Dust Devil: The Final Cut (1992)
Director: Richard Stanley
Robert John Burke/Dust Devil
Battered wife Wendy (Chelsea Field), says “enough”, hops in her beat up car, flees her punch-drunk husband and heads for the Namibian desert. To find what? Her own death perhaps. On her way, she picks up a mysterious hitchhiker (Robert John Burke), one with an offbeat demeanor and lets face it, KILLER side-burns. What Wendy doesn't know is that her unconscious desire may have just come true; looks like she just invited death in the flesh for a joyride!
There are a handful of filmmakers who acted as milestones in terms of my own cinematic evolution when I was a young buck discovering and understanding film. RICHARD STANLEY was one of them! His novel visual style which to me came off as a mix of giallo, artsy and hallucinogenic trip-out scarred me in the early 90's via HARDWARE (1990) and DUST DEVIL (1992). His high profile career was sadly cut short (with the fiasco that was THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, more on that in the Bullseye section below) but the man is still working today (he recently partook in the 2011 horror anthology The Theater Bizarre). Up to now, I had only seen the snipped down 87 minutes US cut of DUST DEVIL; and even heavily butchered, it was a fav of mine, one that I kept going back to over and over again (yup, I ruined that VHS tape). So, being that there's no big screen horror in my parts this week, I decided to finally tackle the FINAL CUT of DUST DEVIL and yes I am a better man for it!
DUST DEVIL stimulated me on many levels and I guess it's one of the reasons I keep going back to it. On one end it was about some chick fleeing an abusive husband to (Unconsciously?) find death. On the other it told the tale of a demon (based on a real life South African serial killer who became a legend due to his ritualistic murders and his ambiguous capture; 5.0. brought back a body with its head blown off, was he the killer, who knows. He is known as the Nhadiep) which likes to hang in desperate areas and feed on the hopeless. And finally the flick addressed and somewhat worked as an analogy for South Africa in the 90's; a place that was all about violence (specially towards women) and racism (against blacks). How that's for a full meal? But the meat wasn't the only thing to chew on here; we also had the wild aesthetics. The visuals here were simply hypnotically ASTOUNDING. The movie came off as a morbid Spaghetti Western as shot by a “on top of his game” Dario Argento. It was filled to the brim with potent symbolism, visceral horror sequences and eeriness galore, all wrapped up in a blanket of dread and oppressiveness. The sinister setting (the Namib desert with its vast sandy landscape and endless skies ) definitely augmented/complemented the uneasy vibe of the story/characters and so did the chilling sound design, Stanley's unique camera work and his penchant for evoking a surreal energy in every frame.
Now the US cut I grew up with had snipped out (courtesy of Miramax aka The Weinsteins ... yup they were ruining movies even back then) all kinds of stuff. Lots of the “occult” elements of the story were absent, the Hitchhiker was one note (in the Final Cut he actually wants out of the material world, hence adding pathos to the character) and the subplot involving Ben (brilliantly tackled by Zakes Mokae) lacked depth/purpose (he was just a cop on the case) which was a shame, cause it carried quite a wallop here (a man, dead inside, wanting to find death). While bringing that new dimension to the narrative, the Ben subplot also brought the “magic and mysticism” themes of the flick to the forefront and helped tie them to the overall happenings at hand. In short where the US cut of DUST DEVIL almost played out as a choppy, quasi stream of consciousness type spiel, one that didn't always make sense in terms of the evolution of the narrative; this FINAL CUT; gave me, granted an unorthodox storyline, but one that actually held together within its own set of rules.
Add to all that: rock solid lead performances (Robert John Burke put out a charismatic, threatening, ethereal and almost tragic display while Chelsea Field nailed that accent, was sexy, vulnerable yet strong as Wendy), a haunting score by Simon Boswell (which I am listening to as I write this) and an ending that will have you asking yourself some questions (but in a good way, I found MY sense of it) and you get an unsung horror classic! Any negatives to spew? Nope! Nada! Obviously this film is not for everybody, horror fans who were solely bred on a diet of mainstream genre fare will most likely think it's too vague and lumbering; and I can understand that. But if like me you dig flicks that have a slow deliberate pace, rely heavily on symbolism/metaphors whilst having one foot planted firmly in the LSD tub; hitch a ride with this Devil, you may get off on it!
We get some blood, wounds, corpses, severed fingers, a nasty neck snap and a blown up head.
T & A
We get a nude chick (the yummy Terri Norton), Chelsea Field's boobies and the ladies/gay dudes get all kinds of Robert John Burke butt shots!
It took what, 14 years? But DUST DEVIL finally got its dues with this Final Cut, the closest we'll ever get to what Stanley had originally envisioned. Although the core storyline was a simple one at heart; it's how it was told that made all the difference. Visually striking, with strong performances, a memorable villain, a sleek score and enough wild and offsetting imagery to fill 13 of your nightmares, DUST DEVIL is a must for those of you who enjoy horror that works outside the mold, plays by its own rules and exists on a polar opposite plane than the mainstream. This is a film that marked me then, in its neutered form, and one that will keep satisfying me now that I own this fuller cut. Thank you Mr. Stanley for not giving up on Dust Devil and finally giving us a version that stayed true to itself!
Richard Stanley turned down doing a Judge Dredd movie to do Dust Devil.
The legend of Nhadiep was also the inspiration for David Wicht's Windprints, starring John Hurt and Sean Bean.
The idea for Dust Devil came to Richard Stanley in a dream. He actually made an unfinished 16mm student film of it, see the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYae8NWR9bI
Richard Stanley developed a remake of The island of Dr. Moreau for 4 years. New Line took it on. Alas Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer half a week after shooting started, cause the Studio blamed him for not keeping Val Kilmer (who made up his lines as he went along) under control. We all know how the finished film turned out...