Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Dust Devil (1992, Richard Stanley)


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.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)


Part well made scare marathon, part funny and cheesy homage to previous 50s and 60s horror films, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981) is another example of his gift at making entertaining horror movies. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was absolutely terrifying and captivating, while Lifeforce is pure cheesy goodness on an epic scale. The Funhouse works almost as a bottle episode stretched out as a full length feature movie: a bunch of kids are trapped in a carnival funhouse, stalked and hunted by carnival freaks. One of them is even more freak than man, a monstrous evil that might be inhuman. At the same time Hooper can’t help but conform to slasher genre conventions, which both helps and hurts this movie.

Chief among those conventions being the need for a “Survival Girl,” a woman who is considered pure although in this case she is more just slightly aware of what is going on. This girl keeps thinking that going deeper into the carnival is a bad idea, that maybe something terrible is going to happen. Of course she ends up being right, yet by the time the rest of the group she goes in with figures it out the murders begin to happen. Violence is responded to with more violence, and by the end of the long gory night people will never be the same. Especially that poor young lady who should have remained at home and kept her sanity.

At times Hooper gets too cheesy, and there are a few scenes that are rather downright predictable. The Funhouse almost wears out its welcome, and yet its still a really good horror film, a movie that presents the carnival scene, warts glory and all. Not to mention a really creepy and memorizing performance from Kevin Conway, who does a great job being two different people. Underneath the bright lights, past the freak acts and the cheap parlor games, lies a darker world that only some are aware of. Those who dare to enter must pay the fee, and the fee is rather high. Rather high indeed.

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