Dust Devil: The Final Cut

Dir. Richard Stanley, 1992. Starring: Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field. English/Afrikaans. Horror.
Dust Devil: The Final Cut

Dust Devil has suffered from a bad reputation ever since Harvey and somebody Weinstein eviscerated Richard Stanley’s cut of the film from 108 minutes to 87 for its ill-fated theatrical release. Stanley’s previous feature was the cult hit Hardware, which was noted for having made back its micro budget many times over as a video store hit. Why the Weinsteins chose to lop off 20 minutes and remove all the sense from the film is a bit of a mystery. Hopefully, Dust Devil: The Final Cut will redeem the film in the eyes of those who had seen it previously and introduce this gem to a new generation of horror fans.

Set in an arid, remote region of South Africa, Dust Devil follows an enigmatic serial killer (Robert John Burke), half man-half demon who follows the lonely highway, making love to and then killing depressed women. The killer uses ritual magic, attempting through his murders to transcend the earthly plane so he can return to the spiritual world. The desert setting gives the film a Western atmosphere as does the casting of an American actor in the drifter-killer role. Whether there are supposed to be additional political connotations in an American man using African magic and killing white African women is an unresolved quandary. Wendy, a narcissistic housewife, leaves her brutish husband, eventually crossing paths with the handsome killer. The fact that neither the killer, nor Wendy, nor her husband are likeable characters and the latter two are idiots, makes the final battle all the more enjoyable. By liberating you from sympathizing with the protagonists, Stanley allows the viewers to consider the killer’s motivations objectively and also enjoy the resulting bloodshed more thoroughly.

For a horror movie the visuals are more indebted to Days of Heaven and The Wild Bunch than The Exorcist or The Omen, which suggests that Stanley is comparing post-apartheid South Africa to the Wild West. The gorgeous score is by Simon Boswell who has composed music for everything from Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre to Fellini’s Voce de la Luna to Michele Soavi’s Stagefright. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film are the low-key, high-quality special effects, perfectly tailored to suit the film’s intimate tone, augmented by chilling sound design. Dust Devil is from the period of Total Recall and The Thing, when you couldn’t see the pixels in whatever was supposed to be scaring you, when visual effects teams weren’t frantically switching angles and speeding up sequences so the viewer wouldn’t notice how fake their creations looked. If you’re interested in one of South Africa’s only horror films, if you fondly recall Stan Winston and Screaming George, Dust Devil might have a place in your half man-half demon heart.

Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Dec 6, 2008 2:59pm
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