Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dust Devil (1992)

Richard Stanley is a director with endless talents that you probably have never heard of. Along with Dust Devil his only other feature film is Hardware, a great sci-fi horror film from 1990. He has also made a handful of documentaries and short films along with some music videos. With a movie in production, another in pre-production and a third announced it will be nice to see him return and hopefully bring his talents to a wider audience.

Dust Devil takes place in Namibia and South Africa and is the story of a shape shifting demon who preys on humans that have lost everything but life itself, the weak and unloved. The film has intertwining plots, all dealing with the Dust Devil. Wendy (Chelsea Field) has just separated from her husband is is driving aimlessly through the deserts when she picks up a strange hitchhiker who brings with him equally strange events. A local police officer (Zakes Mokae) is hunting the murderer after a local shaman shows him the truth about the demon. And eventually Wendy's husband gets into the picture as well after he decides he wants her back. All of the plots come together in a showdown with the demon.

The plot in Dust Devil isn't anything exceptional or even the movie's strongest point. The film truly excels in Richard Stanley's direction. He is able to create such thick and foreboding atmosphere that you almost feel the heat coming off of the desert sand, you start to feel sick to your stomach with the violence on screen. He is simply fantastic with creating atmosphere. The writing, also handled by Stanley is competent and the acting while a bit shaky at times holds together just fine.

The thing with Dust Devil is that it quickly became a studio disaster. The Weinstein Brothers chopped it up, cutting the movie down to 87 minutes from its original 2 hour cut, which took out most of the supernatural elements and almost the entire role of the protagonist. That cut was released to European markets, after which the producers and Stanley agreed on a 95 minute cut which was to be released in the UK until the film's British backers went under. It then went into movie studio hell for years and had all sorts of problems with who owned the rights and who gets what cut of the money. Eventually Stanley got the original negatives and was able to edit together Dust Devil: The Final Cut for the DVD release along with a work print version that is an extra 8 minutes. The original 120 minute cut is seemingly gone forever, but what we are left with today is a fine example of gruesome supernatural horror from a very overlooked director.


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