Winter of 2003, I'm sat on the edge of the mattress in my room with Ryan Adams singing about his Sweet Carolina from out the speakers behind me and with a cigarette 'tween my yap-flaps and with a lass from the technical college up the road stood at the door there, pulling her cardigan over her shoulders and running her hands through her hair, checking the reflection in the back-side of a Wildhearts CD.
"You look beautiful" I'm saying, and she does, with her Bruce Springsteen shirt and her bright-red moon-boots and her tartan trousers with the chains hung from her hip-bones to half-way down the avenue.
"Don't" she says. "It just makes it all the more… emo, the whole thing."
"Aye" says I, "Right enough."
"I'm sorry" she says, leaning down for to kiss me on the cheek afore she leaves, "I really am."
"Me too" says I. "Me too."
As she opens the door she says "You really should see it, y'know."
"I will" I sigh. "I will do that, right enough."
"Mean, it's a fucking classic."
"Aye. It is that, now."
Me and yonder lassie, manys a grand filth we'd planned, manys a curious shaming of science we'd been set for to conjure twixt the sheets. Manys a shocking gyration, manys a biological marvel.
Two steps shy o' the bed, we'd been, and she'd said "Bejeesus I'm gon' set light your knackers like the Dust Devil set light thon house on yonder plains."
With her tongue in my ear I'd said "Oh", I'd said, "I've never seen it."
She'd stopped, put her tongue back behind her teeth and said "What?"
"Dust Devil. I've never seen it."
A silence thick as the silence 'tween God's own thighs got to swelling round about the room.
Eventually she reached to the floor, lifted her cardigan and said "I'm sorry. It's a personal thing, I… I just can't sleep with a fella's never seen Dust Devil. It's a fucking masterpiece, I… I don't know how you can, just, like, woo a girl with patter all the colors of Tigon and Amicus and Hammer and then, when she's a wrist's flick removed from your willy just casually tell her you haven't seen the best British horror film since, like, whenever. Since The Wicker Man, maybe. Certainly since Hellraiser."
I stood there with the jaw all slackened and the tweeds at the ankles, the stripy pants all jutting now and again this way, then that.
"I'm sorry" she repeats. "I just… you're not who I thought you were."
I didn't leave the room for a fortnight.
Last week, some two years later, Dust Devil arrives in the post.
How Subversive Cinema went about releasing Richard Stanley's masterpiece is as follows…
By producing a glorious, five-disc behemoth of a set featuring Stanley's final, definitive cut of the film, a work-print version, three documentaries he's made for the BBC and various folks (one feature length, two half-hour affairs, all of them fantastic and dealing with voodoo, Nazis and the holy grail and post-Russian Invasion Afghanistan), a cavalcade o' extras, a short comic book, a fantastic booklet with no end of Stanley's notes on all of the films presented herein, and finally, a CD of Simon Boswell's wonderful score.
It's an incredible set, no doubt about it, retailing for the price of a regular ol' DVD, although it's limited to only 9,999 copies.
So aye, it arrives in the post, and it's everything Dust Devil-related a man could ever hope to have (except maybe for the original, severely butchered and tinkered with theatrical release version, but never mind that).
Hitting Play on the ol' DVD discaroo doohickey, I got to thinking about that lass from the opening paragraph, about how she'd said this was the best British horror flick since The Wicker Man, or at least Hellraiser. I got to considering Stanley's filmography, got to thinking about his work on the abysmal Island Of Dr Moreau remake from '96, a production from which he was fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer. I got to thinking about his 1990 picture Hardware, about a robot has some robot-fuck with a woman and some other things I don't really know anything about on account of I was 11 years old and my mum was in the room so I hid behind the sofa out of embarrassment.
I thought about how this was the Final Cut of Dust Devil, it even says so in the titles. I thought about how Richard Stanley had toiled and tilled for over twenty years to get this number onto the screens, fed his own money into it and settled not a moment until what was available for folks who cared to see, which should be most everyone, is the definitive, This Is What I Meant To Do version of his much maligned and mishandled labor of all-encompassing love, and not the version released by Miramax back in the day.
I thought about all of this, and then the dust-swept, sun-lashed, heat-skewed plains got to swelling on the screen and I could think about nothing that wasn't directly related to "Holy fuck."
Holy fuck, said I, and with good reason, the reason being that Richard Stanley's Dust Devil, from the very first frame, is unspeakably, staggeringly gorgeous.
Owl's jerk about on branches, cars rise out the heat of the desert roads like the Kraken rising up and out the ocean, lines are drawn in sand, the sun and the moon bleed o'er one another, the dust clings to the celluloid and catches in the throat.
Namibia trickles o'er the screen like water down the shoulders of the sirens. Hypnotic, incantatory stretches are torn asunder by this or that burst of the most disturbing rotten dot com imagery, then the aching cliffsides again, the swirling of the sweat on the weary brows.
What it amounts to is the most beautiful film about a demon out hell's own arse-crack wanders the highways and byways of creation killing and maiming and sexing and mumbling that you ever in your life did see.
Robert Burke appears out the maw of the Namibian sands, having trodden the Earth for as long as anyone could be bothered considering, a shape-shifting demon from "The other side of the mirror" come for to claim the lives of folks reeking with misery and desperation and a craving for to be done away with.
(A man who can sense, can smell genuine despair and lust for the noose; how useful he'd be in determining the Realness of this or that emo-fringed four-piece?)
He's rode the rails of time itself, this rugged Man With Many Names, and he's hitching his way across Namibia that he might claim the life of one Wendy Robinson.
Zakes Mokae's detective traces his movements, this inter-dimensional fiend, he ponders the ragged, mutilated bodies of past victims, he attempts for to decipher the mystical scrawls left by the corpses. He tries to do this but he's crippled no end by the memories of his wife and child, both of them lost to the gnashing of tragedy.
In and around this plot, Richard Stanley weaves the most enchanting of tapestries, a tapestry stitched from anthropology and mythology and parable and natural history, threaded through the western and the road movie and the thriller and the horror.
In his commentary track on this final cut (one of many commentary tracks he offers in this set), Stanley describes the film as "A love letter to apartheid-era South Africa", and as such the film details a landscape of the most transcendent beauty, yet haunted by the ghost of the most repugnant horror. Apartheid is touched upon frequently in the film, and there's manys an argument could made for to suggest that the Dust Devil himself (itself?) is nowt but apartheid given legs and stubble and a cowboy hat.
This evil washing o'er the plains and dunes of the country, this evil all too handy at charming its way into folks lives on account of an attractive appearance and a fine way with a mumble (Mean to say, apartheid must've seemed appealing, surely to God, for whatever reason. It talked right and walked right and served interests and eased any niggling consciences with the weight of the "rewards") eventually set upon by both white and black, banished to the terrible history it's doomed to wander.
There's a faint hope in the film, but an unsteady hope, a hope not at all wholly satisfying. Rather, an air of impending catastrophe lingers round the airways like the nightmares clot in the corners of the bedroom as Zakes Mokae sweats his way through a series of dreams and memories all smeared with his own internal devils.
Demons of the mind and demons of the body and demons of the country roundabout. All of these demons plague all of Stanley's characters in all conceivable fashions.
Half 6 in the AM the credits crossed the screen and half 6 in the following PM that imagery was still bubbling and babbling on the crest o' the brains.
Mirrors receding to infinity; houses aflame on the hillsides; men and women as wavering smoke on a landscape from here to forever.
Trivial and insignificant. Maybe that's the point? However terrifying the Dust Devil's spree may be, Namibia has enough real horrors to cope with, thank you please.
Whatever the case, what it all amounts to, as the lass surely hollered, is the best British horror film since Hellraiser, and it took ten years for anything to arrive from yonder isle that might be fit to stand in its kaleidoscopic shadows.
I'll tell her this if I ever meet her again, although I doubt I ever will unless maybe one time I have to review Dracula – AD 1972.
Dust Devil is bewitching and haunting and beguiling and lyrical, the cinematography is sublime, the soundtrack is incredible…
Aye. It's nice to know Richard Stanley finally got to finish it. It's nice to see that it's been treated with such respect and love by the folks at Subversive Cinema. And it's nicer again that it all turned out to be worth the bother.
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