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The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 American horror film directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman. The script by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, wherein Davis recounted his experiences in Haiti investigating the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was allegedly poisoned, buried alive, and revived with an herbal brew which produced what was called a zombie.


In 1978, a Haitian man named Christophe mysteriously dies in a French missionary clinic, while outside a voodoo parade marches past his window. The next morning, Christophe is buried in a traditional Catholic funeral. A mysterious man dressed in a suit who was outside Christophe's hospital window on the night he died is in attendance. As the coffin is lowered into the ground, Christophe's eyes open and tears roll down his cheeks.

Seven years later, Harvard anthropologist Dennis Alan is in the Amazon rainforest studying rare herbs and medicines with a local shaman. He drinks a potion and experiences a hallucination of the same black man from Christophe's funeral, surrounded by corpses in a bottomless pit.

Back in Boston, Alan is approached by a pharmaceutical company looking to investigate a drug used in Haitian Vodou to create zombies. The company wants Alan to acquire the drug for use as a "super anesthetic". The corporation provides Alan with funding and sends him to Haiti, which is in the middle of a revolution. Alan's exploration in Haiti, assisted by Doctor Marielle Duchamp, locates Christophe who is alive after having been buried seven years earlier. Alan is taken into custody, and the commander of the Tonton Macoute, Captain Dargent Peytraud–the same man from Christophe's funeral and Alan's vision in the Amazon–warns Alan to leave Haiti.

Continuing his investigation, Alan finds a local man, Mozart, who is reported to have knowledge of the procedure for creating the zombie drug. Alan pays Mozart for a sample, but Mozart sells him rat poison instead. After embarrassing Mozart in public, Alan convinces Mozart to show Alan how to produce the drug for a fee of $1,000. Alan is arrested again by the Tonton Macoutes, and tortured by having a nail driven through his scrotum, and then dumped on a street with the message that he must leave Haiti or be killed. Alan again refuses to leave and meets with Mozart to create the drug.

Alan has a nightmare of Peytraud, revealed to be a bokor who turns enemies into zombies and steals their souls. When Alan wakes up, he is lying next to Christophe's sister who has been decapitated. The Tonton Macoutes enter, take photos, and frame Alan for murder. Peytraud tells Alan to leave the country and never return, lest he be convicted of the murder, executed, and then his soul stolen by Peytraud. Peytraud puts Alan on a US bound plane, but Mozart sneaks on board and gives Alan the zombie drug. Mozart asks Alan to tell people about him, so that Mozart can achieve international fame. Alan agrees and returns to Boston with his mission apparently completed.

At a celebration dinner, the wife of Alan's employer is possessed by Peytraud, who warns Alan of his own imminent death. Alan returns to Haiti, where his only ally, a houngan named Lucien Celine, is killed by Peytraud and Mozart is beheaded as a sacrifice for Peytraud's power. Alan is then sprayed with the zombie powder and dies; later, Peytraud steals Alan's body from the hospital before the death can be reported to the US Embassy. Peytraud takes Alan to a graveyard where, helpless in his coffin, Alan sees that Peytraud has captured Marielle and will sacrifice her. Peytraud shows Alan Celine's soul in a canari. Alan is then buried alive with a tarantula to "keep him company". Waking up in his coffin a few hours later, Alan is rescued by Christophe who was also turned into a zombie by Peytraud.

Having escaped Peytraud's trap, Alan returns to the Tonton Macoute headquarters looking for Marielle. There, Alan defeats Peytraud through a battles of wills, using Celine's white magic to drive a nail into Peytraud's groin, and sends his soul to hell. As the Haitian people celebrate the downfall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Marielle proclaims "The nightmare is over".