Wednesday, June 27, 2007

DUST DEVIL (1992) Movie Review


In the barren desert wastelands of South Africa roams an ancient, shape-shifting demon that is bound by human form, who searches for the souls of those that have given up on life. With these souls, the Dust Devil, as he has become known in storytelling and mythology, will be able to return to spirit form. After his latest victim, the Dust Devil sets back out on the road. He is picked up as a hitchhiker by Wendy, a woman who has just left her husband and is now traveling toward the sea as she tries to rediscover herself. As the two continue on their road trip through the hellish nothingness, the Dust Devil waits patiently for Wendy to finally give up on life, and to steal her soul away.

Meanwhile, police officer Ben Mukurob is on the trail of the Dust Devil, who he believes to be nothing more than a brutal serial killer. However, as the clues are dissected, they point to black magic and mysticism. Mukurob is highly skeptical of this, and turns to his friend Joe for help. Joe gives him the complete story of the Dust Devil, who he believes is in their midst, over several meetings. Once convinced that the supernatural may be at work, Mukurob sets out into the desert to hunt down his prey, unaware that his target is not one easily caught, nor can he be stopped like any mere mortal. Eventually, he catches up to the Dust Devil and Wendy, in an abandoned town that is slowly being swallowed up by the desert. It is here that the three will finally face off, and here that only one will walk away.

"The dreams came first. The dark man, his face hidden, his hat pulled low, his coat gathered around him, standing alone in the wasteland," director and writer Richard Stanley states on the origin of the Dust Devil character. When Stanley finally caught his dream on celluloid, his realization was very much like watching a dream. His camera slowly creeps through dust, wind and shimmering heat as it follows the main character, who although is trapped in a physical form, still has some control over the elements. There are no visible effects that affect the weather, only the natural chaos of southern Africa's climate that is filmed and edited to appear as if under control.

The storytelling writing of Stanley, although minimal, is sharply done, and more importantly, intelligent. This is a movie that lays down rules of the "universe" this film takes place in within the conversations of Mukurob and Joe, and great attention is paid to staying true to those rules to the finaly conclusion. Much of the film is told through imagery. DUST DEVIL is a very visual movie, in that you must read what you are seeing. Not everything is given to the viewer through exposition, and must be discovered and interpreted through sight. There are no filler scenes to pad out the running time, each scene and more specifically each shot, is designed with an artist's eye to keep the plot and ideas moving and evolving. You could even go so far as to define the camera as an omnipresent character, watching everything play out.

Robert Burke, who fills the shoes of the Dust Devil, filters his character's actions and expressions through the mysterious stranger template created by Clint Eastwood in his many westerns, particularly the more ghastly versions seen in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER. His outfit, a full-length duster coat and wide brimmed hat, doesn't hurt in making these associations more concrete. He does avoid coming off as a Clint-wannabe, and builds up through the film a very unique character that is both strangely compassionate and menacing at the same time. He has but one goal to obtain, and is willing and patient enough to wait an eternity to accomplish it.

This review is based upon a viewing of DUSTDEVIL: THE FINAL CUT, which has just been released on DVD by Subversive Cinema. Richard Stanley worked personally with the staff of Subversive Cinema to over see the completion of his film, and this cut represents the true feeling, direction and story that Stanley wanted to achieve. Upon its initial release back in 1992, it was severely cut and edited (almost all of the supernatural plot points were removed) by Miramax who had obtained distribution rights for the United States. Now, it will finally be widely available for the arthouse horror crowd to discover it for the first time. And for those that thought you have seen DUST DEVIL, prepare to finally see the real film.


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