DUST DEVIL (director/writer: Richard Stanley; cinematographer: Steven Chivers; editor: Derek Twigg; music: Simon Boswell; cast: Robert Burke (Hitch/Dust Devil), Chelsea Field (Wendy Robinson), Zakes Mokae (Ben Mukuros), Rufus Swart (Mark Robinson), John Matshikiza (Joe Niemand), Marianne Sägebrecht (Dr. Leidzinger); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Harvey Weinstein; Miramax; 1993-UK/USA)
“For those who like their occultism served bloody–real bloody.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Richard Stanley (“Hardware”) set his stylish supernatural horror story in the middle of South Africa, as it ambitiously goes about in a pretentious arty way to juggle a story about grisly murders, mysticism, and local politics.
A demonic killer roams the desert preying on desperate humans overtaken with grief in order to find his own soul and maintain power–which is how this far-fetched premise is explained away. The killer is some kind of alien or devil incarnate or B-movie invention, who changes forms and takes the shape of those he kills. This film is for those who like their occultism served bloody–real bloody. It never quite makes sense, even in the sci-fi film genre conventional way, as its intentions remain opaque and the mysticism it serves is all mumbo-jumbo. Though filled with visual novelties that hold one’s attention, the script remains muddled and unfocused. The film exists in several versions including the director’s preferred one, in which he paid his own money to cut. I saw the undoubtedly weaker and shorter American version, which was re-dubbed and added a new voice-over.
The opening scene is almost without dialogue and its startling effect is purely from its bizarre visuals, as this non-linear story takes us into a desert locale and builds a nightmarish scenario of a hitch-hiker (Robert Burke) with no name leaving a trail of carnage behind him wherever he goes. He’s stalking on the highway a tiny compact car driven by a lonely woman named Wendy (Chelsea Field), a South African who leaves her rotten husband to commit suicide in this remote small town of Bethany that is undergoing a seven year drought. It’s on the border between Namibia and South Africa, stuck in a place that reeks of death and if the tourist agents were trying to sell suicide vacation spots I guess this place would be nirvana. Wendy evidently has some link to the Dust Devil, as she dreams about him and watches as he hitches a ride with another woman. Oddly he sometimes appears to be in her car when he’s not, as there’s some kind of magic or script confusion taking place. The natives superstitiously believe that the violent winds kicking up dust in the beautiful but eerie desertscape are ominous signs of a creature called the Dust Devil being present, as the film goes all out to convey there’s magic in the air.
The smell of death leads the shape-changing devil hitch-hiker to Bethany. Trying to catch this Dust Devil is local policeman Ben Mukuros (Zakes Mokae), who recruits an almost completely mad, half-blind cinema projectionist named Joe (Matshikiza) because he’s versed in magic in his search for the suspected serial killer. Joe is also the narrator with the unbelievable task of explaining what the hell is going down, as the police close-in on the serial killer. His explanation goes something like this: “He preys upon the damned, the weak, the faithless. He draws them to him and he sucks them dry. We are nothing to him, we’re dust in the wind. His world is older than ours. He smelled Bethany dying and he came to collect souls. But luckily: Until this ritual is complete he is trapped like us, in the material world. Bound by flesh.”
Relying on the scary atmosphere it setup rather than a meaningful story, the film despite its visionary magnificence gets lost in its poorly drawn chaotic dream-like sequences and is further let down by the unrealized performance by Field, and its dialogue which is awkwardly delivered and sounds trite. But there’s enough gore to satisfy the blood-thirsty viewer, especially, in a scene of a neck twisted off and the body dismembered, just before the woman vic climaxes from making love in her motel room with her cowboy dressed hitch-hiker lover who turns out to be the Dust Devil in disguise. Not completely sated until he repaints the room with her blood, the Dust Devil takes her fingers as a pleasant reminder of the happiness she brought him, and then sets the place on fire.
REVIEWED ON 1/20/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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