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DVD Review: Dust Devil

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After watching Dust Devil, the first thing that went through my head was, "Did I like that?" It was a question that I honestly was not able to answer. This is the kind of movie that could swing either way based on your mood when you see it. It is a beautifully shot movie that seems to have an epic story to tell, while at the same time it moves at a terribly lethargic pace and is a much smaller movie than it pretends to be. As I write this, I am leaning towards liking the film; even during the slower moments, there is always something to look at, something to hold your interest as it moves forward.

Dust Devil has had quite a storied history, something I was completely unaware of. Of course, I was completely unaware of the movie at all until I saw this release sitting on the shelf at the local store, what with its very attractive cover art. It seems that the production was troubled from the start, and once it was finished, the UK investors went bankrupt, and the American distributors, Miramax, did not like the cut. Bob and Harvey Weinstein did their famous scissor act and cut the near two-hour film down to 86 minutes. In other countries it was cut even further — the shortest version I read of clocked in at 68 minutes. Eventually there was a compromise cut of about 93 minutes. It has taken until this year for the final cut that director Richard Stanley always intended it to be, and that is the 108-minute film that I watched.

It is an odd film that doesn't fit nicely into any specific genre, although it seems to be most closely associated with horror, since there is a demonic serial killer at its center. It takes elements of horror, thriller, road movie, and western and mixes them up in a blender and the resulting concoction is this poetic strip of celluloid, lovingly brought to DVD by Subversive Cinema.

Dust Devil opens with a woman picking up a hitchhiker along a desolate and dusty road in South Africa. Soon after the two are in bed having sex which takes a dark turn as he kills her and paints the walls with her blood before moving on. It definitely grabs your attention. It is a striking opening that immediately puts our nameless hitchhiker into focus as someone that you really don't want to have any contact with.

We shift gears as we pick up two more threads. First there is Wendy, an unhappily married wife who flees into the dust to escape her abusive husband. Second there is Ben Mukurob, a policeman assigned to the investigation of the opening murder, and a number of similar murders that date back nearly a century. His search is complicated by the previous loss of his wife and son, which haunts him nightly.

On the surface, the story seems to be rather simple. The housewife escapes her husband, meets up with the quietly charismatic hitcher, who also happens to be a killer, and a policeman is investigating the strange ritualistic murders. You know that at some point the trio are going to come together in an explosive climax as truth is revealed.

Despite the surface simplicity, there are lots of little things that will leave thinking, if you choose to acknowledge them. They are little things that are not necessary to the enjoyment of the film, but if you do think about them, they will gnaw at you a little bit. Primary among these things is the nature of the hitchhiker. What exactly is he? He seems to be some sort of creature that exists in two worlds at once, a creature from another level of existence who is trapped in the flesh, a thing that exists slightly out of time and needs death to strenghten him in his quest to return to his home. There is a lot of imagery offered up for interpretation, and I am sure I will gather more from it with more viewings.

As it stands, I enjoyed the film, the methodical pacing, the gorgeous cinematography, and some fine performances. The personification of the hitchhiker by Robert John Burke is chilling. He has this presence that has an underlying menace, yet is highly charismatic, making it easy to understand the attraction that Wendy has for the demon. The performance is particularly good for me because it reminds me of how I picture Randall Flagg from Stephen King's The Stand. Zakes Mokac is also quite good as Ben, the troubled policeman. He has a certain earnestness to him that draws you into his journey.

Richard Stanley made this his second big screen offering, following Hardware. I don't recall that earlier film, but this one offers an intriguing look into a man with an interesting vision. He has a wonderful visual sense — everything that is shot is shot for a reason. It is definitely not a film for a mainstream audience, but it may appeal to more than initially thought.

Audio/Video. I have not seen any prior versions of this release, but this looks and sounds very good. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The colors are nicely separated and I was not distracted by any artifacts or other transfer issues. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, and they sound good, nothing to complain about.

Extras. If there is one thing that this set excels at, it's extras. There are five disks contained within the doublewide keepcase.

Disk 1: Dust Devil: The Final Cut

  • The main feature on this disk is the final cut of the film that Stanley wanted to deliver way back in the early 1990s.
  • Commentary. The track features Richard Stanley talking about all aspects of the film; it is moderated by Norman Hill. This is a very interesting track with no dead air. Lots of information is given.
  • Interview with director Richard Stanley and composer Simon Boswell. This runs for over half an hour and features even more information regarding the film plus other aspects of Richard's career.
  • Dust Devil "Home Movies." This is a collection of footage that was being shot during the production of the film.
  • Dust Devil 16mm Scrapbook. This is a series of production stills that are flipped like a book.
  • Original 16mm Trailer. This is a trailer for the original 16mm, 45-minute version of Dust Devil. This threw me off as I did not recognize any of the footage!
  • Stills Gallery. More production stills.
  • Bios. Text biographies of those involved.
  • Trailers. Trailers for other Stanley films and other Subversive releases, including the DVD trailer for Dust Devil.

Disk 2: Dust Devil: Work Print

  • This is the work in progress cut that runs for 115 minutes, seven longer than the final cut.
  • The only extra on this disk is an introduction from the director.
  • There is no chapter select menu, but it is broken into chapters, and you can skip to the extra sequences. They are easily noticed as the quality is notably worse than the rest of the film.

Disk 3: The Secret Glory

  • This is a documentary Stanley made about Otto Rahn, who worked for the SS under Hitler. He was convinced that he knew where the Holy Grail was located, with the resources of the SS on his side, he embarked on a quest to locate it. What he finds is still a mystery to this day.
  • Commentary. This features Richard Stanley and Norman Hill speaking of the origins of this film and how he went about making it. Stanley also states that this is a work in progress, that it is far from complete.
  • Interview with Richard Stanley. More information on the making of the film.

Disk 4: Voice of the Moon and The White Darkness

  • Voice of the Moon is a series of images that Stanley recorded while spending time with Mujahadin rebels in the late 1980s in Afghanistan as the people attempt to go about day-to-day life while being torn apart by the Russian invasion. During his time, he also met the Taliban.
  • Commentary. The track is again with Stanley and Norman Hill. It is a good track. I found it interesting that it was shot on old 16mm newsreel cameras.
  • Interview with Richard Stanley. This interview deals with the making of Voice of the Moon and how he came to be involved in the project.
  • The White Darkness was commissioned by the BBC and involves Haitian voodoo practices. It involves their communications with the next life. This is the culmination of Stanley's meeting with the priests and witnessing their practices.
  • Commentary. The track is again with Stanley and Norman Hill.
  • Interview with Richard Stanley. This interview deals with the making of the film.

Disk 5: Simon Boswell: Dust Devil Score

  • This final disk is not a DVD, but the CD score of the film. I have not listened to the entire disk yet, but the music is haunting. This is a very good score, and a pleasant surprise to have included. It has haunting epic sounds with some very Morricone-esque western sounds.

Bottom line. This is truly an amazing package, and one of the better ones I have come across this year. It may not be my favorite film, but there is just so much well done content here, it has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie with high repeat viewing value, plenty making of information, and a number of other features to watch. Definitely a set to look for, but do it soon — there were only 9,999 produced.

Recommended.

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