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Serpent And The Rainbow, The

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    Ian Jane
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  • Serpent And The Rainbow, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: February 23rd, 2016.
    Director: Wes Craven
    Cast: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Paul Winfield
    Year: 1988
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, Wes Craven's 1988 picture The Serpent And The Rainbow remains one of the recently deceased director's most interesting feature films.

    The movie begins when an American, Christophe Durand (Conrad Roberts), is found dead and promptly buried - though his corpse is clearly weeping as dirt is shoveled down over it - as Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae) observes. Peytraud is the head of the TonTon Macoutes, “Baby Doc” Duvalier's officially sanctioned police thugs.

    A few years later, an American anthropologist named Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) is researching plants in the Amazon that are hoped to contain medicinal properties. When he experiments with one such plant at the insistence of a native chief, Alan has a powerful hallucination wherein he sees the tribal chief morph into the man we know as Peytraud. We know this, but Allan does not - he's never been to Haiti and never met Peytraud. One helicopter crash later and Allan is back in his native Boston where the head of a pharmacy corporation, Andrew Cassedy (Paul Guilfoyl), decides he's going to secure Alan's services. Why? Because the late, great Durand has recently been seen moving about like a zombie and rumor has it that a drug exclusive to Haitian rituals is what made such a 'resurrection' possible. Cassedy would like to get his hands on that drug and he figures Alan's the right guy for the job.

    Alan heads off to Haiti and meets up with his contact, Dr. Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) and a local business tycoon named Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield). They know more about voodoo than Alan does and connect him to Louis Mozart (Brent Jennings), the man who knows all about the powder that brought Durand back from the grave. But of course, none of this is what it really appears to be and before you know it, Alan finds he might be in over his head.

    This is a well-made picture that does a fine job of properly taking advantage of both its interesting cast and its quirky locations. At its core, you could call The Serpent And The Rainbow a zombie movie but it's not even close to being in the same vein as the films made famous by the likes of Romero and Fulci. It's more accurately a psychological thriller based around some bizarre voodoo rites, and if you approach it that way, it's a pretty satisfying watch. The movie does cop out a bit in the last few minutes, discounting the voodoo elements that played such a big part in building the atmosphere, suspense and tension that the first hour and fifteen minutes handled so well, but that complaint aside what Craven put together with this picture is pretty impressive.

    Visually there's a lot to like, the camera shoots with the aperture open, letting the light diffuse things and giving the picture a soft look that actually complements the tone of the story quite nicely. At the same time, there are a lot of interesting colors on display, some more ominous than others, particularly during the ritual scenes. The cast are all in fine form here. Zakes Mokae cuts an imposing figure while Paul Winfield and Brent Jennings also do nice work in their supporting roles. Pretty Cathy Tyson is very good, if underused, in her part, but it's Pullman who does most of the work here. It's interesting to watch his character go through the arc that he goes through here. His experiences in Haiti clearly distort his previously established world view, and once that happens, Pullman's take on the character shifts appropriately as would the persona of someone who had experienced what he's experienced here.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout! Factory presents The Serpent And The Rainbow in a “2015 HD transfer from the inter-positive film element.” The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is presented in 1.78.1 widescreen and it presents what is a pretty tricky looking film in a presentation that is decidedly better than what fans have made do with in the past. This is a grainy film that has always looked a bit on the flat side thanks to some quirky contrast and iffy lighting. As such, don't expect The Serpent And The Rainbow to leap off the screen at you the way that the best Blu-ray's can but you'll have no trouble noticing the upgrade in detail, texture and depth if you've seen the movie before. The image is free of obvious noise reduction and compression artifacts are never a problem. Things generally look pretty good here and this feels like a pretty accurate representation of the source with color reproduction that feels spot on.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, which comes with optional subtitles in English only, also sounds quite good. There's decent channel separation here, most evident in the ritual scenes, while the score has solid range and presence. Dialogue is easy to understand and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. Levels are properly balanced as well - the movie sound very good here.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with actor Bill Pullman moderated by Rob Galluzzo of Icons of Fright that takes up the first fifty-five minutes or so of the movie (and goes silent after that point). It's a good track, even if it doesn't cover the duration of the film, with Galluzzo clearly up to speed on this particular movie and doing a fine job of keeping Pullman engaged. There's quite a bit of talk here about the locations, the characters and working with director Craven. At the same time, Pullman also offers his own take as to what works in the movie and elaborates on some of the pictures themes. It's a strong commentary to be sure, its only flaw being that it leaves you wanting more!

    Shout! Factory have also included a new featurette entitled The Making Of The Serpent And The Rainbow that is made up of interviews with Pullman, author Wade Davis, director of photography John Lindley and special makeup effects artists Lance Anderson and David Anderson. This piece runs twenty-four minutes and it's nicely put together. It covers, not surprisingly, the makeup effects employed in the film as well as the picture's intended look, Pullman's adventures in front of the camera, and once again, the late Wes Craven and his directing style and influence over the pictures as a whole. Interesting stuff.

    Rounding out the extras are the film's original theatrical trailer, a TV Spot, a decent sized still gallery, menus and chapter selection. The disc and its case come packaged in a cardboard slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The Serpent And The Rainbow remains one of the last Wes Craven's most intriguing films, and if it falls apart a little bit during the big finish, getting there remains a tense and fascinating experience in cinematic horror. Shout! Factory's special edition Blu-ray release isn't as stacked as some of their other special editions but the extras that it does offer are quite good (even if the commentary could easily have covered the whole film!) and the presentation is solid. This is one that's definitely worth the upgrade if you're a fan.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




















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