When Dust Devil first appeared, even its truncated form marked the maturity of a director whose cosmic vision was startlingly honest, motivated as much by philosophical inquiry as style. Although the initial version of the film, missing around twenty minutes of footage, didn't properly represent director Richard Stanley's nihilistic yet grimly beautiful take on such themes as brutal violence, rough sexuality, and surreal dream-logic -- nor his disturbingly amoral philosophical verve -- it nevertheless resonated with enough subversive power to provoke fans into wondering what dark truths his preferred version would have unearthed. Mythic, mystic, and subversively enchanting, Dust Devil: The Final Cut allows this important motion picture to be appreciated as Stanley originally intended, with a beautiful new transfer. Released by Subversive Cinema, this collector's set not only preserves one of the more important imaginations of our time but also examines the historical and social context in which the film was made. In short, this five disc collection is a serious look at Stanley's growth and personal aesthetics, including supplementary material that alone makes it worth more than its asking price.

A director combining a realist's insistence on accuracy with a poet's intuitive understanding of the occult overtones that exist hidden deep within the everyday, Richard Stanley crafted in Dust Devil a story rooted neither in purely in the imagination nor wholly in the petty miseries of naturalism. These shadowy tragedies occur somewhere between time and space, the normal and supernatural, good and evil. Evoking shadow lands of ambiguity and terror, Stanley's balance of convincing, haunted characters reflect (and are reflected by) malevolent wind-swept desert setting and steamy African locales -- all of which are revealed in the stark beauty thanks to an undeniably impressive transfer. Beloved by critics and fans of lush, subliminal horror, Dust Devil combines earthy realistic struggles with spiritual occult horror, finding in its demonic antagonist a physical representative of the story's overall suggestion of a universe seeped in amorality, with spectral forces comprised of both flesh and spirit harkening to the unconscious call of a humanity begging for annihilation. In the past, only a semblance of this bold, searing vision could be seen, only a fragment of Stanley's larger vision contemplated. While the theatrical print of the film was generous in its depiction of sado-masochistic relationships, apathetic characters, and the paradoxical human desire for (and fear of) death, the 'director's cut' digs deeper into the identities of characters.

In Dust Devil: The Director's Cut (Disc One) several characters face deadly revelations at the hands of a deadly, ancient shape-shifter from myth, who comes from the desert. Responding to the internal, unconscious plea of men and women who don't realize that they're inviting disaster, this demon is neither good nor evil; like a storm or element of nature, he simply is. Called the 'Dust Devil' by locals, he prays on the lonely and unloved, the lost of this world who have surrendered emotional or spiritual ties. One such outsider is Wendy, lamenting a recent breakup from her abusive husband. Driving aimlessly in the desert, she offers a ride to a handsome stranger. Attraction turns to doubt as strange events plague them and she soon realizes that her guest is mush more than he at first seemed. Also realizing new things about herself, she struggles for survival against a creature old as sin. As this plot-point plays out against the violent backdrop of wild, violent storms and an endless wilderness, a local policeman, suffering from memories of his own domestic tragedy, tries to surmount the lethargic evil he sees all around him while on the trail of supernatural chaos. Assisted by a rather inept shaman, he sets upon a personal quest to battle the beast that feeds of the ills of a world that never stops weeping.

A poem to perversity, pain, and the dark beauty of melancholy, Stanley's masterpiece is also a testament to the human ability to endure, struggling in the face of overwhelming odds for love and the far-off ideals of what should be in a labyrinth of misleading appearances. Truth itself is as inconsequential as the dust caught up in this picture's eternal sandstorms. Rotting corpses, decay and violence share the roads and beds with highly charged sexuality. The entire movie is a paradox of seemingly conflicting images and associations. Stanley should be respected for not opting for simplicity, coating his western-horror hybrid with philosophical significance. More importantly, it should be recognized that Stanley never gives audiences -- or his characters -- an easy way out. No real triumphs or won at the end, no bodies unharmed, no souls untouched. Neither evil or goodness scores a complete victory. Perhaps most disturbing is the story's suggestion that there are no such victories to be had -- a point more fully emphasized in this version. Likewise, the narrative structure emphasizes themes of self-destruction, universal nihilism, and cosmic forces at play behind the mundane world, while lending the individual struggles of characters further complexity.

The look of Dust Devil: The Director's Cut is simply wonderful. A whirlwind of spectral sunsets, eerie lighting, ghostly squalls, dirty, sweaty flesh and the red tinge of blood delight the eye. Alternating somewhere between the harsh, lyrical stink of reality and the dangerous, seductive siren's song of enchantment, Stanley's prowling camera and dream-like pacing defy us to determine with any stability whether his narrative is a dream, waking life, or both. Neither do his characters know. Although we admire and feel sympathy for a few of these personas, such as the bereaved officer, we can't help but sense their shortcomings. More impressively, even in the most deadly of forces, such as the demon himself, we can't help but recognize something of ourselves, something of need and hunger and loneliness. Chaos rules supreme, and while characters trying to live the good life, like our cop friend, suffer daily, the corrupt thrive. But just as the Dust Devil is a chameleon, so too does the movie reshape traditional values. This is powerful filmmaking, telling a grand, thoughtful story in an insightful, emotionally provocative manner.

Subversive Cinema treats this film with love, presenting its definitive entirety in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, approved by director Richard Stanley himself. No speckling, grain, line distortion, or other visual flaws are apparent. The technical quality of this disk makes past incarnations worthless. The images are clear and crisp, and colors are bold, capturing the adult 'faerie tale' quality of surrealistic compositions. Sand blows in your eyes, tickles between your toes. Sweat and grime and terror stick to you with the same perseverance as they cling to the characters, all of whom are depicted so realistically that every wrinkle and line etched in their faces lends further believability to the pathos which the story inspires. Sound is likewise impressive, including a 5.1 Surround Sound mix and the original stereo mix, both of which are crisp and clean and in English. Sound distribution is dead on, with the dialogue, soundtrack, and score equally distributed. Sound is crucial to this film's mood, a character unto itself, and the compositions lend a sense of cosmic awe to the on-screen action.

There are so many supplements in this package that you're bound to get lost! Supplements for Disc One are diverse and informative, revealing insightful glimpses into Stanley's creative mind and filming technique without feeling pompous or overly academic. First off is a comprehensive, fast-moving Audio Commentary with Richard Stanley and Norman Hill, wherein the former discusses the influence that his South African upbringing and its charged political and social environment has had on his personal beliefs and film projects. This is evident in his relating the internal turmoil and harsh external problems he encountered in making Dust Devil. Hill's questioning keeps the conversation flowing, and Stanley is never less the unique as he discusses the project's origins and development, emphasizing its transition from a 16 mm short shot in the 80's to this special edition DVD. Everything from initial dream inspiration and personal quest following the shadowy figure who would become the 'Dust Devil' and the terrors of pre-production to casting problems and dealings with financial backers is covered, leaving no stone unturned. This rigorous standard is maintained in "An Interview With Richard Stanley And Composer Simon Boswell," where Stanley relates his origins as a filmmaker and more about his personal life in Africa. Most importantly for fans, Stanley discusses in which ways his original 16 mm version contrasts with the final motion picture, the former having been lost. Boswell discusses the rewards of scoring the film, and what emotional dimensions he hoped to reach, mirroring moods and movements in the plot. Perhaps most interesting are the untruths and problems that Stanley discusses regarding the cursed production of Dust Devil and the toll it had on both his career and personal life. Next we're off to watch "Dust Devil Home Movies," featuring raw footage shot on location while the film was being made, featuring a satisfying mix of interviews with cast and crew interwoven with shots of various settings. While rough in presentation, this is a unique glimpse behind the scenes. More exciting is the "Dust Devil 16mm Scrapbook," which is a group of stills from the original. Featuring several pieces of artwork, photos, storyboards etc., this sequence is structured as a slide show with music accompanying it. It is intriguing to mark similarities and contrasts between these stills and the film. The original 'theatrical trailer' is intriguing as an early look at how Stanley first envisioned the movie, and in yet another slide show we're treated to images of Stanley and co with bits of toys and props from the film. The obligatory "Biographies" are present for Stanley, Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field, Zakes Mokae, Marianne Sagebrecht, Rufus Swart, etc. The disc concludes with trailers of Dust Devil, Voice Of The Moon, The Secret Glory, White Darkness, The Wild Blue Yonder, and Defenseless.

While the supplements for the first disc are enriching glimpses into the creative process , allowing us to know Stanley and his goals in intimate terms, Disc Two presents us with the 'Work Print for Dust Devil,' which suggests the true breadth/depth of Stanley's vision for his characters and storyline. Culled from existing elements, the work print is included in a non-anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer. While time codes may distract some viewers, and the colors/visual clarity of this rarity are uneven, sometimes bleached, these are small complaints given the sprawling cosmic vision that this version reveals.

Perhaps one of the most comprehensive methods of highlighting Stanley's talent in this five disc edition of Dust Devil is the addition of his non-fiction endeavors. Besides encouraging a comparison wherein we may determine Stanley's major strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker, these are intriguing on their own as studios, poetic explorations of the dark side of both human nature and the natural world, not to mention the suggestion of a spectral level of experience. These documentaries all share Stanley's preoccupation with lending atmosphere the pertinence of living characters, and his penchant for focusing on environments. Including Secret Glory, The White Darkness, and Voice of the Moon, these documents of human dangers, foolishness, and grim, tragic humor also share with Dust Devil a similar love/hate of humankind, able to both laugh at and cry for a species which is often its worst enemy.

Disc Three, containing The Secret Glory, leaves no doubt as to Stanley's unique mix of a newsman's penchant for capturing raw, true life with the imagination of a poet. A 2001 documentary, this is as much an exploration of the mythic in modern times as it is a detailed account of SS Officer Otto Rahn's quest to locate the Holy Grail. Feature length, this entry begins with a nod to both religious mythology and historical suspicion, as Stanley narrates s the casting out of Heaven of Lucifer. Merging War atrocities with Nazi interest in the occult, we discover through interviews with Otto's daughter and other associates how he was obsessed with the Grail, how it became a mania, and how Nazi philosophy and certain areas of Occult belief are related. Audio Commentary between Norman Hill and Stanley is the main extra, wherein the director discusses his interest, inspiration, and the research that he committed for the film. Also featured are an optional soundtrack from Simon Boswell, theatrical trailers, and another Richard Stanley Biography.

Disc Four includes Voice Of The Moon; a documentary on Afghanistan, and The White Darkness; a documentary on Haitian Voodoo, both of which feature optional commentaries with Richard Stanley and Norman Hill. The first, Voice of the Moon, focuses on Afghanistan and the political conflicts that were ravaging the land during the Russian occupation. Merging terse, engaging landscapes of sheer isolation with heated cultural debate, Stanley takes a firm, honest look at these people -- an opportunity for which he and others risked their life. The first extra on this disc is "Hangin' With the Taliban," an exhaustive interview with Stanley on how pulp fiction author and H.P. Lovecraft correspondent Robert E. Howard (of Conan and Weird Tales fame) inspired him to explore wild, untamed places. Also mentioned is his interest in politics and people of varying beliefs. Next is the optional commentary, where Stanley talks about mysterious folks and their reluctance to appear on camera, his personal devotion to the project, and various incidents of hazard and hardship experienced while getting the footage. The real life death and barbarity committed while they were filming some of the material is upsetting, just as it should be, pointing out the real terrors of political intolerance.

The White Darkness is perhaps the most interesting, well made of these documentaries, exploring the shadowy, often misunderstood religious practice of Voodoo, covering both its authentic psychological and spiritual dimensions as well as its often prejudiced treatment in the popular media. Stanley emphasizes the ties and intended results of Haitian Voodoo rituals, interviewing locale people and specialists who discuss their religion, practices, and their mythic and practical use. Most interesting throughout is the actual footage of the people engaged in worship and assorted on-camera conflicts. Stanley covers the importance of patterns, music, dancing, and the significance of self-trance and possession. This non-judgmental, fascinating look into the conflicts between some sects of Christianity and Voodoo is reinforced by an "Interview with Richard Stanley," here he discusses his interest in these people and their belief system, footage he left out for secrecy's sake, and the role his mother played in developing his interest. Plenty of memories are also evoked in the commentary between Stanley and Hill, where they talk over the emotional and psychological uses of Voodoo, particularly by the native population who don't wish to interact with Westerners. Like all the commentaries, this one burns with enthusiasm and knowledge, making for great entertainment and -- gasp! -- an education to boot. Almost an afterthought, trailers and biographies round out this disk.

Disc Five features the original Dust Devil soundtrack. By Simon Boswell, these twelve tracks further show the importance that music has in film, with the haunting melodies evoking images from the film.

The packaging itself is a notch above the expected, the intriguing cover art mirrored by inside covers that feature two theatrical poster replicas (one in Italian, one in English). Other print- based material include three informative booklets, each of which focus on one a film or documentary. "Dust Devil Production Diary," the first booklet, features a summary by Stanley as to his inspiration for Dust Devil, and includes entries which he wrote while filming, covering everything from weather conditions, daily shooting crises, and effects work (along with some spooky coincidences that continue to haunt him). "The Documentaries of Richard Stanley," the second booklet, is just as comprehensive, covering Stanley's lesser known switch from feature filmmaking to documentaries, including details and summaries of the documentaries featured in this package. Finally is the "Dust Devil Comic Book," written and illustrated by Phil Avelli.

A modern myth whose origins are seeped in the soil of an ancient geography as well as in the archetypes of our collective psyche, Dust Devil touches on both a universal and intimate level. Frightening with its violence, the film responds most to our communal dread of the unknown. In a subversive move by the director, consciously or not, we're made to fear ourselves. Stanley makes one wonder if we're any different, at heart, that the shape-shifter in our attempt to change our faces daily to meet the expectations of those around us. While the movie speaks to our collective fears, the immediate pleasures of the grand violence, the spectacle of the action, and the heart-rendering pathos of the scenery blend together to make this tragic experience of horror similar to a Greek tragedy, offering emotional catharsis. If that sounds like high praise, than it is meant to be. The film deserves no less. Lagging in the dust of collector's shelves when populist tripe earns millions at box office, Dust Devil is more than a movie -- it's an experience that, once endured, brands the soul.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Subversive Cinema
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review