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Stream to Scream: “DUST DEVIL”

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There are horror films that attempt to scare the audience by creating a world as close to our reality as possible; films that go for grit and realism in order to make you believe that a palpable threat could be lurking just outside your door. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are movies that place their narratives deep inside a dreamscape, forcing the characters within to navigate a world where myth and monsters are God, and the corporeal realm we know is an afterthought at best.

The 1992 desert-dwelling nightmare DUST DEVIL plants its boots firmly in the latter category. Written and directed by Richard Stanley, whose other directing credits include the underrated robo-horror HARDWARE, the film tells the tale of the titular Dust Devil, an ancient creature that takes the form of humans and is bound to commit ritualistic murders in order to ascend to a plane beyond that of flesh and blood.

When Wendy Robinson (Chelsea Field) leaves her abusive husband and drives off into the desert with no particular plans of what she’ll be doing with her life next, she unknowingly takes the normal-looking monster (played with a steel-eyed stare by Robert Burke) on as a hitchiker, and very soon after a lover. Unbeknownst to her, the smooth-voiced man who she presumes to be from Texas killed another wandering woman in the film’s first act, and left a half-burned house caked with cave paintings made of her dried blood and fat.

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While a troubled detective searches for the killer (THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW’S Zakes Mokae) and Wendy’s husband stumbles around South Africa searching for her, Wendy and the Dust Demon engage in a game of cat-and-mouse across the desert plains. Stanley’s masterful use of helicopter long shots gives the viewer a real sense of the setting’s massive scope. Another big element of the film’s visuals is its strong color palette that ranges from vivid red and orange under the desert suns to lurid greens and blues for any and all moments of intense hallucination.

The film makes use of voice over from a mystic character throughout, but rather than drag the flick down, it manages to give it an almost allegorical feel; the audience is compelled by Wendy’s struggle in the face of an evil that has apparently walked the Earth long before man its itself, like a David-and-Goliath story featuring explosions and dismemberment. Those who loved the trippy frights of HARDWARE will surely enjoy this film in equal measure.

The film’s end leaves our protagonist’s fate wide open, her ears to the hot asphalt in a pose much like the monster she tangled with. What fate holds in store for her we will never know, and neither does she. That’s the fun/fear of it all, and Stanley knows it. Once the credits roll, you’ll know it too.

DUST DEVIL is currently streaming on Netflix.

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About the author
Christopher La Vigna
Christopher La Vigna is a writer, filmmaker, and the newest batch of blood to be welcomed into the haunted halls of FANGORIA. He’s a graduate of Hunter College*, and can be found lurking around any movie theater or comic shop near his person. You can argue about movies with him on Twitter: @Chris_LaVigna
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