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Clairvius Narcisse died in Haiti on May 2, 1962. Eighteen years later in his home village of L’Estere, Narcisse was found wandering around alive and well. Ethnobotanist Wade Davis investigated the case of this real life zombie and the voodoo powder (a mixture of pufferfish and toad venom) that put its consumers into a Shakespearean coma, a live person appearing to be dead. In 1985, Davis released the non-fiction book of his account called The Serpent and the Rainbow. After Wes Craven got his hands on it, he spun it into a fantastical and horrifying tale starring Bill Pullman in 1988.
Dennis Alan is a Harvard anthropologist who, after escaping a frightening ordeal in the Amazon, travels to Haiti to study voodoo and the mysterious “zombie powder” at the behest of a pharmaceutical company. With the help of a local doctor named Marielle, Alan discovers the source of the powder, which is really a form of anesthesia. But his exploits do not go unnoticed; he soon attracts the attention of the strange Capt. Peytraud, who will stop at nothing to keep his voodoo secret. With the help of Marielle and a local witch doctor named Mozart, Alan finally gets a hold of the powder. But Peytraud comes after him and tortures him. Despite his success in finding this drug, Peytraud, a secret evil sorcerer, continues to plague both his dreams and his waking moments. Peytraud anger grows and grows, spelling dire consequences for Alan.
This is the only zombie film on our countdown that follows the origin of the zombie more closely, that is back to its earliest forms within voodooism. It is also a marked departure for the slash-master Wes Craven who generally prefers cutting teenagers to ribbons rather than psychologically warping fear of the supernatural. The film is scary and bloody and still enormously satisfying though. There may not be any devouring of flesh, but the intensity is something that few other films on this list would be able to match. Even Romero hasn’t yet dressed up a film to be so visually realistic as to sink its razor claws into your psyche. And even though this film is “based on a true story” in the loosest sense, it still doesn’t change the fact that you might have a hard time falling asleep for a while.
Tomorrow we watch a film from “After Dark Horrorfest 4” Zombies of Mass Destruction.