Dust Devil


Rating 1 or 5 (make up your own mind!)

Written and Directed by Richard Stanley

Starring Chelsea Field, Robert John Burke and John Matshikiza

This is a strange one. I first heard about it because it was favourably compared to a film called ‘Sleepstalker’, a low-budget horror film I came across by accident a few years back and really enjoyed.

I decided to give it a go, without checking out anything about it. It was just one of those spur of the moment things.

It’s a film by the “maverick” South African filmmaker Richard Stanley and was shot in neighbouring Namibia. The American actress Chelsea Field is among the lead cast. Although it’s not exactly a point in his favour, Stanley was the original director hired to make the Marlon Brando / Val Kilmer version of ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’. He spent four years writing the script for that film, although he was subsequently sacked after four days of filming and replaced by John Frankenheimer.

Miramax, the American distributors of ‘Dust Devil’, took the film off Stanley and cut the running time from 120 minutes to 87 minutes, giving it a limited release in American cinemas and promoting it as a horror film. He subsequently spent £44,000 of his own money to re-edit the film and restore twenty-minutes of the missing footage. It is this version that is available on DVD.

The film is a truly incomprehensible hotch-potch of different genres and thematic styles. Imagine late-era Orson Welles on a very bad acid trip. It’s part spaghetti western, part hallucinogenic witchcraft horror and part road movie. I think it’s a parable for the fight of black Africa to gain freedom from white oppression and patronage, but I might be wrong.

The film is visually stunning and it’s certainly interesting. It might be the work of a misunderstood genius or, maybe, a wilful and possibly deranged incompetent. I can’t decide which it is, but it’s certainly different and worth checking out.


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