The Serpent and the Rainbow (Universal) (1988)

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Released 24-Dec-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 93:52
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Wes Craven

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Bill Pullman
Cathy Tyson
Zakes Mokae
Paul Winfield
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Brad Fiedel

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Writer/director Wes Craven was once known for his penchant to read newspapers and base his stories upon various articles that he found. Consider if you will the basic premise behind A Nightmare On Elm Street: Craven based that particular film on reports he read of migrants from Asia complaining of extremely disturbing nightmares to family members, only to be told to go to sleep, already. Apparently, numerous such migrants would be found dead in their sleep, and the rest of that phenomenon, along with Craven's imagination and its interpretation, has made motion picture history. However, that is not the film we're concerning ourselves with today: I am here now to tell you about one of Craven's later works, a curious piece called The Serpent And The Rainbow, which is based on the novel by Wade Davis.

    To (mis)quote the blurb that opens this film, in voodoo mythology, the earth is represented by the Serpent, and the heavens are represented by the Rainbow. All things live and die between these two things, but animals that have a soul, such as humans, can be trapped on a plane where death is merely a beginning. The film begins with an anthropologist named Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) trekking in the Amazon to find ingredients that the local witch doctors use for their medicines. This results in some serious hallucinations and a two-hundred mile trek on foot across the Amazon, after which Dennis meets with an old friend by the name of Schoonbacher (Michael Gough). Schoonbacher in turn introduces Dennis to the head of a drug company, who gives him a rather unusual task: it seems that one resident on the island of Haiti, after being buried for seven years, has been spotted alive and well, wandering around the local cemetery.

    Legend has it that this particular Haitian, Christophe (Conrad Roberts), was put in a zombified state through the use of a powder that, when absorbed through the skin, stops the heart and brain dead in their tracks. Upon landing in Haiti, Dennis meets with a local doctor by the name of Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson), who in turn introduces him to Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield), the local voodoo witch doctor. At a sort of half-ritual, half-party event, we also meet the local police chief, a sadistic tyrant by the name of Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), who is our most likely suspect as far as the old question of who is zombifying local residents like Christophe is concerned. Dennis' mission to obtain a sample of the powder soon becomes a struggle for survival as Peytraud becomes more determined to destroy him, and the influence of local voodoo becomes gradually more sinister.

    It's hard to convince people to watch this film with words alone, especially with the decidedly non-encouraging rating of five point eight from nearly a thousand users on the IMDB. One thing about Wes Craven films that stands out is the fact that viewers will either love them and praise them as unique pieces of horror, while others will dismiss them as B-grade trash. While it is true that Craven has had a fair share of stinkers, either of the Scream sequels being prima facie examples, there is also a certain non-convention about his way of doing things that makes his horror films fun to watch. If you're into films that are genuinely frightening or creepy, then sit down with a box of popcorn and whack The Serpent And The Rainbow into your player.

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Transfer Quality


    Considering that this is a thirteen-year-old production that was partly self-financed, and that it hasn't seen the light of day on any format for some time, I am very impressed with the video transfer. It is not perfect, mind you, but I have seen films of half this age that look worse.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

    This transfer is very sharp, the sharpest I have ever seen this film look, in fact. The shadow detail is somewhat average, with anything that is not in the camera's immediate focus falling off into black at a rapid rate. Thankfully, there is no low-level noise to spoil the abundant blacks.

    The colours in this film are generally muted and subdued, setting a very effective third-world mood. The transfer is faithful to this scheme, with no bleeding or composite artefacts to be found.

    MPEG artefacts were not found in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some telecine wobble in all directions for the first few minutes of the film, but the only time it was really noticeable was in the opening titles. After that point, the telecine steadied down, and there were no standout instances of aliasing. Film artefacts were the only point where this film reveals its age, as there were sprinkles of white flecks at the bottom of the frame at 33:43, and a generous helping of black and white flecks over the picture at 76:48. Overall, however, I doubt that this film is ever going to look so good again.

    The English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are pretty accurate to the spoken dialogue, with no real clangers to worry about this time.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is not nearly as impressive. This is not because it is particularly flawed in any way, but simply because it is only in stereo, which constitutes some major lost opportunities.

    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, both of them in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second: the original English dialogue, and a German dub. I listened exclusively to the English dialogue.

    The dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand with one major caveat: the Haitians speak with such thick accents that I am sure numerous listeners will simply give up and enable the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles. Unfortunately, this is a fault that no amount of remixing could correct, and unless someone is willing to front the cash for a rerecording, I expect that this is as good as it's going to get. I did not detect any problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to Brad Fiedel, whose percussive style is well-suited to the on-screen action. Much of the action in this film involves voodoo rituals, which are often accompanied by natives banging on drums and other such things. The score music is not often noticed in this film, but it does create a subtle effect that helps the proceedings along.

    The surround channels are not used by this soundtrack, which is a great pity because this film provides some sterling opportunities for such things as voices or ambient environmental sounds to be panned into the rear channels. The subwoofer also had the evening off.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is based around the cover artwork, which is in turn based around the theatrical poster, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    This sixty-four second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It sounds like it was taken from a VHS master, because the amount of hissing and distortion apparent in the soundtrack is atrocious.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It appears that the Region 1 and Region 4 versions of this disc are fundamentally identical, although it is difficult to find reliable information about the Region 1 product. There appears to be a version currently available in Region 1 that features a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack and a snapper case. While it is a real pity that the numerous effects in this film are confined to the front channels with the local disc, there is no seriously compelling difference that would make me want to import the Region 1 version.


    The Serpent And The Rainbow is an unusual horror film that, rather than relying on a masked man with a knife to deliver scares, instead allows the viewer's imagination to run off with them, at least until the action starts to take off. In my view, it is somewhat underrated, but it isn't a film I would recommend for dates or a pleasant evening of family viewing.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The audio transfer is serviceable.

    There is one extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Monday, January 14, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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