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Dennis Alan is funded by a pharmaceutical company to travel to Haiti – of which he has some prior knowledge – to bring some of the so-called ‘zombie powder’ home which, to all intents and purposes, makes the body’s systems slow down so much that the subject appears to be dead. It is considered that study of the ingredients may eventually allow it to be used as a harmless anaesthetic in difficult operations, and therefore save many lives. A local woman acts as his guide, and starts by attempting to track-down a man who has recently been ‘zombiefied.’ When he tries to do a deal with a black market seller for the powder, he incurs the wrath of an evil and sadistic dictator who rules the people and the police through fear of his powers...
Director Wes Craven really has made a mixed bag, hasn’t he? I didn’t like The Last House on the Left, because of its content which was not so much fantasy violence as a depiction of real and tasteless subject matter. A Nightmare on Elm Street was clever fantasy violence with a relevant backstory which is exaggerated to the point of silliness in the sequels. Scream is a spot on send-up of the teen horror flick, and The Serpent and the Rainbow is… somewhere in between. It weighs in with apocryphal stories of threats to the film crew and damaged prints, as well as inferring it has a semblance of truth in that scientists have been studying the substance without being able to find out what makes it work. It all aids the publicity of the film, I suppose.
I don’t think Bill Pullman is a particularly good choice for the lead; he displays little or no character, and emotionally he doesn’t change much between when he’s making love and when he’s being tortured. Perhaps for this character they are pretty much one and the same. I have to say that at times I felt the torture myself – of watching, that is. No human being in their right mind would keep returning for more pain and suffering like Dennis Alan does. Inside an hour and a half, he is threatened, beaten-up (more than once), made to suffer terrifying visions and dreams, restrained, tortured, buried alive, ‘zombiefied,’ burned – and still he comes back for more. Not very likely. The horror, rather than violence, seems to be forgotten until the last moments, when the imprisoned souls – now released by our struggling unlikely hero – group to attack the bad guy. In fact, the climatic struggle takes place amidst a revolution which is timely, to say the least.
It’s not as derisory as I’ve probably made it sound, but it’s certainly nothing special. They Blu-ray is clear enough, but I was surprised by the lack of extra features. Only a trailer accompanies the vast space available on the disc. They haven’t exactly made an effort here, have they? And for that a point is removed.
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