execution. Riveting dynamic between Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: This is a pretty okay documentary on the Nightmare saga, and a whopping four hours long, it is extensive. Wes had very little to do with the Nightmare franchise, but his relationship with Robert Shaye and the creation of New Line Cinema is important info for any Craven or Horror fan. And Freddy Krueger remains, in my mind, one of the scariest slashers ever dreamt up, by Wes or anyone since. *Streaming on Netflix
You asked for it...