Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Scream Factory‘s release of The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Wes Craven is a giant among horror directors, hell a giant among all directors in Hollywood. While directors hope to leave their mark with a handful of respected films, Wes Craven was able to craft three masterworks that changed the horror genre forever: The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. Not many other directors have one, let alone three films that reshaped a genre.
Not to say that Wes Craven didn’t have duds in his back catalog. When you look at his filmography, he has just as many misses as he does hits. For every A Nightmare on Elm Street, there’s a Shocker. Teaming with Kevin Williamson gave us Scream, but we also got Cursed. And for every The Hills Have Eyes, there’s a The Hills Have Eyes Part II. It’s the nature of the beast in Hollywood. Some are winners; some are losers. If your latest film is a misfire, you need to tough it out and make a better movie.
Coming off back-to-back failures with The Hills Have Eyes Part II and Deadly Friend, it had been four years since he introduced the world to Freddy Krueger. While creating an iconic horror franchise would make any director joyful, as the saying goes, “What have you done for me lately?”
Wes Craven took a chance and stepped into the world of voodoo with 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. Starring Bill Pullman as an anthropologist investigating claims of zombie-ism in Haiti, Craven took the unusual approach of grounding such a topic in reality. Craven removes the fantastical and hyper-realistic elements of his past films, allowing The Serpent and the Rainbow a documentary-style feel. The authenticity that Craven plays with allows a creeping vibe to seep through the screen and unnerve the audience. While The Serpent and the Rainbow is not a personal favorite of mine, Craven does an excellent job at crafting a different type of horror feel. The film did decent financial and critical business and allowed the director to carry on and make the films he wanted to make. And we should all be grateful for that.
When Scream Factory announced the release of The Serpent and the Rainbow as a Collector’s Edition, I recall them mentioning they had to pause on the special features. It turns out during the making of this disc that Craven was sick and, eventually, passed away before the Blu-ray’s completion. As such, this is one of the few discs that Wes Craven directed where he is not a part of the extras. As a nice touch, Scream Factory offers an In Memoriam dedication to Craven before the film’s start.
On the packaging side, as with all Scream Factory Collector’s Editions, the disc comes with a slipcover featuring newly-commissioned artwork. The Blu-ray case features a reversible sleeve containing the slipcover art or the original theatrical poster. If I have the slipcover, I change the reversible sleeve to the original art to ensure I get the best of both worlds.
Getting into the features, Scream Factory includes the documentary, “The Making of The Serpent and the Rainbow.” The featurette includes interviews with Director of Photography John Lindley, Author Wade Davis, Special Effects Artists Lance Anderson and David Anderson, and audio-only comments from actor Bill Pullman. Don’t let the lack of participants fool you, as everyone who participates provides plenty of detail to make this a worthwhile listen. The making-of starts with the tale of how the book came to be before transitioning into the film’s production. The contributors talk about the trials and tribulations of filming in Haiti during and after the revolution. They also touch upon grounding a horror film closely to reality and crafting the film’s special effects. Scream Factory did a solid job with “The Making of The Serpent and the Rainbow,” especially with Craven’s passing.
Scream Factory also includes an audio commentary with star Bill Pullman and Rob Galluzzo from the Icons of Fright podcast. Both men make for an excellent commentary track as Galluzzo keeps Pullman talking—each with plenty of film information. Pullman proves to have a good memory as he recalls many elements from the making of The Serpent and the Rainbow. Pullman recalls working in Haiti, issues with the film’s third act, and how he came to star in the production. The one qualm I have arises after the halfway point as Pullman abandons the commentary track to catch a flight. Understandably, Pullman is a busy man, but it’s disappointing that such an entertaining track is cut short. If one expects Galluzzo to pick up the slack and finish the commentary solo, prepare to be left cold as once Pullman departs, the track reverts to the film’s audio track. While what we get is a partial audio commentary, what we get is worthwhile and worth a listen.
Rounding out the disc, Scream Factory includes the film’s theatrical trailer and a TV spot. The disc concludes with a stills gallery, incorporating a mix of shots from the movie, behind-the-scenes photos, and marketing material shoots.
And there you have it! The Serpent and the Rainbow is a somewhat forgotten Wes Craven film. It didn’t set the world on fire, but it offers plenty of chills for those seeking their horror with a touch of realism. Thankfully, Scream Factory hasn’t forgotten about The Serpent and the Rainbow and gave it a Blu-ray release as lush as the Haitian landscape.