The Serpent and the Rainbow does for the old Caribbean zombie movie what Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" did for the serials. It preserves all the spooky fun of a movie like "White Zombie" while drawing upon all the sophisticated resources of big-budget modern film making: richly photographed authentic locales, wondrous special effects and amazingly acute sound recording...The result is an ambitious, entertaining--though not flawless--feat of the imagination, a highly visual and skillful blending of supernatural and political terror, high adventure and anthropology.
Apart from moments of conventional schlock (the ending included), "Serpent" twists with expertly drawn menace. The editing's snappy, the images visceral, and Craven's Haiti is a craze of blood ceremonies and political rioting -- it's set during the fall of "Baby Doc" Duvalier.
Mr. Craven's attempts at such effects are always gripping, but here they are sometimes overpowered by the complexity of the material. The search for the zombifying elixir, the influence of the Tontons Macoute, the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and the mysterious powers of voodoo sometimes run together in a manner less provocative than confusing.
All the silliest racist cliches are perpetrated: the dark people with their
dark magic; British actress Cathy Tyson, as a Haitian psychiatrist who is
occasionally possessed by demons and lapses into frenzied love-making;
evil third world politics hand-in-hand with black sorcery. [5 Feb 1988]