The Serpent and the Rainbow (Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray / Movie Review)
The directorial works of Wes Craven spans across a whopping 25 films, some fantastic (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream), some damn good (The People Under the Stairs, Shocker) and some not so good (Cursed, Vampire in Brooklyn). There are only a few of his films of that I’ve never seen before and The Serpent and the Rainbow was one of those films, until now. The home entertainment label Scream Factory, an offshoot of Shout! Factory, has released The Serpent and the Rainbow on a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, featuring new artwork, a brand new Making of, and a commentary from lead actor Bill Pullman. I wasn’t sure what to expect in relation to the movie when I popped in the disc, but I was under the assumption that the Special Features would be jammed packed full, given this is a CE after all. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case, as the Making of is only 24 minutes long, and the commentary from Bill Pullman isn’t so much a commentary as it is an interview that runs 53 minutes of the 98-minute runtime. To some people, this won’t bother them, but when the price of a CE is higher than other films, you expect a bit more work to be put into the extras. It’s understandable to assume that time constraints and the sad passing of Wes Craven are the main reason for these mishaps, but a disclaimer should have been provided. I’ll go into more detail in the Blu-ray section, but for now, let’s talk a bit about the movie…
SUBTITLES: English REGION: A/1 RATING: R PRODUCTION DATE: 1988 RELEASE DATE: Feb 23, 2016
Don’t Bury Me… I’m Not Dead! Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream) directs this terrifying story of one man’s nightmarish journey into the blood-curdling, deadly world of voodoo. A Harvard anthropologist (Bill Pullman, Lake Placid, Independence Day) is sent to Haiti to retrieve a strange powder that is said to have the power to bring human beings back from the dead. In his quest to find the miracle drug, the cynical scientist enters the rarely seen netherworld of walking zombies, blood rites and ancient curses. Based on the true-to-life experiences of Wade Davis, starring Cathy Tyson (Mona Lisa), Zakes Mokae (Dust Devil, Waterworld), Paul Winfield (The Terminator, Damnation Alley) and Michael Gough (Horror of Dracula, Batman), and filmed on location in Haiti, it’s a frightening excursion into black magic and the supernatural!
The Serpent and the Rainbow film is based on the book of the same name by author Wade Davis. The book is about Wade Davis’ journey to Haiti in the investigation of Voodoo, Zombie, and Magic. The movie takes the backbone of the book and gives us a flick that is steeped in magic and voodoo.
Lead actor Bill Pullman plays Dennis Alan, an anthropologist who is investigating the account of a man who was previously pronounced dead and buried but is eventually found alive, roaming the streets years later. Dennis heads to Haiti to investigate the substance that was used to create this “zombie,” so that maybe it could be reproduced and used for scientific purposes. Dennis, along with a doctor, Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson), gets embroiled in a mystery that involves Voodoo rituals, Haitian traditions, a sinister villain (Zakes Mokae) with an affinity for nailing scrotums to a chair, hallucinations, and nightmares. What is real and what isn’t is played up in The Serpent and the Rainbow, and when you get to the end of the tale, you’ll be asking yourself what precisely did or did not happen.
Wes Craven’s original intention was to not make a horror film, but instead, produce a serious movie on the story of zombification and voodoo. The studios, however, had different plans and wanted to use the Wes Craven name to attract horror movie goers, so they had him inject a bit more horror into the movie. Does the added horror take away from the overall impact of the film? Not in the least bit, and in fact, the movie utilizes plenty of horrific scenes to entice the viewer to stick with the otherworldly story. If these scenes weren’t included, plenty of horror fans would have felt cheated. The only time that the included horror feels out of place is near the end of the movie, where things start turning upside down, sometimes literally, for Dennis, who experiences one bad trip after another. It’s hard to figure exactly what is happening and whether or not, most of what Dennis sees is all in his head.
It’s easy to forgive these small gripes when you have plenty of other scenes that have tension seeping through the screen. One scene, in particular, involving a live burial, will you leave you with a feeling of tightness in your chest. It’s a masterfully shot scene, leaving the screen in complete darkness, with only the sound of the person’s screams echoing. Throw in the added fear of a spider being in the coffin with you, and you have a recipe for fear. It’s a scene that will stick with you for a long time.
The Serpent and the Rainbow managed to provide an experience that not only treats you to some wonderful cinematography but also gives you the feeling that you are right there with Dennis, through the good and the bad. Most films fail at providing such an experience, so kudos to Wes Craven and crew for doing just that. You’ll be missed Wes.
As previously mentioned, The Serpent and the Rainbow falls under the Collector’s Edition branding from Scream Factory. Such branding usually means plenty of features, but as for this film, that is not the case. The features list runs a bit short, with a quick 24 minute Making Of, that features a voiceover interview with Bill Pullman, a video session with author Wade Davis, and on-screen interviews with DP John Lindley and special effects crew Lance Anderson and David Anderson. The feature itself does provide a useful amount of information and back-story into the making of, but with it running at such a short time, it doesn’t go into deep detail with the movie. The other remaining features included are a trailer, TV spot and Still Gallery.
Also included on the disc is a commentary with actor Bill Pullman. Originally, Scream Factory was going to get Wes Craven to do the commentary, but with his illness, Mr. Pullman stepped up to the plate, while filming the sequel to Independence Day, and provided the commentary, moderated by Rob Galluzzo of Icons of Fright. I keep using the term commentary, when in reality, I should be saying interview, as that is exactly what you’re getting. It only runs for 53 minutes of the 98-minute runtime and has Rob asking several questions to Mr. Pullman. It’s completely within reason to accept that we could have ended up with nothing, but in this case, seeing how a CE usually cost more, a disclaimer about the features not being as substantial, should have been provided to allow the buyer to make a properly informed decision.
The disappointment in the special features aside, the video and audio for The Serpent and the Rainbow are fantastic, which in the end, is all that matters. There are times where the grain is a bit aggressive, especially in the night scenes, and other times where there is some strange strobing effect happening, but overall, the picture is phenomenal. The flick has never looked so good before. Audio is also top notch, providing us with a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo option, that is both clear and loud.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
NEW 2015 HD Transfer From The Interpositive Film Element
NEW Audio Commentary With Bill Pullman
NEW The Making Of The Serpent And The Rainbow Featuring New Interviews With Actor Bill Pullman, Author Wade Davis, Director Of Photography John Lindley And Special Effects Artists Lance Anderson And David Anderson
Original Theatrical Trailer And TV Spot
The Serpent and the Rainbow results in both a hit and a miss when it comes to this Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory. On the one hand, the video, audio, and film itself is fantastic, but the other hand, you have a serious lack of substantial features. It all boils down to what you crave the most: features or the movie itself. As for this reviewer’s opinion, the film and presentation alone are worthy enough of a purchase.