Cursed Films II episode 4 is an engaging look into regret and the meaning of good intent through Wes Craven’s The Serpent and The Rainbow.
Episode 4 of Cursed Films II begins at a weekly movie night in Haiti. Although the main focus is usually given to Haitan cinema, an exception was made for the movie night to show The Serpent and The Rainbow. Although the film has “Hollywood” written all over it, its deep focus on Haitan culture brings a certain perspective for Haitans to explore as they witness the western perception of their very own culture. Near the end of the episode, we see various perspectives and opinions of the film from Haitan people both positive and negative. Although The Serpent and The Rainbow attempted to confront voodoo and Haitan culture with respect, it ultimately fell into the Hollywood system and came out as a fun if not fully realized popcorn horror blockbuster. However, the general reception of the film is not the main focus here. Rather, Cursed Films II episode 4 works as a study into the meaning of intent when delving head first into a complicated and unfairly treated culture through the eyes of general entertainment and the regrets it can create.
At the time of The Serpent and The Rainbow’s release, the western perception of voodoo was previously rooted in the already intense and racist prejudice against black people and culture, which is something Cursed Films II episode 4 briefly touches on as it establishes its snapshot of the film’s pre production. When Wes Craven joined the project, he did so as it was perceived by him somewhat as a ticket out of the horror scene as well as a chance to explore his general fascination with voodoo culture. Early in the episode, there’s a certain sense of naivety as the producers of the film talk about their general feelings before proper production began on the film. Although many didn’t have a clear and concise understanding of voodoo culture, there was a commitment to respect it and understand what it actually meant not just for the film but on a personal level.
The Serpent and The Rainbow was the first American film to shoot in Haiti and to do so at a time of great political turmoil. The overthrowing of the then president of Haiti Jean-Claude Devalier and local military takeover led to the safety of the crew not being completely guaranteed. Many of the crew were also first timers and were brought to a country much unlike their own which led to numerous breakdowns on the set. Writer Richard Maxwell was left disoriented and “possessed” after seeing a voodoo practitioner which left him completely naked in his hotel room at one point and having to go home to his family after only a few days.
Cursed Films II fires off many stories at extremely quick succession to help create an image of a truly chaotic production filled with naivety and a sheer lack of expectation of what to expect in a foreign land. However, many of these stories are greeted with smiles and a general fondness of the experiences many had on set. The mental breakdowns, strange hallucinations and general intensity of the country as the film had to manage almost thousands of local extras and crew at one time brought the entire crew closer in ways no other film could hope to achieve. Whether experienced or completely new to the filmmaking world, everyone was on the same page and found a deep appreciation for the culture they were representing in the film. It’s easy for Cursed Films to sometimes find itself telling a familiar story of heartbreak and tragedy in film productions but with The Serpent and The Rainbow, a challenge is given to writer and director Jay Cheel here to go outside of the normal execution of these episodes and explore a production that has regrets but an ultimately fond passion for the work that was created.
Near the end of Cursed Films II episode 4, actress Cathy Tyson expresses some regret over the film and its overall execution. The white savior stereotype and the general bastardization of voodoo in the film has led to it feeling dated overall. However, there’s no serious regret over the film that was made in the end. Much of this episode is quick to not feel like a simple dunk on the work that was done by the cast and crew. Despite some of its problems, The Serpent and The Rainbow has found an audience that revels in its absurdity and fun if not particularly accurate depiction of voodoo. The intent to respect a fascinating culture is there and even if it’s not totally successful, the effort and commitment was never faltered or misplaced.
As the episode wraps on a small tribute of Wes Craven, we see an image of a person who wasn’t perfect. His relationship with his son was flawed as he struggled with the role of being a father yet where he and his son did find comfort in working together in films. Craven was seen as a burst of energy and someone who used film to process and work through his trauma in his life. Although The Serpent and The Rainbow may not have been his best work, it’s a shining example of his passion and arguably a beautiful showcase of what makes Cursed Films work as a series. Many of the films discussed are either masterpieces with lots of baggage around them or heavily flawed yet they all have the same respect around them. The Serpent and The Rainbow may have been a “cursed film” but it’s also one that was made with a special amount of love that only few films can ever dream of having.