This is a film that was obviously rethought in production. The original intention seems to have been to mount a serious, if scarcely needed, remake of I Walked With a Zombie with some of the anthropological-political detail carried over from The Serpent and the Rainbow – but, at some point, it was decided to fit it into the ailing Tales From the Crypt franchise, which means it opens and closes (after the long credits crawl) with the puppet doing a terrible Jamaican accent and ogling tits, then slides into the film proper with an MOR reggae cover (by Joe 90) of the Sir Lancelot song ‘Shame and Scandal in the Family’ and a party scene which is an excuse for guest star Tim Curry to ogle more tits. Then, a doctor (Erick Avari) ogles more tits before suffering a KNB effects voodoo death that looks like something from the ‘80s (cf: Spasms) as we see him boil and explode before a reveal that it was all in his mind. Then, taking a minor break from tits, we’re into needless backstory as Dr Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey) has her license suspended (by guest star Stephen Tobolowsky) for trying too hard to save a dying child. As if we wouldn’t get the point, she looks at the letter informing her of this while Tobolowsky’s voice-over reads it out, and then has a long one-sided telephone conversation with his character soliciting a reference for a job in Jamaica (this must have been the sort of awkward storytelling that convinced producers the film was in trouble).
Arriving on the island, Alice goes through a hackneyed bit as the guy (Gabriel Casseus) sent to meet her at the airport doesn’t expect the doctor to be a woman, and then learns from her new boss, Paul Claybourne (Craig Sheffer) that she’s supposed to look after his brother Wesley (Daniel Lapaine), who thinks he’s a zombie. The skeleton of the old Lewton plot is here, albeit with the characters of the brother and the zombie wife combined, and a new mystery as to who’s the big obeah man behind the curse on Wesley and what this has to do with inheritance/the land/an unacknowledged relationship. Alice’s new best friend is super-hot Caro Lamb (Kristen Wilson, of the Dr Dolittle films), a sculptor minx who shows her ass but not her tits, while Grey finds several excuses to walk about in her underwear. A couple of instantly-revoked-as-dreams effects scenes with spiders and stabbings try to dump horror into the otherwise tame proceedings. It was shot in Jamaica, but any attempt at credible local background (notes on obeah as a branch of voodoo, the omnipresence of machetes, some cane-burning) is offset by the sort of demeaning racial stereotypes Val Lewton refused to put in his voodoo movie in 1943. For instance, Ron Taylor is cast as the fat lecherous murderous corrupt police superintendent, who always has sweat trickling down his face when he’s doing anything horrible.
Screenwriters Rob Cohen (the xXx guy) and Avi Nesher (who also directs) take the old plot and tangle it in complications which only serve to take away from the core of the drama. Grey and Wilson at least bring some heat to their roles – at one point, Grey has a voodoo nightmare in which she is attacked by her own curly hair – but Sheffer and Lapaine are just stiffs. And the ending, which implies comedy semi-necrophile rape as a just dessert, leaves a very poor taste, even before the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir) and the tits girls show up again after the end credits.