Oct 29, 2014
Long before there was HBO's True Detective and the viewer had the opportunity to go on a philosophical and metaphysical odyssey involving super sinister serial killers, disgruntled law men with nihilistic philosophies, deathly barren desert landscapes, and ritualistic sex murders as committed by less than savory followers of the left-hand path merely by turning on their TV and tuning in, there existed the seemingly accursed artsy fartsy South African-UK horror flick Dust Devil (1992) directed by Richard Stanley (Hardware, The Theatre Bizarre). Part Southern African Gothic, part post-apartheid allegory, part decidedly dark continent acid (anti)western, part esoteric celluloid quest, part surrealist arthouse horror show, part existential study of the death drive, part transcendental serial killer flick, part avant-garde meta-cinema, and part shockingly cultivated metaphysical crime-thriller, Stanley’s film is a curious work with a production history that was just as much a journey of sorts for the auteur as it was for the protagonists of the film. Filmed in the intolerably arid and dusty deserts of Namibia (16 of the film crew’s motor vehicles were ground to a halt during the seven week shoot by the extreme dust) with a dedicated crew who were apparently almost driven to the verge of insanity, Dust Devil ultimately fell prey to the pernicious anti-artist kosher predatory capitalism of the Weinstein brothers of Miramax, who cut the film to a stereotypical horror movie running time of less than 90 minutes and excised the film of all its iconic dream-sequences, surrealism, and all the more potent elements that made it such a true idiosyncratic Tarkovskyian arthouse masterpiece. It was not until well over a decade later when Stanley’s cut of the film was released in the United States as a part of a now-out-of-print 5-disc DVD set put out by Subversive Cinema featuring the director’s ‘The Final Cut’ version, the original work print, three of the director’s excellent rare documentaries (The Secret Glory, Voice of the Moon, The White Darkness), and the original soundtrack by Simon Boswell (who composed the score for Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989) and Stanley’s debut feature Hardware (1990), among various other horror/cult classics) that the real Dust Devil was belatedly unleashed on the world.
The genesis of Dust Devil was an aborted 16mm film of the same name that Stanley attempted to direct in 1984 (Stanley and the cinematographer's conscription in the South African Defense Force and the then current Angolan Bush War put a premature end to the production) that was inspired by a dream the director had, as well as a real-life serial killer Nhadiep from Namibia that had a fetish for killing white women and was purported to have magical powers. In that sense, the film was a literal and figurative dream-project for the auteur. Although the great-grandson of famous late-18th-century Welsh explorer of Africa, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who once wrote in his work Through the Dark Continent regarding sub-Saharan Africans that “the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision,” Stanley was unfortunately spawned from card-carrying commies with far-left ethno-masochistic tendencies. Luckily, the filmmaker’s feminist neo-bolsehevik Boasian anthropologist mother surrounded him with real-life magic, mystics, and witchdoctors as a young child, hence the highly spiritual nature of his films. Like Giulio Questi’s bizarre Gothic spaghetti western Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967) meets The Hitcher (1986) meets Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1997) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as directed by the South African bastard cinematic progeny of Andrei Tarkovsky, Donald Cammell, Mario Bava, and Ousmane Sembène, Dust Devil is the wayward horror-art result of a reluctant white man with an undeniable Faustian spirit (among other things, Stanley roamed around Afghanistan with Mujahideen rebels during the late-1980s, became initiated in voodoo rites in Haiti in 2000, and spent a good portion of his life traveling around Europa attempting to solve the mystery of tragic Jewish SS-Obersturmführer Otto Rahn and his search for the Holy Grail) who curiously sees the foremost murderous shape-shifting demon who haunts Southern Africa as a tall, dark, and handsome Nordic mensch who is more stoic than John Wayne and Clint Eastwood but a more suave lady’s man than Marcello Mastroianni.
Dust Devil is narrated by desert negro sage Joe Niemand (John Matshikiza), who is a ‘Sangoma’ (traditional healer), mystic, and cinephile that lives near Spitzkoppe in Namibia where he used to work at a now defunct movie theater where he fondly remembers catching a double feature of Dario Argento’s Birds with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and the Hammer-Shaw Brothers coproduction Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) starring Peter Cushing. Joe is blind in one eye, which has a creepy faded bluish pigment to it. Jigaboo Joe will help guide his black South African cop friend from Bethanie, Sgt. Ben Mukurob (Zakes Mokae), who he believes is an ‘Uncle Tom’ (as demonstrated by his remark to him, “you gotta stop thinking like a white man and think like a man instead”), in his journey to hunt down an entity known as the ‘Dust Devil’ (played by Irish-American actor Robert John Burke, who is probably best known for playing the eponymous role in RoboCop 3) who hitches rides from attractive yet troubled white chicks in their 30s, seduces and has sex with them, murders them, and ritualistically dismembers their bodies. Indeed, during the beginning of the film, the Dust Devil breaks a girl's neck named Saartjie Haarhoff (Terry Norton) just as she has an orgasm (what a way to die!), cuts up her body into dozens of pieces (keeping all her fingers except her thumbs for himself), uses her vital fluids to paint demonic Manson-esque blood murals on the walls of her home, and then burns the entire place down. Sergeant Ben first becomes aware that he is dealing with some dark entity when he investigates the Haarhoff murder and learns from a mortician at the local morgue, Dr. Leidzinger (obese German actress Marianne Sägebrecht of Percy Adlon’s 1987 kraut romantic comedy Bagdad Café), that the victim’s body was used in some black magic witchcraft ritual (the body sustained “evisceration, partial cremation, sexual mutilation and possibly even cannibalism” along with having a clock piece wedged in her naughty bits). Meanwhile, a young woman named Wendy Robinson (Chelsea Field) in Johannesburg, South Africa is slapped by her husband Mark (Rufus Swart) after he accuses her of having cheated on him, so she leaves her nice suburban neighborhood and heads to Namibia. Needless to say, Wendy will become the Dust Devil’s victim and Sgt. Ben and husband Mark will attempt to find her before it’s too late.
While driving on a highway in Namibia, Wendy sees the handsome Dust Devil, who just got done mutilating a young man in a trailer and is dressed in a sort of post-punk industrial cowboy outfit in the spirit of British Gothic group Fields of Nephilim (the singer of the group, Carl McCoy, who previously played a similar figure in Stanley’s Hardware, was originally supposed to play the Dust Devil but had to turn it down) and naturally picks him up as she clearly sees him as sexually appealing. After revealing that he is headed to “nowhere,” the Dust Devil describes himself as a perennial traveler who feels most comfortable on the open road. While talking to her, the Dust Devil learns that Wendy has a nihilistic philosophy as demonstrated by her hate-fueled comments, “fuck superior forces” and “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” Naturally, hardcore atheist Wendy becomes quite disturbed when she sees a doppelgänger of the Dust Devil hitchhiking on the road despite the fact he is sitting in her passenger seat. Ultimately, the Dust Devil disappears from the car and Wendy later considers committing suicide via slitting her wrists at a motel room, but she becomes happy when the demonic cowboy appears again and they start a heated sexual romance. Meanwhile, husband Mark lands in Namibia and is soon beaten by a group of blacks at a bar after they learn he served in the South African army (interestingly but not surprisingly, Stanley revealed in the audio commentary track for the film that the black actors really did hate Rufus Swart in real-life and began to really beat him during the bar scene). Indeed, hatred for white South Africans is universal among blacks from Namibia and Mark acts as a symbol of white power and oppression. Meanwhile, Sgt. Ben is told by his boss, Capt. Beyman (William Hootkins of Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981))—a sort of white counterpart to the black cop who also grieves the loss of his wife (while Beyman’s wife is dead, Ben’s wife left him 15 years ago because their son was killed in the ‘white’ military)—that he will soon have to take him off the case, but that he will give him all the documents on the Dust Devil and give him one more chance. More than solving a criminal case and saving a young white chick he couldn't care less about, Ben is seeking deliverance and redemption and he hopes to obtain it by catching the killer. A somewhat weird guy who listens to whale sounds instead of music and watches footage of whales being butchered by evil white folks, Ben also suffers from disturbing nightmares, including a burnt skeleton ripping his heart out. Needless to say, Ben’s dreams will not prepare him for his showdown with the Dust Devil.
After being arrested by two stupid young white cops who get off to beating old negroes, playing with dismembered body parts, and looking at vintage homoerotic wrestling magazines, Mark is placed in a jail cell in a backward police station where he is found by Ben, who asks him if Wendy is his wife. While Mark and Ben team up to track down Wendy and the Dust Devil before it is too late, racial tensions make their collaboration impossible. After Wendy finds a fancy case owned by her new lover containing dismembered fingers, she finds herself on the brink of being ritualistically murdered by the Dust Devil, who walks in on her while she is fiddling with his things and tells her that his victims “wanted to die” and that he can “tell when someone’s time up.” Indeed, the Dust Devil is a symbol of Wendy's 'Id' and desire, but she no longer longs for death and decides to fight back. When Wendy asks the Dust Devil who he is, he states that he is, “from the other side of the mirror. I come from you.” While Wendy manages to escape from the Dust Devil just before he drives his ritualistic dagger into her after hitting him over the head, the demon uses his telekinetic powers to crash her Volkswagen into a big rig truck, so she flees into the abyss-like depths of the desert on foot without food and water. When the Dust Devil totals Ben’s truck as he and Mark are heading to find Wendy, the young white man and old black man decide to go their separate ways after the latter handcuffs the former to the wrecked automobile after he pulls a gun on him. Eventually, Wendy finds a super sandy ghost town where she eventually runs into Ben, but rejects his help. When Ben enters a ruined movie theater that is completely full of sand, the Dust Devil messes with the cop’s head by projecting a film featuring his wife and baby son, but luckily Joe somehow manages to get inside his head and tell him that it is merely an illusion like life itself, even comparing life to cinema. Unfortunately, Ben is soon killed in a rather anticlimactic fashion by the Dust Devil, who drives his dagger into his gut, but death was what he desired all along as a broken and restless men who had nothing left to live for. Luckily, Wendy manages to get a hold of a shotgun and blows the Dust Devil’s entire head away right after he declares his love for her. In a twist ending, Wendy more or less inherits the Dust Devil’s demonic spirit and becomes a Dust Demoness of sorts who immediately begins hunting for male prey. As for husband Mark, he is left to die in the desert by Wendy, who contemplates killing him before going on her merry way, but he does not give up hope that he will one day return to suburbia with his beloved bitch wife.
In the audio commentary for the Subversive Cinema DVD release of Dust Devil, director Richard Stanley proudly remarks that the film was, “intended as a love letter to post-apartheid South Africa” and a “message to the Rainbow Nation [...] I wanted to show the way they were going to work things out.” As a film where the villain is a white demonic cowboy who kills beautiful Aryan women for sport, the black cop who worked for the apartheid era police is senselessly sacrificed, a white South African ex-military man is brutally beaten by blacks merely for being white and is left to literally rot by his cheating wife, and the white female lead becomes a demon, I am not exactly sure how the film is suppose to show South Africans how to “work things out,” but then again, with the increasing number of murders of white Afrikaner Boer farmers by blacks in what has been described as the early stages of white genocide by Genocide Watch and has been intentionally ignored by the mainstream media (though, somewhat surprisingly, NBC once reported on the deplorable phenomenon, albeit in a typically biased manner that downplayed the racial aspect of it), one could argue that Stanley was certainly on to something. In its depiction of a pedophile-like white priest handing young white boys bullets and forcing them to engage in target practice, two young degenerate blond-haired cops brutally beating a kindly old negro for fun in an obscenely cartoonish fashion, and a black man telling his Uncle Tom friend to “stop thinking like a white man and think like a man instead,” Stanley certainly demonstrates what he thinks of white South Africa and the Occident in general. Ironically, the filmmaker currently resides in Montségur in southern France with the spirits of the Cathars, which does not surprise me, as I doubt he wants to deal with the social and racial chaos of his seemingly forsaken homeland. Personally, I find it quite fitting that Dust Devil—an ostensible “love letter to post-apartheid South Africa”—failed to ever receive a proper theatrical debut and almost instantaneously fell into obscurity upon its less than auspicious release, as it is somewhat symbolic of the failure of leftist utopian dreams regarding race relations and the all around abject failure of black-ruled South Africa as a whole. Unquestionably, one of the most potent scenes in the film is when the eponymous demon burns down his first victim's home, as it acts as a sort allegory for the death of white civilization on the dark continent as is underscored by shots of colonial era vintage images of white people burning up and being reduced to ash, as if they never even existed.
Quite arguably a masterpiece that is unfortunately glaringly tainted by its half-baked quasi-commie social commentary and exceedingly ethno-masochistic depictions of black-white race relations, Dust Devil is certainly a work that, had it been created a couple of decades earlier, would have become a hit midnight movie like Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (1970) and David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977), but as Stanley has stated in countless interviews, fate has not been too kind to him, with most of his film projects resulting in personal bankruptcy and the destruction of all his personal relationships. Of course, when one makes a film that makes liberal use of real black magic archetypes and themes, they probably should expect a little karmic blowback in their persona lives. Somewhat notably, shortly after Dust Devil finished shooting, one of the girls that worked as part of the art department for the film, Ina Roux, died after falling asleep at the wheel of her automobile one night in a manner not all that dissimilar to how protagonist Wendy does in the movie (Ina's sister Amelia, who also worked on the film, was also in the crash but managed to survive). In a kind tribute to her memory, Stanley concludes his ‘The Final Cut’ version of the film with a dedication to Ms. Roux, whose pointless death is surely symbolic of the negative spiritual energy that Dust Devil bleeds in a most profuse fashion. Indeed, not unlike a Tarkovsky flick, the film is an intimidating and taxing metaphysical celluloid odyssey that certainly demands more than most filmgoers are willing to give, thus making it an especially disappointing work for the stereotypical slasher fan, as well as jaded gorehounds who are just looking for a quick masturbatory thrill. If you're looking to see a truly transcendental horror film this Halloween with a decidedly dark vibe that totally lacks the ‘fun’ factor that people oftentimes associate with the genre, watch Dust Devil and bask in the deluge of daunting demonic energy, foreboding paranoia, racial and cultural schizophrenia, esoteric murder, spiritual nihilism, and post-colonial dread that the work wallows in. Indeed, more than anything, the film seems like Sir Henry Morton Stanley's worst nightmare come to life and then some.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 2:50 AM
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