Black Rainbow (1989) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes

Black Rainbow (1989) is a horror/thriller starring Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards and Tom Hulce.

A young woman (Arquette) and her father (Robards) travel from town to town, where she earns their living doing a psychic medium show in local churches, providing messages from the dead to the living. Her trouble starts when she gives a message to a woman from her murdered husband. Only one problem. The man is still alive. It turns out that the psychic has inherited a gift and a curse from her mother: a genuine ability to see the future, and an inability to cope with her knowledge. Arquette not only knows that the husband will die, she also knows who killed him. Since the future murderer is a professional hit man who knows that she is correct and goes after her, her inability to cope with her gift is the least of her current problems.

Hulce plays a skeptical reporter whose cynicism is dispelled when, in the next town, the psychic accurately predicts a disaster in the local power plant. The reporter eventually becomes the love interest as well. Rosanna says, "I would rather have a man lie with me than to me," and then shows her breasts and possibly a hint of pubes to the camera.

It is an interesting premise to show a spiritualist making money in show business, and then turning out to have real psychic ability. It is also riveting to see her tell people in her audience that their loved ones are dead when they aren't. The execution of the film is solid. Director Mike Hodges, whose best films include Croupier and the original version of Get Carter, was honored at film festivals for his work on Black Rainbow, and Arquette gave a very strong performance, possibly the best of her career, garnering some "best actress" nods on the festival circuit. Hulce and Robards were solid in support roles. Unfortunately, the film never made it past the festivals to get a wide theatrical release, perhaps because it has an unsatisfying, ambiguous ending.

Despite its obscurity it has developed a devoted cult following, as evidenced by some enthusiastic comments at IMDb.



  • No features except the original trailer
  • the transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



See the main commentary.

Scoop's notes

Black Rainbow is a movie with an intriguing premise. Rosanna Arquette plays a traveling medium who rides the small-town circuit in the Bible Belt, claiming to pass on messages from deceased relatives to the gullible and bereaved. Her life changes radically one day when she starts to experience genuine messages from the dead - and what makes it spookier is that the person speaking from beyond is not dead - yet. One night Rosanna describes a grisly death scene to a woman. The graphic and depressing scene is off-message to begin with since people do not pay for these sessions to hear about the suffering of their dead spouses, but what makes it truly horrifying and confusing is that the message is from the woman's allegedly dead husband, who is actually home watching TV. The drama intensifies that night when the husband is killed by a professional hit man from Chicago, in the exact manner described earlier by Rosanna.

Gaining the gift of prophecy could be traumatic enough on its own, but the impact of it goes beyond trauma and into outright danger when Rosanna realizes that she has told everyone she can identify the murderer. As a general rule, hit men do not appreciate publicity (I notice that very few of them use the Yellow Pages), and this one is no exception. Rosanna has not actually named him yet, so he gets on a plane to East Jesus, Alabama with a plan to silence the clairvoyant before she can reveal his identity to the world.

Pinto from Animal House (Tom Hulce) plays a skeptical reporter who first becomes convinced of Rosanna's psychic powers and then starts to notice that she's also smokin' hot and becomes her lover. Jason Robards plays Rosanna's alcoholic father and manager who just wants his daughter to do the bland phony spiritualism that pays the bills, and doesn't cotton to this new business of actually providing the communication with the dead that his customers are paying for.

The film is very similar to some of the best old Twilight Zone episodes in that it uses a supernatural story to make some serious points about society and religion. Unfortunately, it takes the philosophy too seriously and leaves too many loose ends in the story. The dialogue is stilted and artificial, like something from a Tennessee Williams play, while some of the characters' actions seem inexplicable at times (one major character seems to change loyalties without and justification or explanation), and the final showdown with the hit man is more confusing than suspenseful.

The narrative structure is clumsy as well. The story is built inside of a framing device in which Hulce plays a much older version of himself trying to find Rosanna many years after the incident with the hit man. There was only one reason to add the framing device, and that was to add a nifty surprise ending, ala Rod Serling. Unfortunately, the script keeps going after the "gotcha" moment has already revealed the big secret. Although that secret could probably stand a bit of explanation, none is offered.

Hey, sometimes ya jes' gotta know when to sign off and roll dem credits. I would have ended the movie as soon as Pinto saw the mysterious photos ... would have frozen the film right there with the photos in his hand.

It's all a bit stuffy and pretentious for the subject matter, but it's actually not a bad movie at all, just a disappointingly mediocre one, It's one of the rare films that might actually make a good candidate for a remake because it had an excellent premise but couldn't make it all work properly.


By the way, if they ever explained why the film is called Black Rainbow, I missed it. My best guess is as follows. Black rainbows are the phenomenon created by the moon at night. Although all the colors of the spectrum are present in them, they appear black to us because they are outlined against a black sky. (We are certain that the colors are actually there because they can suddenly appear during certain lighting conditions.) Rosanna in this film is a person who can see those things which are there but cannot be seen by the rest of us - in this respect the faces of the dead are like the colors in a black rainbow. I realize that clarification is obscure, but it makes sense, given the tag line: "There is a spectrum of terror that only a few can see ..."

The Critics Vote ...

  • There are no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C. The positive comments at IMDb indicate that it delivers solid satisfaction to genre lovers.

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