Sunday, 12 October 2014
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
It would be unfair to say that the problem with this film is Bill Pullman, but he is certainly a problem with it. Part of the success of a horror film depends on conveying the characters' fear to the audience, and portraying terror - or indeed, any human emotion - is not something Pullman does very convincingly. He's far from the only issue with this film, however, but we'll get to that.
After experiencing strange visions in a trip to the Amazon, botanist and anthropologist Dennis Alan is sent to Haiti to investigate the so-called "zombie powder" to see if the formula can be discovered and exploited as an anaesthetic. He teams up with a local doctor - who naturally happens to be an extremely attractive woman, and with whom he'll soon have a thoroughly unconvincing romance - to look into the matter. Alas, they quickly fall come to the attention of the local police chief, who is also a powerful black magician, putting both their lives in danger.
So other than Bill Pullman's typically mediocre performance, this is a film with several flaws, most of which can be summed up in four words: the script is bad. It's bad on several levels. Firstly from a simple technical perspective, it employs quite a bit of narration to explain events. This is rarely a good plan in a film, and it is especially unwise to have the protagonist of a horror film deliver past tense narration. Talk about undercutting the tension.
The second issue with the script is that Dennis Alan is frankly not a very likable person. There's a scene in the middle of the movie where he was being tortured, and mostly I just felt like he kind of deserved it. This was presumably not the intent.
The biggest failure of all, however, is that it's just not scary. There's one scene early one that's a little skin-crawly, as it involves being buried alive, and another later with a spider crawling on Alan's face while he's paralysed, but these are two brief moments, and they're rather unambitious. I mean, "a big furry spider on your face" is not exactly an inventive or especially interesting way to make your audience feel creeped out. And it has nothing much to do with the voodoo themes of the film.
A very disappointing effort from director Wes Craven, of whom I generally expect better.