The Graveyard: Digging up ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’


Come on a Voodoo journey with us as we continue to look back on the movies that may have been forgotten or just need a little love. This one? It all starts with a Serpent and the Rainbow…

The year was 1985, anthropologist and researcher Wade Davis compiled research he had undertook and compiled it into a book titled “The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic“, which contained studies on Voodoo, Zombies and poisons in Haiti.

Books were hot properties in the 1980’s, with studios taking options on adapting them to the big screen to see if they could equal the success of their paper bound counterparts. Mr Davis’ book was no exception and led to the production of the 1988 Film which took the shorter title “The Serpent and the Rainbow“.

The obligatory plot synopsis from the IMDB page:

"In 1985, after a successful research in Amazonas, Dr. Dennis Alan from Harvard is invited by the president of a Boston pharmaceutics industry, Andrew Cassedy, to travel to Haiti to investigate the case of a man named Christophe that died in 1978 and has apparently returned to life. Andrew wants samples of the voodoo drug that was used in Christophe to be tested with the intention of producing a powerful anesthetic. Dr. Alan travels to meet Dr. Marielle Duchamp that is treating Christophe and arrives in Haiti in a period of revolution. Soon Alan is threatened by the chief of the feared Tonton Macuse Dargent Peytraud, who is a torturer and powerful witch. Alan learns that death is not the end in the beginning of his journey to hell."

Release and thoughts

The Serpent and the Rainbow was released in 1988 in 1430 screens for a total US domestic box office of $19,595,031 on a budget of just $7,000,000, making the movie a financial success. Critical response at the time was mixed, but one stand out review came from none other than Roger Ebert who gave the movie a solid 3 stars.

In my opinion, this is one of the better obscure Horrors out there that can fall into multiple genre categories, going from Fantasy, Horror, Thriller to Mystery through the 98 minute run time. The late, great Wes Craven was, and always will be, a master of the Horror genre, but he certainly knew how to mix elements of Fantasy with the brutality of Horror. You need look no further than Wes Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street for the proof that the man can mix it up at the drop of a hat (or fedora for that matter).

“Death is only the beginning” (photo via Universal)

Did you know?

One interesting piece of trivia regarding the movie being made was that the author of the book, Wade Davis, only agreed to sell the rights under the impression that Peter Weir, director of the excellent The Truman Show, would be taking directorial duties and Mel “Mad Max” Gibson would be the star. Although the finished product is impressive, one must wonder what the outcome would have been if the writer had got his dream paring. Mad Max vs Voodoo Zombies!

“Here comes the…..Oh My” (photo via Universal)

Bill Pullman, who starred in one of my favourite comedies Spaceballs, actually had to tangle with the jaguar, viper and tarantula that you see his character encounter in the film. these animals were all highly trained and raised in captivity so Pullman was never under any real threat….still, a live tarantula? NO THANKS!

MPAA a problem?

The original cut of the movie had a lengthy 3 hour running time and Craven was displeased at how “Talky and long it was”. So he proceeded to produce the final cut, which ran at a smooth 98 minutes.

The shoot itself was not without it’s issues however. During shoots in Haiti, the local government could not guarantee the production’s safety from the ongoing civil turmoil that was occurring at the time, leading the team to move production over to the much calmer Dominican Republic for the remainder of the shoot.

This was actually one of the only films that Craven directed where he didn’t have to fight the MPAA for a rating without cutting. The first cut of the movie that was submitted was approved with an R rating without any issues. Happy days!

“Bill Pullman doing his best Casper impression” (from Universal)

But where can I see it?

I do recall this movie being on UK Netflix, whether or not it’s on the US version I don’t know. However, it is still readily available on DVD and on Blu Ray for all you HD lovers. I own the older Blu Ray release of the film which is OK, but plan on picking up the Scream Factory release when my wallet isn’t as empty as it is now. Horror fans Worldwide can pick the Scream Factory release up from with the UK price being £18.56.

“Awesome Blu Ray Goodness” – from Scream Factory

Next: The Graveyard: Digging up 1995’s ‘Rumpelstiltskin’

Will you be checking this movie out? Seen it already and we’ve jogged your memory? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media pages, FacebookTwitter and Instagram.