Romero already summarized the 1980s with Day of the Dead, so Wes Craven escorts the undead back to their cradle: namely the Hispaniola of I Walked with a Zombie, now "Baby Doc" Duvalier's Haiti, "where death is only the beginning." A dissenter is declared dead after being paralyzed with voodoo powder, a tear streaks down his cheek as the coffin is lowered into the earth -- supernatural limbo stands for spiritual and political oppression, but American pharmaceutical corporations see only "science and medicine, not magic," and anthropologist Bill Pullman is sent to the island to uncover the re-animation recipe. The main struggle is between the mystical and the intellectual. Medic Cathy Tyson sees no conflict between her science and her faith, although Pullman sees cultural ritual claimed for touristy consumption at Paul Winfield's nightclub, and smells a scam; bumping into the rebel buried in the prologue makes him a believer, and a target of the Tonton Macoutes. His hotel room is decorated with crucified pigs, the handheld camera turns 90° to spot a machete-wielding shadow projected on a door ajar; a cave is the setting for the Pullman-Tyson lovemaking, after which martial-law is declared and the hero is brought to the police station where screams are heard and Zakes Mokae lights his cigar with a blowtorch, a flavorful Grand Guignol turn. The tropical air grows thick, dreams and hallucinations proliferate -- a snake springs from the maw of a decrepit wraith decked in a bridal gown, the screen tilts from vertical to horizontal so that the wooden door the shrieking Yankee is trying to break turns into the lid of a casket, filling rapidly with blackish blood. Subjugation under a regime of terror is summed up at the morgue's slab with a POV distorted by impotence, but Craven gives in to special-effects and political subtext is dissolved in a mishmash finale, Freddy Krueger in Blood of a Poet. With Brent Jennings, Conrad Roberts, Badja Djola, Theresa Merritt, and Michael Gough.
--- Fernando F. Croce