Eric Martin has participated in many of The Moon is a Dead World‘s blog-a-thons. Last year he had the displeasure of reviewing Cheerleader Massacre for the Halloween Fifteen, and he also stopped by in the summer for Mayoween. I’ve also done a couple posts for his amazing blog Guts and Grog, and right now he’s got a 49 Days of Horror series going on. Below, Eric ventures into the desert wasteland to review Dust Devil.
Big open shot of the desert. You feel empty inside within the first seconds of the film. The music and the narration hook you like a breast in a Lenzi film. This is Dust Devil.
We meet a supernatural serial killer who preys on the lonely and puts them out of their misery. He is getting freaky with a woman and pulls out a Crocodile Dundee knife and slices a bitch. He has a kill set made of snake skin. It’s like Dexter and Sailor from “Wild at Heart” teamed up. We now meet Wendy, who has just left her husband, she is driving and picks up the dust devil. They get freaky, and look at some desert scenery. At the same time we meet up with a police officer who has been hunting the devil for a minute. All of their stories will collide.
Dust Devil is atmospheric, terrifying, beautiful, bleak, and entertaining all at the same time. The music is perfect, and the effects are killer. You will find yourself lost in the world that Stanley has created. With a running time of around 90 minutes, I am impressed how much I get sucked into the world. I feel like I have watched an entire series. Not in a bad way. It did not drag. I just get so engulfed in the story, and characters that it feel like I spent a lot more time with it.
The Moon is a Dead World’s Take
In Dust Devil, a hitchhiker stops a car with his palm outstretched to it, as though he’s desperately looking for a ride. It is the desert, after all, and he’s wearing a duster and a cowboy hat in the dry heat. So the woman stops, maybe because it would be in bad conscience for her not to, picks him up, and takes him home. There’s an exchange of relations, one might say, and then the hitchhiker quickly snaps her neck, cuts her up, and distributes her blood in artful patterns across the room before burning the house down.
This is the first scene of Dust Devil, a visceral film from Richard Stanley that doesn’t wait to get to the action. At first, the film is fairly confusing; a voice-over from Joe the witch doctor (John Matshikiza) talks of dust devils that travel with the wind, killing people because of some ritual that must be done for them to return to the spirit world, but all of this is spliced with scenes of Joe dancing around a red spiral. It’s all unclear in the beginning, but Dust Devil doesn’t care – it trusts that its audience can follow throughout the film, a sentiment that’s missing from a lot of contemporary horror.
Soon the movie cements its premise. Wendy (Chelsea Field) leaves her husband (Rufus Swart) after he questions her fidelity, then sets out on the open roads of the desert to clear her mind. Likewise, a murder investigation involving the ritual murder outlined above leads inspector Ben (Zakes Mokae) to Bethany, a dirt-poor town that the narrator tells us is on the edge of death. It’s a perfect place for the Dust Devil (Robert Burke) to thrive, and he follows Wendy to her destination by messing with her mind.
Wendy’s contemplating suicide, then she’s having passionate sex with the Dust Devil before she finds he’s not who she thinks he is. The Dust Devil is supposed to be attracted to those who are close to giving up on life, although Wendy’s predicament doesn’t feel as serious as the film makes it out to be. Her near suicide is a freak dust storm, blown out of nowhere, and Stanley doesn’t do a whole lot to develop her character. This is, in some ways, intentional, since all of the characters seem to have a mysterious background that the film mentions but never exposes.
Ben might be the most secretive of the bunch. His past is fraught with tragedy, and his belief in the supernatural grows with time after a visit to Joe. It’s a little frustrating, because one would think Ben would be the last person to accept the existence of a Dust Devil. But Dust Devil is often frustrating because of an unwillingness to reveal.
However, this makes the events that unfold all the more mystical. When Ben smokes out the Dust Devil by burning sage, he shoots into a mist, even though we don’t really know what he’s shooting at. The same is true of his conquest over the Dust Devil; some mystical way of beating it is to take a special stick and place it in front of his feet so he can’t cross it, making him a mortal being. It’s not all clear how this works, but in a way it’s also realistic to the characters: they know about as much about the supernatural as we do.
Dust Devil reminds me of one of the more serious-toned Tales from the Crypt episodes. The settings are similar, the colors are varied, and there’s a sense of campiness that works whether intentional or not. Dust Devil isn’t always successful, but there are moments when it’s difficult to look away – the ritual crime scene being one of them, with a fantastic attention to detail in the artwork. The final battle’s ghost town setting mimics the soon-to-be-deserted town of
Bethany from the beginning as well. The final shot, of Wendy escaping the Dust Devil’s clutches only to extend her palm outward to a passing group of cars, is a chilling sequence – it’s a foreseeable end, but a gritty one for Dust Devil.