Back in the early '90s, South African filmmaker Richard Stanley directed a strange pair of genre films ... neither of which I actually liked upon initial viewings. The first one was a killer robot movie called Hardware, and a recent visit with the film impressed me quite a bit more than it did back in 1990. Stanley was back a few years later with Dust Devil, which I rented as soon as it was available on VHS ... and then promptly fell asleep before the flick was half-over.
But now, more than 13 years after Miramax released a (somewhat butchered) version of Richard Stanley's film, Subversive Cinema has come to the director's rescue. "Dust Devil: The Final Cut" is the result -- and while I managed to stay awake throughout the entire movie this time, I must come back with an opinion of "meh." Based on the production notes and the audio commentary, it seems that Dust Devil's production, post-production, and release history is infinitely more interesting than the movie itself. That's not to say it's a bad film, just a slow-moving and fairly dry one.
Robert John Burke plays a very mysterious guy who roams the isolated highways of Namibia, stopping occasionally to thumb a ride, get some sleep, or seduce and then murder a lonely young woman. Imagine the conflict when a newly-independent woman, on the road and semi-fleeing from a lame husband and a stale lifestyle, stops to pick the stranger up. Then imagine the last few sentences taking about 70 minutes to read.
Scattered throughout the background are an irritating number of scenes in which a local policeman tries to convince his colleagues that the murderer is not human at all, but instead a legendary, shape-shifting "dust devil" who needs human souls for one reason or another. The tension in the "A" story is meant to come from the fact that The Stranger is known for killing women ... yet for some reason he refuses to harm his most recent traveling partner. Eventually they do fall into bed (while the witless husband beings snooping around town and getting beat up once in a while) and then it's a slow road to secrets revealed.
Dust Devil is great to look at, it's got a few solid performances, and it's actually got a brain in its head (which is a nice switch for a genre flick), but the thing moves like a sand-coated snail, frankly, even with the director's recent nips, tucks, and additions. Robert Burke (Thinner) underplays his role rather admirably, although his character never really comes across as scary or particularly intimidating. As the most recent object of Dusty's affections, American actress Chelsea Field is also quite good, as is Zakes Mokae as the somewhat directionless cop who spends most of the movie chatting away with a surly shaman.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer represents the best that Dust Devil has ever looked.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, with very solid audio quality throughout. Optional subtitles are available in English.
Extras: Given that Mr. Stanley was finally able to go back and reassemble his movie, it's not surprising to note that the DVD is pretty well stocked with supplemental material from the filmmaker. First up is a 35-minute block of recent interviews with Richard Stanley and composer Simon Boswell. Solid stuff, if perhaps a little rambly here and there. Also included is an 18-minute reel of on-set "home movies," an automated photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, several bios, and some theatrical trailers.
But students of the genre will most likely head right for the audio commentary, which is where Stanley and moderator Norman Hill keep the information flowing very smoothly. From the traditional production anecdotes to the long and winding history of the finished film, this is a really excellent commentary track -- especially if you enjoyed the film more than I did.
Inside the case you'll find a 12-page production diary by Richard Stanley and a 12-page Dust Devil comic book.
I know this flick has a small but loyal fanbase out there, and to those folks I can heartily recommend this extras-packed director's cut. The flick doesn't do all that much for me, but there's little denying that some long overdue care and effort went into this single-disc release. (There's also a five-disc version that includes a lot more stuff from Richard Stanley, just so you know.)