(Richard Stanley, UK/Fr, 1992)
Based upon a series of grotesque murders in the small, remote South African town of Bethany, Dust Devil embellishes these factual ritualistic killings and presents a supernatural explanation. The evil shape-shifting demon (Robert Burke), responsible for a long history of unsolved deaths, travels the windswept Namibian deserts as a hitchiker. Inexplicable forces guide him to those whose lives have reached a hiatus; those whose lives now offer them nothing. These are his victims and he is the deliverer of their fate. Wendy (Chelsea Field) leaves her husband, jumps into her car and begins a journey of soul searching which take her to Bethany. Here, the local police chief (Zakes Mokae) haunted by nightmares of his dead son and estranged wife, becomes obsessed with bringing to an end the series of unsolved murders that have spanned several decades. When Wendy's husband follows her and the Dust Devil arrives in Bethany, the four people's paths cross in a fatalistic conclusion.
South African-born Richard Stanley has delivered in Dust Devil what he tempted us with in his first feature Hardware. The hellfire brew of claustrophobic ideas which made up his messy yet visually impressive debut couldn't be a bigger contrast to the deliberately slow-paced and epic feel present here (partially generated by the stunning location photography). The European cut (post production on which was financed by Stanley himself) runs an amazing 18 minutes longer than its US counterpart. The American print drops most of the supernatural elements - the very ingredients that set Dust Devil apart from most chillers of this kind. Having seen both versions, the US one is certainly more punchy and those with an impatient disposition may well favour the shorter cut. However, the entire tone of the film is changed from an otherwordly, demonic-driven series of ritualistic slaughters to a routine serial killer murder mystery. But in both versions, the African desert locations lend a fresh feeling - so often lacking in US productions. Increasingly impressive composer Simon Boswell follows up his work on Hardware and a better job could not be asked for. Clever use of whale song in the score adds to the eerie and surreal atmosphere. Way superior to Hardware, Dust Devil proves Richard Stanley is intelligent as well as talented.