I’ve called this curious and little-seen film from writer-director Mike Hodges “mystical horror,” and I guess that fits it as well as anything. But it’s not horror in the strictest sense. It’s more of a supernatural thriller that’s almost as much of a Southern-gothic melodrama—a bit like William Faulkner combined with the paranormal. In other words, Black Rainbow (1989) is hard to pigeonhole, which might account for its obscurity—though truth to tell, it’s not wholly dissimilar to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) or Sam Raimi’s The Gift (2000). Money problems seem to have precluded the film getting a proper theatrical release.
The film tells the story of a fake spiritual medium, Martha Travis (Rosanna Arquette), and her exploitative father, Walter (Jason Robards), who travel through the decaying backwaters of the South conning the yokels with a mix of showmanship, bogus supernatural doings and a nod to fundamentalist Christianity. At least that’s the case up until Martha starts having genuine precognitive visions. As usual with movie clairvoyants, this turns out not to be a good thing. What makes the film work lies in the fact that Hodges handles it all with a very straight face, gets good performances out of his cast, and generates an atmosphere from his North Carolina settings that stay with you long after the film’s over. A great picture? No, but an intriguing one.