Dust Devil: The Final Cut (DVD)

Dust Devil DVD review (click to see it larger!)Starring Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field, John Matshikiza, William Hootkins, John Matshikiza

Directed by Richard Stanley

Distributed by Subversive Cinema

Dust Devil is one of those films that has been talked about for years, a film that was put out years back by a studio who didn’t really care what they had on their hands and released a wildly truncated version of it. Director Richard Stanley had been saying for a long time that a real cut existed, his cut, and that all it would take is someone who really understood his work and the film in specific to get it out to the public.

As they’ve proven time and time again, the folks behind Subversive Cinema are the caring types, and their treatment of Dust Devil on DVD is yet more evidence of that. The inclusion of three of Stanley’s rarely seen documentaries adds further value to this massive five-disc edition.

On a quiet desert road in Africa, a man walks alone, donning a trenchcoat and a bag. He is picked up by a solitary woman without a word. The next thing we know the two of them are doing what comes naturally to humans, when the first of many surprising moments in the film happens: He snaps her neck right at the moment of orgasm. He then proceeds to decorate her home with her blood, drawing archaic designs on the walls and leaving a cryptic message behind for those who will find it, and then sets the place ablaze. Such is the life of the creature known as the Dust Devil.

Dust Devil pic (click to see it bigger!

As the film progresses, we’re introduced to Wendy (Field), a woman who has taken enough physical and verbal abuse from her husband and finally gets in her car and drives away. The Dust Devil (Burke) senses her coming, knowing that she will be his next victim; but as is a common theme in the film, he lets the cycle run its course. They will meet when it’s time for them to meet.

Meanwhile a detective, tired of his job and suffering a “cancer of guilt” as the voiceover aptly states, is attempting to find out who was behind the fire and the vicious, ritualistic murder. He keeps getting closer to the truth, but for the most part the truth is something his rational mind cannot accept. Though signs point to this being the work of a man, certain experts he consults indicate that there is a definite black magic element involved. Is it a very sick man or a demon in human form traveling the roads and killing those who are already suffering?

I’d never seen Dust Devil in any form, so suffice it to say I got lucky seeing this cut of it first as this was the way the film was meant to be viewed. It’s really a beautiful and haunting movie, not at all what I expected it to be in all honesty. For whatever reason I had thought it would be very artsy with an unclear plot, but instead it’s very straightforward with some fantastic performances (the only one who’s not all that great is Burke, though he’s got the look down), amazing landscapes, and an incredibly effective soundtrack. There’s also no shortage of true horror either, though Stanley does prefer to keep much of it subtle and psychological, and gorehounds will find a lot to like as well.

Dust Devil pic (click to see it bigger!

But the real question is, as good as the film is, does it really deserve a five-disc release? The short answer is … maybe. The long answer follows.

To be fair, not all five discs are Dust Devil-related. The first is the final cut of the movie while there’s also a separate soundtrack CD and a “work print” cut of the film on yet another disc. The final two are made up of three of Stanley’s documentaries, the feature-length The Secret Glory and the shorter The White Darkness and Voice of the Moon. So you see, it’s not as if Subversive tried to cram in five discs worth of Dust Devil stuff; instead this set could serve as a tribute to the works of Richard Stanley more than anything else.

For features on Disc One we have a commentary track with Stanley and narrator/Subversive head Norm Hill serving moderator duties, something you’re going to be thankful for when you hear just how fast and breathlessly Stanley can talk. It is, however, well worth listening to as Stanley has all sorts of interesting stories to tell about both the film’s origins and the hell that went into making it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard as many on-set horror stories as Stanley relates throughout; it’s amazing the film was ever made at all.

Dust Devil pic (click to see it bigger!

There are also “home movies” from the set, which is not just the standard guy walking around with a camera but rather some on-camera interviews that were done at the time with the people involved. This will further serve to illustrate what a pain in the ass this movie was to make as well as how dedicated a director Stanley really is. To go through all that only to see your film cut to hell when it’s released has got to be a terrible thing to have to suffer through.

Dust Devil had its origins as a 16mm film which is now lost so sadly, the only thing we’re able to see from it on this disc are a set of still photographs and the confusing trailer that was originally cut. The first part of the final movie is essentially what went on in the 16mm version re-cast and re-filmed, so I guess we’re not missing all that much. Burke has a much better look for the role than his 16mm counterpart, that much is for sure.

The meatiest featurette here, though, is a long interview with Richard Stanley and composer Simon Bosworth (whom you’re going to want to hear talk when you get a listen of how good this soundtrack is). It’s very informative and doesn’t actually repeat a lot of information as the commentary like you usually get in a set like this, and Stanley has one of those voices that just makes you want to continue to listen to him — intelligent to the extreme with a very dry sense of humor.

After watching The Final Cut, you might want to check out the disc that houses the “work print” version of the film right away. Stanley went back in and essentially re-inserted footage that never finished getting shot, and it can be a bit distracting at times, taking the viewer out of the film altogether. But if you feel you need to know everything about Dust Devil and its numerous incarnations, you’ll want to give it a look. Subversive does a good service by making the chapter skip button automatically take you to footage that’s been put back in as well.

The Secret Glory is a feature-length documentary about one of the principal figure in Hitler’s SS and Third Reich, Otto Rah, a man who spent most of his life searching for clues as to the location of the Holy Grail and upon whose life elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark were actually culled from. Stanley spent a lot of time and effort tracking down people who remembered Rahn both before and after his days in Hitler’s army, but the results are somewhat uneven. It doesn’t really pick up until the latter part of Rahn’s short life, and too much time is spent listening to long, sometimes dull monologues by those being interviewed. About halfway through I turned on the commentary track (Hill and Stanley again) and found it much more interesting to hear the stories behind the documentary for the most part. It’s also a bit disappointing when it’s revealed towards the end that Stanley believes most of what was told to them was spin propagated by the Third Reich, which still have untold truths beneath them. Another 15-minute interview with Stanley about the doc is the only notable feature on this disc.

Dust Devil pic (click to see it bigger!

The next disc features two of Stanley’s shorter documentaries, Voice of the Moon and The White Darkness. The first is about the Russian evacuation from Afghanistan, though in reality there’s not a lot of cohesive plot going in it. It’s more a series of images with some voiceover work here and there, and most viewers will likely enjoy it more with the commentary on, as I did. The same is true for the second short doc, though it is a bit more interesting and linear as it focuses on real voodoo that still goes on in Haiti.

Also included is a CD of the soundtrack for Dust Devil by Simon Boswell, which I’m sure viewers will appreciate once they’ve seen the movie, and production diaries from all three documentaries and Dust Devil as inserts in the disc. Finally there is a short Dust Devil comic that puts the titular shapshifter in all sorts of historical situations, hinting that he was the cause of many famous deaths including the Jack the Ripper murders. It’s a little too comedic for my tastes, as the Dust Devil is portrayed to be more of sneering villain than a cold, calculating killer, but it’s still a fun read nonetheless.

I can say without any hesitation that this is the definitive collection for any Dust Devil/Richard Stanley enthusiast. Subversive has shown once again that it knows how to give fans everything they want and more, and this should firmly cement it as a DVD company to be reckoned with. Highly recommended.

Special Features:
Two versions of Dust Devil: the final director’s cut and a longer work print version
Three of Richard Stanley’s most controversial documentaries: The Secret Glory, Voice Of The Moon, and The White Darkness
Bonus soundtrack CD
Audio commentary tracks with cast and crew
Featurettes with cast and crew
Still galleries
Talent bios
Exclusive Dust Devil comic book
Production diary and essay booklets

4 1/2 out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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