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An unusually ambitious effort from horror movie specialist Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), filmed on location in Haiti (as well as the Dominican Republic). This genuinely frightening 1988 thriller follows the efforts of an anthropologist (Bill Pullman) sent by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to find the chemical mixture used in “zombification”—the voodoo practice that simulates death while leaving the victim alive and conscious. Depending largely on hallucinations and psychological terror (a la Altered States), and working from a Richard Maxwell and A.R. Simoun screenplay inspired by Wade Davis's nonfiction book of the same title, Craven provides more atmosphere and creepy ideas than fluid storytelling. But it's nice for a change to see some of the virtues of old-fashioned horror films—moody dream sequences, unsettling poetic images, and passages that suggest more than they show—rather than the usual splatter shocks and special effects (far from absent, but employed with relative economy). Cathy Tyson plays the hero's Haitian guide—a psychiatrist alert to some of the cultural ramifications of voodoo—and Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, and Brent Jennings, as other agents of the hero's dark education in prerevolutionary Haiti, are effective as well.

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