Black Rainbow (1989) Review

Staring Rosanna Arquette as a unhinged medium who is driven to distraction by a disturbing change in her powers, Black Rainbow combines a murder mystery with a haunting horror to create a story that is fascinatingly as much about the supernatural as it is social comment.

Traveling the country to poverty stricken towns and performing in local churches Martha (Rosanna Arquette from Pulp Fiction) is an experienced clairvoyant who has been contacting the dead for as long as she can remember. Inheriting her powers from her mother the gift has become a curse as she is forever on the road with her cynical alcoholic father Walter (Once Upon a Time in the West’s Jason Robards).

One night while entertaining the expectant masses with stories of how perfect and peaceful heaven is and messages of hope and comfort from their departed loved ones Martha is confusingly contacted by the husband of a woman who insists her partner is still alive.

When the man in question is horrifically slain by a contract killer later that night exactly how Martha predicted the murder piques the interest of several parties including sceptical journalist Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce star of Amadeus).

In pursuit of an exclusive insight into how a charlatan like Martha could see the future Gary tracks down the traveling duo and inserts himself into their life. Soon however he learns there is more going on than he ever expected and when another of Martha’s mysterious and horrific visions come to be he must face the fact that she might actually be the real deal.

Adding another genre string to his already bulging bow, Flash Gordon and Get Carter director Mike Hodges, who also wrote the script to Black Rainbow, expertly weaves a tale of addiction, religion, abuse of power and humanities desperate need for belief in the afterworld.

With constant shots of desolate, abandoned, run down buildings around America and the sub-plot of industrial and political corruption the world Hodges shows is real and on the brink. For a cost of course Martha and her father provide the desperate and wretched escapism and reassurance that no matter how hard or awful their life is now, things will be better in Heaven.

Used and confused Martha is manipulated by her often drunk and often mean Dad who sees her as nothing more than a meal ticket. Their mucked up relationship has caused a rift between them opened by her mother and widened by time and pain. As much an addict as her father Martha seeks sex as a temporary release from her loneliness and the pressure of the pure, clean, angelic persona she must embody onstage.

As Martha’s messages from the beyond become less positive and focused on the passive past and more about terrible events that will come to be her audience reject her holly power calling her a witch. As no one wants to hear bad news no one prevents Martha’s premonitions and interestingly the main mussing of the movie is that perhaps if we spent a little less time on where we go after death and more on where we are during life, we could change the world for the better.

Heading straight to video by the struggling distributor Black Rainbow didn’t get the exposure it deserved when it was first released but with Arrow Video’s brilliant Blu-ray restoration filled with archival interviews, an audio commentary and other new extras, people can at last experience this fascinating and chilling tale for themselves.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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