27 October 2000 | EdgarST
A Touch of Style
I remember watching "The Serpent and the Rainbow" in a cinema when it opened 12 years ago, and although it did not strike me as a masterpiece, I never forgot it. I had always had a memory of it as a good horror film, but tonight I saw it again on television and I was impressed about how good it is. One may associate Wes Craven with "Scream" or "A Nightmare on Elm Street", but this one is certainly one of his best films. I still see it as an adventure film with horror elements, but this time I found it full of style -a touch of documentary approach, clever use of colorful locations, good handling of massive scenes with many unprofessional extras, attractive ethnic art direction, a bit of grand guignol in some performances (mainly Zakes Mokae), humor and a sensitive and sympathetic approach to a different culture. Many times one sees American films dealing with others' cultural aspects -such as political affairs and religion-, without any respect or concern. It is true that "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is not a serious drama about people's revolt, or a tract on synchretic religions (such as Cuban santería, Haitian voodoo or Brazilian candomblé), but both aspects are not just décors, but elements well integrated to the story in its own terms -that is, in a low budget feature, whose main objective is to entertain and scare the audience. The so-called "South" is such an exotic locale for most First World filmgoers, that cultural "details" often pass unnoticed, because these persons seem to be too obsessed with their own "cinematic hedonism". Craven knows it, and that is why he makes foreign tourists applaud when they have seen a real possession, thinking it is just part of Paul Winfield's show. One of the reasons that this film is good is the script. Someone mentions in another comment how cleverly it introduces more than one level in a single scene: for example, when Dennis and Marielle are looking for Christophe in a cemetery, they not only meet grave robbers for scaring effect, but they also discuss about the possibility that Marielle is using Dennis to obtain funds for her hospital, and the scene fulfills its expectation: they find Christophe, who tells them about the mysterious 'powder'. What turns off some viewers -and myself, in a way- is the cinematic forms that take all the things dealing with energy and human capacity for evil. They are sometimes too gross, others just plain funny or ridiculous; but this is a Craven film, and they did not detract me from the main objective I mentioned earlier. Besides, there are other things I enjoyed watching the film again. First, to see once again the Bill Pullman whom I used to enjoy so much (remember the dumb blond in "Ruthless People"?) when he was beautiful and had not turned into the dull American president of "Independence Day." I also recognized elements I've witnessed. A lot of the things that you see and hear in this film are not just fiction (after all it is based on a "true" story): they are all part of many Caribbean cultures -from the sensuality of the islanders, to the rite in the river, or the powder itself. And believe me: the powders work! Not only for making zombies, but also for many other things. Don't ask me how, I do not know how they do it, but I have seen them work (in Cuba -no joke intended)! So beware.