Title: Dust Devil
Year released: 1992
Director: Richard Stanley
Cast: Zakes Mokae, Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field
Review by SIMON BALL
As the South African administration withdraw from Namibia, a nameless drifter (Robert John Burke) in a long dustcoat and bush hat hitches a ride from a woman on a desert highway. At her homestead he murders her during their lovemaking and with her blood and entrails daubs magical symbols on the walls, snips off her fingers and sets the house ablaze.
No surprise then when the pathologist tells Sergeant Makurob (Zakes Mokao) of the fledgling Namibian police that the symbols are linked to ritual witchcraft.
Over the border in South Africa Wendy (Chelsea Field) falls out with her husband and takes off to the desert in her Volkswagen to get her head together. When Wendy runs the Volkswagen off the road, a helpful chap by an abandoned camper van helps to dig her out. Only what they don’t know that is that the camper’s occupants have also been butchered. Later she picks up our dustcoated hitcher, but he mysteriously vanishes when they pass another hiker.
When the cops discover the butchered remains in the camper Makurob consults Joe Niemund (John Matshkiza), a Sangoma who lives in the abandoned drive in cinema, who confirms the witchcraft diagnosis.
That night in the bath at the motel Wendy contemplates slashing her wrists, but then denies the Dust Devil his prey. The following morning he’s back inside her car and rather than throw him out like any reasonable person would, she buys his excuse that she fell asleep.
After interviewing Wendy’s pal with the spade, Makurob visits Joe again. Joe tells him that the symbols are drawn by a “naghtloeper”, a shape-shifting demon whose power is drawn from the ritual murder of those with nothing to live for and must keep forever on the move, He says that the only way to stop a naghtloeper is to trick him into stepping over a kierie stick which will bind him to the spot so his power can be taken. It just so happens that Joe has one of those handy.
That night after making love to the drifter, Wendy overcome with curiosity, finds the box of snipped off digits in his kitbag. Caught in the act she brains him with a lamp and escapes. The Dust Devil gives chase and causes Wendy to crash the Volks into a truck. In the ensuing confusion she runs off into the desert.
Makurob together with Wendy’s husband Mark are in hot pursuit, but a Dust Devil conjured sandstorm tips over their Landrover. For Mark’s protection Makurob cuffs him to the Landy’s bumper and heads off on foot. All three converge on the deserted mining town of Kolmaskop, gradually being reclaimed by the sands, where the film reaches its bloody conclusion.
Partially financed by Channel 4 Dust Devil takes place in the truly epic scenery of the Namib Desert. Based upon the story of the serial killer Nhadiek who was believed to have supernatural powers by the local people the movie has the look of a western.
But not just any western, director Richard Stanley’s use of lone individuals in big landscapes is clearly influenced by Sergio Leone’s Dollars movies and this is reinforced by; the Dust Devil’s costume of dustcoat, bush hat and cowboy boots; the ghost towns, helicopter pans and the frequent relighting of cigarettes. There’s also a very Morricone-influenced musical score by Simon Boswell.
For an example look at the scene where the steam locomotive pulls into the desert station and the drifter walks down the platform with the camera zoomed into his boots. There’s also a hint of early 70s US road flicks like Two-Lane Blacktop and a big helping of George Miller’s Mad Max movies.
Curiously before making Dust Devil Stanley had directed music videos for UK Goth band The Fields of the Nephilim whose trademark look of dustcoats and bush hats was derived from Leone and sound highly influenced by Ennio Morricone’s scores. The Neph’s vocalist Carl McCoy had even had a small cameo in Stanley’s previous feature the cyber shocker Hardware (1990).
A nice touch is the reveal from Joe that the last picture shown at his drive in was Hammer’s The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974).