Director Richard Stanley was supposed to be the next big thing. In 1990, the South African director burst onto the horror scene with the stylish and intense robot-gone-mad thriller entitled Hardware. This was followed up by Dust Devil in 1992, which is Stanley's most accomplished work to date. A few years later, the director was involved in a controversy when he fired from the remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau and replaced by John Frankenheimer. Rumour has it that Stanley's dismissal was due to a personality conflict with star Val Kilmer. Since that incident, Stanley has vanished from narrative filmmaking and has focused his attention on documentaries.
Dust Devil consists of a relatively unknown cast who all thrive in their roles. Zakes Mokae stars as Ben, a South African cop who is investigating a serial killer who preys on lonely and unloved people who have nothing to lose. Meanwhile, a woman named Terri (Chelsea Field) has left her husband (Rufus Swart) and is driving to the sea to try to figure out what she is doing with her life. Along the way, she picks up a mysterious hitchhiker who happens to be the same person that Ben is tracking. Spiritualism abounds as a shaman friend of Ben's tries to help him understand the nature of the evil he is tracking and the shape-shifting killer justifies his actions.
Stanley has crafted a film that blows along like the dust that is constantly present in the story. Sometimes, it is lingering across the screen and sometimes it gusts suddenly and quickly in a rage. The omnipresent dust also gives the characters a somewhat dirty appearance (strangely with the exception of the Dust Devil himself) that I found added to the sense of loneliness and desperation. Cinematographer Steven Chivers further accents the isolation by often shooting large barren vistas that dwarf the characters in the frame. Although the film is slow paced and bleak for the most part, it holds your interest and has a few surprises that hit a lot harder than they would have had this been shot in more of a quick-edit style. The score from Simon Boswell also contributes a great deal to the mood and incorporates a recurring theme that would sound more at place in a spaghetti western than a horror movie but this complements the barren landscapes and tone of the film.
I found all the performances to be quite good as well with Mokae as the guilt-ridden cop and Field as the frustrated wife in particular capturing the mood that Stanley was obviously going for. Robert John Burke's portrayal of the cool and confident villain was excellent aside from a few small moments where he came off as slightly cheesy. Burke is one of those actors that you have seen around a lot but may not recognize the name. Some of his more notable appearances were in Robocop 3, Thinner, and Tombstone. Chelsea Field was in Renny Harlin's Prison.
This is not your typical serial killer/slasher movie. Stanley has created a somewhat deep look at the existence of evil as well as the effects of loss on the human condition. Those of you who are looking for nubile teens getting stalked by an axe murderer will be sorely disappointed but if you are in the mood for more of an existentialist horror movie, this is something you should check out. Don't get me wrong; it is not one of those "trippy" movies like The Begotten that you will walk out of not understanding what you saw. It is more of a slow-burn uncomfortable ride that will likely leave you wanting to check it out again.
Make sure that you see the recently released 'final cut' of this film and beware of previous versions that are floating around out there. Stanley's original cut of the movie was extensively altered by the studio making it a confusing mess. The new version that Subversive Cinema has released has restored the movie to Stanley's initial vision and is the only way that this movie should be viewed. (Josh Pasnak, 3/7/07)
Directed By: Richard Stanley.
Written By: Richard Stanley.
Starring: Robert John Burke, Zakes Mokae, Chelsea Field, John Matshikiza.
Subversive - September 26, 2007
Due to the massive amounts of extras on Subversive's limited edition "Final Cut" set (we're talking 5 discs in total!), the DVD section can be seen HERE (will open in a new window).