Overflowing with ideas, visual invention and genre references but saddled by a weak, unfocused script, Dust Devil is a brilliant mess. Mystical African-set slasher movie is the second feature of pop promo alum Richard Stanley.
The low-budget production was shot in late summer 1991 in Namibia, southern Africa, with Stanley delivering a 125-minute European cut in December. Stanley spent $45,000 of his own coin to reconstruct this version, [a compromise between his original and US coproducer Miramax’s much shorter] US cut, American-dubbed and with a new voiceover.
The opening 45 minutes is a tour de force of elaborate cross-cutting and sustained tension as three characters compete for attention. First is a taciturn Yank (Robert Burke) hitching across country murdering and mutilating strangers and collecting their fingers in a box. Second is black cop Ben (Zakes Mokae), who turns to the witch-doctor owner of a desert drive-in (John Matshikiza) to solve the ghastly murders. Third is Wendy (Chelsea Field), a South African who walks out on her boring hubby (Rufus Swart) and drives north to Namibia on a journey to nowhere.
Story slides into focus halfway through, as the trio’s destinies crisscross and it becomes clear Burke is trying to return to the spirit world but is trapped in the present, surviving by claiming human souls.
Final impression is of a film that’s run amok with too many half-baked ideas, which might have cohered with a stronger script.