Monstervision Host Segments for

Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)


I'm Joe Bob Briggs, and now we've got one of the all-time most requested Wes Craven flicks. People ask me about this movie soooooo much. I'm sitting there trying to have my chicken fried steak and they'll say, "Joe Bob, how bout that thing 'Serpent and the Rainbow,' you know that voodoo thang?" So we're showin it again. I think it's the only movie in the last 40 years actually FILMED in Haiti. Some amazing scary stuff in this baby, and a lot of weird stuff happened to the people who were making it. It's the story of this Harvard guy who goes down to Haiti to study Voodoo Fu so he can try to find out the secret formula for turnin people into zombies. Unfortunately, once he gets down there, the chief of Papa Doc's secret police starts jumpin into his dreams like Freddy Krueger and makin snakes come out of zombies' mouths and eat him alive and giant jaguars chase him with slow-motion Zombie Cams. Since the flick is made by Wes Craven, Mr. Nightmare on Elm Street, it's sorta like Freddy Krueger puts together a reggae band and starts slime-dancin behind your eyeballs. The deal is that the secret police guy just MIGHT be zombifyin the population, stealin their souls, hackin off their body parts, and forcin em to fly Pan Am. It's terrifying. So let's take a look at those drive-in totals.

We've got two breasts. (Of course, we will NOT be seeing those on TNT.)
Six dead bodies.
Four undead bodies.
Voodoo funeral.
Exploding coffin.
Graveyard voodoo Catholic candle zombie face-eating.
One dead wall-pig.
Orgasm Cam.
Heads roll.
Heads thrown.
Gratuitous face needles.
Jaguar Fu.
Zombie Fu.
Scorpion Fu.
Tarantula Fu.
Snake Fu.
Scrotum Fu.
Buried-alive Fu.
Froth-face debutante Fu.

Four stars. Check it out, and we'll be sitting right here where it's safe. Go.

[fading] See, I told you these movies are related. It's the whole Black Magic thang. Drink one potion, marry Sandra Bullock. Drink another potion, turn into an undead amputee Harvard experiment. You don't wanna get THOSE mixed up in the medicine cabinet. Can you imagine comin in after a night of partying, reaching for the ole Bufferin, and WHAP!, you're a potted plant.


Well, it might be based on a true story, but it IS a Wes Craven film, so we have burning coffins, needles to the eyelids, a guy buried alive, an Amazon jungle hallucinogenic jaguar attack, a dead man with worms crawling out of his mouth--and that's all in the first 15 minutes. This movie was based on the BOOK The Serpent and the Rainbow, written by Harvard anthropologist Wade Davis, who went down to Haiti in 1982 and discovered the drug teterodotoxin. It's what the voodoo priests use to create the appearance of death in people. David Ladd, who is one of the sons of Alan Ladd, got the rights to the book, showed it to horror director Wes Craven--who else would you show a zombie book to?--and Wes right away wanted to make it. Not only did he wanna make it, but he wanted to actually travel to Haiti to make it, even though no American movie had ever been filmed within the borders of Haiti--and he quickly found out there was a reason for that. It's not really a safe place. But he persisted, and so that funeral procession you see at the beginning--that's the real magilla, shot with more than 2,000 native Haitian extras--extras you'll be seeing again as the movie gets stranger and stranger. Roll it.

[fading] You know how they always say "The natives are restless"? Well, these natives started getting restless. I'll tell you the story later. But you don't wanna have 2,000 restless native Haitians surrounding you when you're the funny-lookin rich guy from Hollywood with the expensive camera, you know what I'm saying? Cause they do WEIRD stuff down there. "Oh, look, this used to be Wes Craven--there are his intestines hanging over my fireplace." Strange people.


That's Bill Pullman, as the Harvard anthropologist, in his first starring role. He'd only made two other movies--"Ruthless People" and Spaceballs--when he got this job. And that's Cathy Tyson as the local psychiatrist--daughter of Cicely Tyson, making what was her second movie, after being the call girl in "Mona Lisa." Anyhow, I wanted to tell you the story of how the film crew had to flee Haiti. They were supposed to be there for about a month, filming in one of the villages, and all the time they were there they used about 2,000 extras a day at five bucks apiece. But when it got close to the time to LEAVE Haiti, the locals started realizing that, once the Hollywood people were gone, the five-bucks-a-day gig would evaporate. So three times they threatened to strike unless they got raises. And each time the producers gave them a little raise to keep em happy--mainly because, when they negotiated, they all had rocks in their hands. Actually, various local leaders would negotiate. This guy represents 50 people, this guy over here represents 300. And the Haitian government kept saying, "We'll be happy to send in government troops to keep them under control," but the producers weren't too crazy about THAT idea, cause they didn't think having 2,000 Haitian villagers beaten over the head with rubber truncheons would look too good in the tabloids. And then one day all the Haitians came to the production office and announced that they wanted more money right then--that night--or else they would start rioting. And David Ladd, the producer, stood up on top of a car and talked to them with a bullhorn, and they all had rocks in their hands, and he promised em some more money. The only problem was, they didn't have that much cash in the production office. So they had to call somebody to fly cash in from Miami. Meanwhile, the producers gave the order for everybody to get out of the country, and they finished the rest of the movie in the Dominican Republic. But meanwhile there were three people trapped in the production office, and they couldn't get out until the last villager was paid. But that wasn't even the strangest part of it. Four crew members had voodoo experiences--all bad. And one guy went completely insane and had to be sent back to the states. He was a raving paranoid for four more days, and then he became perfectly normal and couldn't remember what happened. And Wes Craven believes that one of the local priests had put a curse on him. And from the moment they arrived, at least three-fourths of the crew was sick at all times. But Wes never got sick. And he was the guy who took the voodoo the MOST seriously. Okay, back to the movie.

[fading] I guess we won't be getting any more of those commercials from the Haitian Tourism Council, huh?


I'm not sure that the Roman Catholics of Haiti would agree with Mariel when she says that the Virgin Mary and voodoo are the same, and in fact, when they were shooting "The Serpent and the Rainbow," they had trouble with the Catholic church. After they had to flee Haiti because of a near-riot by 2,000 surly Haitian extras, they ended up in the Dominican Republic. But the Archbishop shut down their production for three days, because he said it was sacrilegious to make movies on Easter weekend. And the government refused to cross him. Still, this is my favorite sequence of the movie, one of the most beautiful things Wes Craven ever filmed, where they follow the Catholic voodoo procession to the ancient temple, they have the midnight nightmare snake-to-the-face attack, and then in this next sequence they go to the natural waterfall cathedral. The thing is so beautiful that you sometimes miss how great the performances are. That's Paul Winfield as the con-man cockfighting nightclub guy who sells em the zombie powder. Paul is probably best known for playing Martin Luther King in the miniseries "King," and he was nominated for the Oscar for his work in "Sounder" in 1972. And of course, he had his face eaten off by killer cockroaches here a few weeks ago in "Damnation Alley." Grew up in Watts. Classical stage actor. Same thing with Bill Pullman. He didn't get much credit for this performance--there were even critics who said the part should have been played by a black man--but I think he does a great job. All right, back to the picture.

[fading] Christophe the Zombie, by the way, is played by Conrad Roberts. Another great character actor. Hard to do a good zombie. Zombies were kinda ruined by George Romero. Hard to get people to WATCH a real zombie. They expect em to start doing that Herky Jerky Walk and rollin their tongue around or something.


[Joe Bob in pain] Excuse me while I double over in pain. Yow! That might be THE most painful scene in the history of the movies. The only thing that even comes close is the bathtub scene in "I Spit On Your Grave," but this one is worse because you really BELIEVE this guy. Usually, in the movies, the guy says, "Okay, Mr. Smart-aleck, I'm gonna take this hammer and this nail and I'm gonna DRIVE this nail through your SCROTUM." And the guy says "Please don't do that." Or somebody comes through the door and blows away the torturer right before it happens. But this guy--he says "I'm gonna nail your scrotum," and then he NAILS HIS SCROTUM! Do you know what a male FEELS when he sees that? We all have to go to the urologist Monday morning now. Good GRIEF. One reason that's so scary is the performance of Zakes Mokae, as the leader of the Haitian secret police, the Ton-Ton Macoute. He's a South African guy, one of the most famous stage actors in South Africa--starred in all the plays of Athol Fugard, who, as far as I know, is the ONLY playwright from South Africa, cause he's the only one who ever sends any plays over here to America. Anyhow, Zakes Mokae was in that movie "Cry Freedom" in 1987, and then he made this one in 1988, and ever since then he's been in America, doing Hollywood movies, because obviously, the man is SCARY. Okay, I'm gonna go run some cold water over my scrotum now, as we return to "The Serpent and the Rainbow."

[fading] You know the REAL head of the Haitian secret police lives in Queens? Yeah, we gave him political asylum. The Haitians living in New York are kinda TICKED OFF about it. They have these protests, but they're not too crazy about getting very close to his house, you know what I mean? Fear of scrotum loss.


That's Brent Jennings as Mozart, the guy who mixes the zombie powder and sells it to Bill Pullman--another great performance. You know, of all the hundreds of zombie movies ever made, there are only THREE that are kinda based on the truth of the Haitian voodoo zombie. The first one, White Zombie, in 1932. Then there was "I Walked with a Zombie," which many consider the best one, in 1943. And then "The Serpent and the Rainbow," which I think is by far the most accurate one. And I forgot to mention one more horrible thing that happened while they were making the movie. After the filmmakers almost got killed by the extras in Haiti, after everybody got sick, after one guy went totally insane and had to be sent home, after three other people thought they were under voodoo curses, after they moved to the Dominican Republic and the Archbishop refused to let em shoot on Easter weekend, THEN one of their Dominican production assistants filed a lawsuit against the producers. And under Dominican law, if a lawsuit is filed against a foreigner, they just arrest the foreigner and you have to stay in jail until the case goes to trial. So the producers were put under house arrest! And eventually they used the tried-and-true failsafe Hollywood system: they spread a little cash around and they were allowed to leave. So it's not so strange that Wes Craven would take the book by a Harvard anthropologist and mix it with the political situation in Haiti to create the horror of the film. All right? Back to the movie.

[fading] Now here's the part I don't understand. The guy's on a plane. He's going home to Harvard. He has . . . a wounded SCROTUM. Wouldn't you think he would STAY in Massachusetts from now on and drink cappuccino on Harvard Square? But NO! He wants more Haitian tourism!


The buried-alive scene from "The Serpent and the Rainbow." It doesn't get scarier than that, does it? All right, time for the conclusion of Wes Craven's greatest film, I think-better than Scream, better than "A Nightmare on Elm Street," better than my second favorite Wes Craven film, The Hills Have Eyes. This flick has everything. You know, it's interesting that Wes Craven had to take out some footage when this came out so he could get an R rating. Otherwise they were gonna give it an X for violence. But that's something that's happened with every film he's ever made, beginning with "Last House on the Left," the ultra-low-budget film he made in 1972 that's still one of the most intense of all horror films. When "Last House on the Left" came out, they kept sending it back to the MPAA Ratings Board, and every time they sent it in the board said "X rating." They'd take out more footage. "X rating." They'd argue with the board. "X rating." So finally, Wes put all the violent and gory footage back in and he went to his producer, a Boston theater owner, and he said, "Do you have any of those little pieces of film that go on the front of the movie saying 'This movie is rated R'?" And he said, "Sure." And so Wes just ASSIGNED HIMSELF an R rating and started showing the film. And he never got caught, because what member of the ratings board is ever gonna go watch a violent horror film in its natural setting? Downtown theaters, drive-ins in the Deep South. And so I asked Wes, "Why don't you do that on your movies today?" And he said, "Because, unfortunately, now I'm Wes Craven. I can't get away with it." My kinda guy. Okay, roll it.

[fading] You guys ever seen Wes? Mild-mannered former professor of philosophy. Kind of a pipe-and-slippers kinda guy. Ward Cleaver. With a VERY active imagination.


Great scene at the end--Post Toastie Zombie Bashing. Peytraud is fried to a crisp, but he keeps on coming! Wes Craven LOVES to work with firesuits. That was an excellent effect when Peytraud bursts into flames. Best zombie movie ever made. "The Serpent and the Rainbow."

Okay, I wanna thank Wanda Jackson for stopping by. And also remind you that next week is H.G. Wells Night on "MonsterVision," when we'll have two versions of his great novel "The Time Machine"--first "The Time Machine," from 1960, then Time After Time.

And speaking of time, I'm Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that hard work pays off in the future, but laziness pays off now.

Did you guys hear the one about the guy who runs into a veterinarian's office carrying his dog, screaming for help? The vet rushes him back to a room and has him put his dog down on the examination table. The vet examines the dog's limp body, and then tells the man that his dog is, unfortunately, dead. The man won't accept it, demands a second opinion. The vet goes into the back room and comes out with a cat. He puts the cat down next to the dog's body. The cat sniffs the body, walks from head to toe poking and sniffing the dog's body, and finally looks at the vet and meows. The vet says to the man "I'm sorry, but the cat-scan shows your dog is dead, too." The man is still unwilling to accept that his dog is dead. So the vet brings in a black Labrador retriever. The lab sniffs the body, walks from head to tail, and finally looks at the vet and barks. The vet says to the man "I'm sorry, but the lab thinks your dog is dead, too." The man finally accepts the truth, thanks the vet, asks how much he owes. The vet says "650 dollars." The guys says, "650 bucks to tell me my dog is dead?" Vet says, "Well, my initial diagnosis was only 50. The additional 600 was for the cat scan and lab test."

Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that the drive-in will never die.

[fading] Guy lives real far away, and is unable to attend his father's funeral, so he calls his brother and tells him, "Do something nice for Dad and send me the bill." Later, he gets a bill for 200 bucks, which he pays. The next month he gets another bill for 200 bucks, which he also pays, figuring it's some kinda incidental expense. But every month, he gets another bill for 200 bucks, so finally the guy calls his brother to find out what's going on. The brother says, "Well, you said to do something nice for Dad. So I rented him a tux."
The Drive-In will never die!

Serpent and the Rainbow can be seen free of charge at


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