When you think of horror-producing parts of the world, Africa usually doesn't top the list. Most people think of the United States and Japan, with a sprinkling of European nations, Canada, and Australia. You would think more horror would be based in Africa with it's unique landscapes and regional legends. With movies being made via smartphones and the ease of distributing entertainment on the internet, perhaps Africa will be the next hotbed for horror in the near future.
Dust Devil a 1993 horror movie set in the African nation of Namibia and stars Robert John Burke (Thinner, Good Night and Good Luck) as the title character. Dust Devil is a “naghtloeper” or shapeshifter that possesses human beings. He is trapped in this world and must kill in order to free himself. He focuses on those without any hope and with nothing to lose. Dust Devil walks down an empty road and receives a ride from a woman named Saarke. In the act of making love, he snaps her neck and mutilates her body, using her blood to draw symbols around her house before burning it down. At the same time, a woman named Wendy Robinson (Chelsea Field, Masters Of The Universe, Flipper) leaves her abusive husband Mark and sets out in her car for the coast. Sgt. Ben Mukurob (Zakes Mokae, The Serpent And The Rainbow, Vampire In Brooklyn) heads the investigation into Saarke's death. Ben enlists the help of Joe Niemand (John Matshikiza), a Sangoma, or healer, who informs Ben that the symbols were part of a strange witchcraft ritual. On the road, Wendy picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Dust Devil. During the ride, Dust Devil disappears from the car, much to Wendy's shock. That night, Wendy almost kills herself with a razor, but decides against it. The next morning, she goes to her car and finds Dust Devil sitting inside. Despite being initially scared, Wendy agrees to drive with him. Meanwhile, Mark has set out after Wendy. Ben's investigation continues, revealing that there have been a string of similar murders dating back almost 100 years. Speaking to Joe, Ben learns about Dust Devil and his black magic, but refuses to believe. Wendy and Dust Devil have sex and he tries to kill her afterward. She knocks him out with a lamp and escapes, but gets into a car accident. Dust Devil pursues her into the desert of Namibia. Will Ben be able to stop Dust Devil before he kills Wendy?
Interesting is probably the best word to describe Dust Devil. The movie mixes philosophy and abstract ideas and tries to make a coherent story out of it. Unfortunately, it is an intellectual overload that focuses too much on expanding our minds and not on entertainment. A horror movie can be existential, but there has to be a ceiling to keep things from getting too weird. Using a narrator is hit or miss for movies, but it worked for Dust Devil because we would have had no idea what was going on if not for narration. Perhaps there is something lost in the cultural translation, but I had a difficult time understanding just why Dust Devil kills people. There's something about being trapped and killing people out of necessity to free himself. If that's the case, he should have been a more sympathetic character, perhaps showing remorse or regret for having to kill people. There is some good violence and gore, but not nearly enough to keep my interest.
Despite my lack of interest, the movie is incredibly well made. Director Richard Stanley (Hardware, The Island of Dr. Moreau) gets the most of his locations with sweeping aerial shots that capture Namibia's unique landscape. While the intellectuality of the movie didn't entertain me, it did allow for some pretty cool scenes. Robert John Burke is good as Dust Devil, combining charm with viciousness, though we never see the full extent of this evil spirit. Chelsea Field is fine in her role, though the writing for her character should have been much stronger. We never see her in full despair leading up to her almost-suicide which is a shame because it would have drawn more sympathy to the character. John Matshikiza was very good as Joe and the narrator, his voice carrying weight and meaning to all of the existential thoughts and ideas.
Dust Devil is an ambitions, thoughtful horror movie that gets mired in it's own thoughts. There is not enough action and very little horror to speak of. Not once was I afraid and entertainment is scarce. There should have been far more character development. The mixture of occult and western is interesting, but not exciting. I don't particularly like voodoo-based horror movies and Dust Devil was very similar to that genre. The movie looks very good and the Namibian setting was certainly unique in the world of horror. It's not that Dust Devil is a bad movie, because it's not. Something just gets lost in translation along the way and never really recovers. I would suggest that if you are interested in seeing Dust Devil, see it for yourself. Maybe you'll enjoy it more than me.