Bright Lights Film Journal wrote:
The late Peter Adair (1943-1996) is best known in the queer community as one of the auteurs of Word Is Out, the first documentary about gay people that found a home in the mainstream. An outsider himself as a gay man, Adair was apparently drawn to other outsiders. His first, and in some ways best, film explored a distinctive American subculture. Holy Ghost People is a 53-minute documentary about snake-handling, strychnine-swilling members of the “Holiness” church. Rightly hailed by Margaret Mead as one of the best ethnographic films ever made, and a staple of classes on anthropology and documentary film, this study of a little-known sect who put their lives on the line for their religion still packs a wallop three decades after its release.