Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dust Devil (1992)

Haunting, mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful, Dust Devil is a little-known classic that has finally been released how it was meant to be seen. Now available from Subversive Sinema in a definitive, 5-disc limited collector’s edition complete with the director’s “final cut” of the film.

A lone demon travels the dusty, hot and dry Namibian Desert of South Africa in human form, seeking out souls of the lonely and lost. Locals call him the Dust Devil (Robert Burke). He preys upon and is drawn to those that believe in nothing and have lost everything, killing them in ritualistic fashion. The desolate desert landscape, seeped in muted reds, oranges and yellows and filled with jutting rocks, steep sand dunes and deep canyons create the perfect backdrop to the loneliness and isolation that draws the Dust Devil to his prey. The demon is in the guise of an attractive man, wearing a long, dust-covered jacket, cowboy boots, cowboy hat and the perfect amount of stubble. It’s not hard for him to hitchhike, as his victims are usually more than willing to pick him up. Wendy (Chelsea Field) has just left her abusive husband and is driving across the desert to get to the sea. She decides to pick up the handsome devil as he is hitchhiking on the side of the road. Strange things start to occur as Wendy spends more time with the hitcher. Meanwhile, local police officer Ben (Zakes Mokae), who is haunted by his own demons, is investigating what appears to be a very vicious serial killer. Local shaman Joe (John Matshikiza) becomes involved with the investigation and tries to warn Ben that he is dealing with a supernatural force. Can Ben stop the Dust Devil before he kills again? Will Wendy escape the Dust Devil’s charismatic draw? Can both Ben and Wendy defeat their past demons to come together and defeat the Dust Devil?

Dust Devil is a hypnotic and hallucinatory film that left me breathless. Combining African folklore with a spaghetti western look and throwing in some grisly murder scenes, Dust Devil impressed me at every turn. The pace is slow, but it is mesmerizing and never drags. From the opening scene where the Dust Devil is picked up by an unsuspecting victim and taken to her house where he first takes her photograph, then breaks her neck while they have sex and mutilates her body, painting the walls with her blood and burning the building to the ground to the final showdown in a ghost town between him, Wendy and Ben, I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen.

Robert Burke, who plays the Dust Devil, is equal parts charming and frightening. His demon has some very human needs and there were parts where I even began to empathize with him. The brutality of his killings, though, told a different story, of a demon who hunts the unloved and lonely and takes their souls. Chelsea Field as Wendy and Zakes Mokae as Ben were stellar in this as well, portraying broken, lonely and angry souls.

The score and soundtrack work wonders to support the dark mood and atmosphere of the story, giving it an almost dreamy (if not nightmarish) quality. The original music by Simon Boswell (also included in the 5-disc set) is stunning and evokes many emotions. Some of the music is very similar to what you might hear in old spaghetti westerns and only adds to the rich visuals of the film.

Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. Different camera angles are used to portray different emotions and the backdrop of the barely habitable desert echoes the emptiness and despair of the characters. People and cars rise out of the heat lines of the desert, as if rising out of the ocean. Towns are desolate, with tumbleweeds and trash blowing in the hot wind. Everything is drenched in red dust and yellow sand. The Dust Devil walks on and on, finally disappearing into the sunset…

Subversive Sinema has released a wonderful limited edition that finally gives justice to Dust Devil. Originally, Dust Devil was released by Miramax, who chopped up the film beyond recognition, getting rid of 20 minutes…all without director Richard Stanley’s approval. Stanley (after he finally tracked it down) recut the original negative with his own money and finally it is seeing a release through Subversive. The five discs include two versions of Dust Devil, the final director's cut and a longer work print version, three of Richard Stanley’s documentaries, The Secret Glory, Voice of the Moon and The White Darkness, the soundtrack CD and bonus features.

Dust Devil is a spellbinding, entrancing movie that invades your subconscious and whose images will stick with you for days. It comes highly recommended.

Available on Amazon!

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