Operating as equal parts The Hitcher (1986), vampire film and pure nightmare, Dust Devil is a fascinating exercise in style that also mediates upon feminism, urban legends and the past coming back to haunt the present. Richard Stanley sets the film in the obvious dusty setting of Namibia, a place that becomes a strong aspect of the film and turns the movie into a quasi-horror western. The western aspects are particularly strong concerning the Dust Devil, who operates as a mythical killer who feeds upon the life force of those he kills. This ritual is explained by the film’s narrator, Joe, the film’s narrator, in the movie’s eerie opening. The Dust Devil is played with utmost sinister quality by Robert John Burke, who menaces the film’s heroine, Wendy Robinson, played by Chelsea Field, who acts as the film’s survival girl. Although the movie at times features the Dust Devil actually sparing her or expressing a twisted love for Wendy, thus offering a slightly different take on the slasher villain/survival girl dynamic. One can argue that in all slasher movies the villain has a murderous obsession with the unlucky woman that has managed to not be murdered by him (or her, in certain cases). Also I love that this film has cult film and horror actor Zakes Moake as Sgt. Ben Mukurob, a South African police officer who is convinced that the Dust Devil is a supernatural being despite others not believing him.
Although the film presents some apartheid and racial politics unfortunately the film does not properly dive into that issue, choosing instead to be more of an ominous and heavily intense slasher film. This is too bad considering the cast involved and the fact that this movie came out in 1992, yet it still does not prevent me from enjoying the film and considering it to be an underrated cult gem from the early 1990s. Despite the decade’s lack of consistency when it comes to horror movies the 1990s still had some great films to offer, and Dust Devil is one of those. I also loved how towards the end the film references the Mad Max series, and that it does not journey into a cliched finale. I wonder how much Stanley borrowed from The Hitcher, although tales of creepy murders being picked up by unsuspecting victims is an old tale, and there are other films I have not seen that also deal with slightly similar concepts. Furthermore I actually would have liked this film to get a sequel, which is a rare thought considering how so many second films do not always live up to the original installments. I wanted to know more about the Dust Devil, and the last shot is curiously open ended.
PS: I found the so called director’s cut, as the film was originally gutted by the studio that released it. I believe that version is the one on Netflix that I watched.
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