The Serpent and the Rainbow

In 1985, a real live anthropologist wrote a very disturbing book about his search for a real live “zombie drug” – a concoction made in Haiti that could turn a living man into a mindless, suggestible automaton who thought he was a zombie. Just three years later, in 1988, horror legend Wes Craven released a horror movie by the same name, starring the consistently amazing Bill Pullman, about a fictionalized anthropologist who goes to Haiti to investigate the drug and gets into a lot of serious, serious trouble.

This is the only film we know of that operates entirely in the “real” world and speculates about “real” zombies, and the work of Craven and Pullman is all the more disturbing because of that realism. They manage to inject fresh new horror into the almost commonplace act of burying a man alive, and then turn up the tension a couple more notches with scenes of torture that are oddly bloodless and still absolutely memorable. Like, forever. (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot of groin violence in this movie. Yeah groin. You have been warned.)

You’ll often see Serpent on the shortlist of “Essentials.” We haven’t put it there only because it has no real bearing or “echoes” into the Romero- or Boyle-based genre as it progresses, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more resonant, well-made, and truly, deeply disturbing movie about the idea of human resurrection.