Dust Devil (1992)

Now, to look at this one, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's got bugger all to do with this "British horror films" site. It's set in the middle of Africa and there's not a clipped English accent to be heard. In fact, it's more like a spaghetti western (the music, the way it's shot, the clothes) than a Hammer. But British it is, and rather good it is, too.

Dust Devil starts with a woman picking up a hitchhiking cowboy in the desert. She takes him home and he gives her a good seeing to - but unfortunately (for her, obviously), at the moment of climax he snaps her neck. He then chops her up, repaints the room with her blood, takes her fingers as a downpayment for all his hard work and then sets fire to it all. Changing Rooms was never like this (shame, really).

Wendy, meanwhile, is having problems with husband Mark. Well, he is wearing a purple shellsuit, and in some countries that's a crime punishable by death. She leaves him, to the sound of some spooky Mad Max-style narration.

"Out of the flatlands she came… into the drylands. The furnace lands… Even then he must have been calling her, etc"

It turns out that both the mysterious cowboy-cum-murderer and Wendy are heading towards the same place - a town called Bethany which is caught in the middle of a seven year drought. It becomes very clear that Wendy and the killer are linked in some way - she sees him hitch a lift with someone else and keeps having weird dreams involving a monster.

The police are now on the killer's trail (or rather, one is). Witchcraft is suspected, as the body of the first woman had a clock shoved inside her (nice).

Wendy runs off the road after falling asleep at the wheel, and finds the mobile home which she saw the killer get into before. There's something extremely nasty inside, but she never gets to see it, as a fat bloke arrives and offers to help dig her car out of the sand. Once this is done, she gets spooked by her benefactor and leaves without even saying thank you - then picks up the cowboy(!). Women, eh? But no sooner has she given him a lift than she sees him standing on the side of the road, and realises he's not in the passenger seat after all (quite spooky, this bit).

After attempting suicide (like you do), she wakes up quite happy and finds the killer in her car again. Following this? Perhaps you can explain it to me…

As the policeman and the husband close in on Wendy and the killer, we learn more about him from our friendly narrator - cum - cinema projectionist - cum witch, a man called Joe who's favourite films appear to be The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires. The killer is a Dust Devil, a shape changing demon who "seeks power over the material world through the ritual of murder".

Unusually for such a film, the Dust Devil is a truly terrifying foe (well, I thought so). And, as Joe says to the policeman, "If you want to win a war, you need a whole fist full of knuckles." (I have no idea what this means, but it sounds cool) He also adds: "He preys upon the damned, the weak, the faithless. He draws them to him and he sucks them dry. We are nothing to him, we're dust in the wind. His world is older than ours. He smelled Bethany dying and he came to collect souls." But luckily: "Until this ritual is complete he is trapped like us, in the material world. Bound by flesh."

After a spectacular crash and explosion, the film reaches its melon-poppingly satisfying ending in an awesome setting - a town being swallowed by the desert.

Dust Devil is a neglected gem, and is well worth seeking out. It's better than the same director's Hardware (against which it's bound to be compared - it shares the same orange-and-blue colour scheme, after all) and the final scenes have to be seen to be believed. There's a lot more to it than some kind of horrid British attempt to do a "Mad Max", too. The characters are interesting, the story is first-rate, the violence is brutal but necessary. It's just a shame that Dust Devil and Hardware are not only the most important British horror films of the 1990s, but that they're also the only ones from that decade that are any good.

Last updated: February 22, 2010

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