An okay shocker that premiered with little fanfare on home video, VOODOO DAWN deserves a look from serious horror devotees. It was partly written by and based on a book by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD co-creator John Russo, a man who helped make flesh-eating ghouls the most viscerally
enduring fright figures in modern cinema. VOODOO DAWN goes to the heart of zombie lore, with a slow but often eerie evocation of West Indian black magic in the deep South.
Voodoo sorcerer Makoute (Tony Todd) was the most feared of the Tontons Macoute, a dreaded secret police who terrorized Haiti during the decades-long Duvalier regime. After the 1986 overthrow of the dictatorship, a mob crucified and de-tongued Makoute, but he survived and fled to America, taking
over a corner of the rural countryside and populating it with zombie slaves. A couple of New York college kids on spring break stumble into Makoute's territory and seek safety with a nearby community of migrant farmworkers, led by Claude (Raymond St. Jacques), another Haitian refugee and old enemy
of Makoute. Claude learns that Makoute is constructing an all-powerful "voodoo man" from parts of his victims, and in a confused finale, the good guys raid the sorcerer's lair to destroy him and his monstrous handiwork.
It's not easy to distinguish between the ragged laborers and the defending zombies in these scenes, and VOODOO DAWN's lone ostentatious display of special effects takes the form of a ALIEN-derived root demon that erupts from the voodoo man. More memorable is the fadeout shot of a leftover zombie
in Makoute's now-deserted house, endlessly and mindlessly trying to go through a doorway and held back by a large spear protruding through his torso.
The walking dead occupy only a secondary role in the tale, the primary menace being the mute Makoute. Tony Todd, an actor with significant stage experience (and star of George Romero's 1990 remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) stalks impressively and swings a mean machete. Appealing newcomer Gina
Gershon makes a spirited romantic interest, but seems too cosmopolitan in accent and demeanor to be a migrant field hand. This was the last film for the late Raymond St. Jacques (THE PAWNBROKER, THE GREEN BERETS, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM), veteran black actor and director whose many roles included
"Coffin" Ed Johnson, the cop created by A RAGE IN HARLEM author Chester Himes. St. Jacques is a properly commanding-but-gentle presence here, although it's never explained why Claude hasn't thought to put an end to Makoute earlier.
At one point Claude links voodoo terror to Haiti's unjust economic system. The film presses another political point with one of the student characters, Miles (Billy "Sly" Williams), a city-bred African-American who initially asserts "This isn't our fight," as he tries to convince his friends not
to get involved with the conflict against Makoute. (Ironically, real-life turmoil bred anew in Haiti in 1991, when a military junta overthrew the democratic government, sending scores of refugees heading for America. Some reports indicated that lingering elements of the Tonton Macoutes had a hand
in the coup.)
Helmer Steven Fierberg shows appreciable discipline and restraint in a genre not known for either. VOODOO DAWN marks the well-known cinematographer's directorial debut, and was shot at atmospheric locations around Charleston, South Carolina. (Violence, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: An okay shocker that premiered with little fanfare on home video, VOODOO DAWN deserves a look from serious horror devotees. It was partly written by and based on a book by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD co-creator John Russo, a man who helped make flesh-eating g… (more)