Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

The Serpent and the Rainbow

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An unusually ambitious effort from horror movie specialist Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street), filmed on location in Haiti (as well as the Dominican Republic), this genuinely frightening thriller follows the efforts of an anthropologist (Bill Pullman) sent by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to find the chemical mixture used in "zombification"--the voodoo practice that renders victims apparently dead while still alive and conscious. Depending largely on hallucinations and psychological terror (as in Altered States), and working from a screenplay by Richard Maxwell and A.R. Simoun inspired by Wade Davis's nonfiction book of the same title, Craven is better with atmosphere and creepy ideas here than with fluid story telling. But it's nice for a change to have some of the old-fashioned virtues of horror films operative here--moody dream sequences, unsettling poetic images, and passages that suggest more than they show--rather than be splattered exclusively with shocks and special effects (the latter are far from absent, but a bit more economically employed than usual). Cathy Tyson, the prostitute in Mona Lisa, plays the hero's Haitian guide--a psychiatrist alert to some of the cultural ramifications of voodoo--and Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, and Brent Jennings, as other agents of the hero's dark education in prerevolutionary Haiti, are effective as well. (Bolingbrook, Chestnut Station, Orland Square, Plaza, Ridge, River Oaks, Woodfield, Yorktown, Dearborn, Evergreen, Hillside Square, Norridge)

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