Suicide Girls: Dust Devil director Richard Stanley
by Daniel Robert Epstein
(Originally appeared in Suicide Girls, Dec 12th 2006)
When South African filmmaker Richard Stanley's low budget science fiction horror film Hardware was released in the early 90's many people heralded him as the new face of the genre. That is until his second feature, Dust Devil, was released in the States to dismal reviews and returns. Though Stanley's director's cut of Dust Devil was released in many other markets around the world, after many years Stanley's director's cut of Dust Devil has been released in the United States in a massive five disc DVD set that includes the director's cut, the original US theatrical release, the soundtrack to the film and three of Stanley's most controversial documentaries.
Daniel Robert Epstein: What are you up to today?
Richard Stanley: I'm completing post-production on my short film Sea of Perdition.
DRE: I read a description of Sea of Perdition that said it is like a Warren style comic.
RS: Yeah, very much. That's certainly what I'm going for. Maggie Moore [sic] plays a member of the American Mars expedition who becomes lost on a Martian landscape, wanders down to a subterranean world and is met by a creature which morphs into her naked double, sucks out her memories and then takes her place on the flight home.
DRE: Oh it sounds good [laughs].
RS: I have little things I like, space girls, Martian temple weirdness and monsters.
DRE: Are you planning on getting this film on television or to just show at festivals?
RS: No plan as yet. It's been shot largely just as a convincing argument to anyone who thinks that we can't do certain things on a budget. We thought if we did some big, epochal, Martian temple, another planet, whatever, then people would trust us when it came down to something smaller scale.
DRE: So you're looking to develop another feature as a result of it.
RS: Yeah, there's another feature in the offing which I'm hoping to get.
DRE: How long has this big Dust Devil DVD set been in the works?
RS: Pretty much ever since the thing happened. 14 years in the coming. Really it's been about five years since I've been working so hard to get this DVD out in the States. Just getting the rights to do so was hard.
DRE: Was this able to happen because Miramax didn't have the DVD rights since it was released before DVD?
RS: Yeah, the rights got passed from one company to another and honestly Dust Devil isn't worth anything to anyone. It hasn't made any money and it hasn't been a real advantage to anyone.
DRE: Had you shown your final cut anywhere?
RS: My final cut was the one released in England and parts of Europe. For a long time the television version in England was the same one that's now out in the States, but for some reason it was only the States that held out on Dust Devil mostly because of various people.
DRE: I read that you never saw the version Miramax put out.
RS: It's too painful. It was a real harsh. It's not all their fault, they tried to do everything they could with the material they had. They were working without the benefit of being able to go back to the rushes. The stunts, the truck accidents and the head explosion don't really work in the Miramax cut because they're culled from a much earlier stage of the post production. I obviously had nothing to do with the additional voice over. It was just too painful to want to go near.
DRE: Earlier this year I interviewed Terry Gilliam who made Brothers Grimm with Miramax. I asked him what Brothers Grimm had taught him about making big movies. He said it was the same lesson that he knew before, don't work with the Weinsteins.
RS: Yeah, there's a lot of talk about Miramax but Dust Devil wouldn't have been made without them so I will give them that. Terry Gilliam cut free of Miramax and did marginally better by making Tideland. These things are nothing personal. Dust Devil got caught in the legal fallout of different multi-nationals eating each other's back catalogs. It got lost when the company that owned Dust Devil got taken out by Polygram and then Polygram got broken up. The Weinsteins are a bit of a handful though.
DRE: So the cut that we're seeing on the new DVD is the one that you are happy with.
RS: Yeah, sometimes I regret that I shortened it as much as I did because it still could have been longer but at the same time it's about ten minutes too long. I think the cut that's out there is about where I want it.
DRE: Who's idea was it to pack this DVD full of all this supplemental material like the soundtrack and your other films?
RS: It was Norm Hill at Subversive Cinema. Norm has done great work with the Werner Herzog films. The three documentaries on the Dust Devil DVD set aren't available in the UK or Europe so that work is pretty much unique to America.
DRE: I read you started Dust Devil even before Hardware.
RS: Yeah, that was pretty much how Dust Devil came into being. It started off as being a pitch for a low budget movie in South Africa with three people in a car about as bare bones as you can get. When Hardware started making money hand over fist, someone had the rights to Dust Devil and they rushed off onto production with me directing.
DRE: Was Dust Devil a difficult shoot?
RS: It was really no more difficult than expected. No one lost their lives or was seriously injured. We covered about 1500 kilometers of desert and lost around 45 company vehicles in the course of the movie.
DRE: What made you want to do Dust Devil?
RS: I spent about 16 years in South Africa. Back in the Apartheid years, the South African government was quite happy to release films into the cinemas that were political like Cry Freedom, World Apart, A Dry White Season. The movies they hated and banned for years were devil movies. They banned The Exorcist and The Omen.
DRE: Wow, I didn't know that.
RS: When the cheesy movie Frankenstein [and] the Monster from Hell was released, they actually took the words from Hell out of the title. So it just said Frankenstein [and] the Monster with a black glitch next to it. Missionary cultures are more afraid of the devil and the superstitious aspects of the fall of white culture than the actual political side that was in power. I thought these people deserved their very own devil. I figured if the devil was going to come to Africa, the devil would have to be American and he would have to be sexy, blonde and blue eyed. He would have to look like Elvis Presley or Jim Morrison or Clint Eastwood.
DRE: What was the film industry in South Africa like at that time?
RS: It was pretty underdeveloped for very good reasons. They've got great locations down there and plenty of money, especially in the old days, but for some reason they always failed to reproduce the kind of work they got from Australia. Dust Devil was shot during the Apartheid years with American money, again thanks Harvey and Bob, and was shot entirely over the border in Namibia. Ironically a South African movie was shot with no cooperation with South Africa and with no South African money and with largely Americans playing South Africans.
DRE: What made you cast someone like Robert Burke?
RS: It was because of The Unbelievable Truth [directed by Hal Hartley].
DRE: How was working with Robert Burke?
RS: He was great. I really wish Robert's career had gone further. He is one of the most cooperative men of action I've ever had to deal with. He was playing a virtually impossible part. To play a mythic archetype is hard for an actor to crawl into sometimes. You have to hit the right level between playing completely straight and camp and he more or less pulled it off.
DRE: How famous is the Dust Devil story in South Africa?
RS: Not entirely, as in the movie, it is like three stories. There was a serial killer in Southern Namibia at the time of the elections. They didn't catch him and it went on for about a year and a half. Then after that there was a shootout and a headless body was turned up and was eventually buried. At the same time there is the vanishing hitchhiker tradition with stories about people picking up hitchhikers who then disappear. It is a global phenomenon. There's a book called the Vanishing Hitchhiker by some Mormon chappie named Jan Harold Brunvand which is a compilation of some American vanishing hitchhiker stories.
DRE: How did you come up with the look for the Dust Devil in the film?
RS: Once we had locked on the idea of Clint Eastwood, the look followed pretty fast. Clint Eastwood was voted the sexiest man on the planet for more consecutive years than any other actor. The look of the devil had been evolving for a number of years. Clint tried suggesting he was the devil in High Plains Drifter and he changed his mind in Pale Rider and tried to say he was god instead.
DRE: Why have you had so much trouble getting another feature made in the past ten years?
RS: For a number of reasons. Plainly I wasn't telling the right stories. At the time I had failed to perceive the way I was going to make high budget movies with those kinds of messages. I guess I've become a little bit more realistic about it and I wouldn't even try to get a movie like [The Island of] Dr. Moreau made now. That was plainly just too damn big and Hollywood is never going to allow me to make those kinds of movies on that kind of level, not the way things stand.
DRE: Obviously you're a comic book fan. Are you interested in doing any comic book adaptations?
RS: I'd like to go the other way and do more comic books. We did a short comic book of Dust Devil that's with the DVD. I was definitely taken with the idea of getting that guy to do more stuff. I'd love to see the Walking Man walk again.
DRE: What comic books do you read now?
RS: Well I don't really read too many lately. I've been moving around too much. But my life was twisted out of shape by Warren comics. I loved reading those things. I grew up on them and they were great. Another reason I came to hate the Apartheid machine in South Africa was because they banned foreign comics.
DRE: I read that you directed some promo that Dario Argento starred in.
RS: Yeah that was a piece of fun. It was a favorite assignment.
DRE: How's his acting?
RS: Well, the guy talks his way through it. It reminds me of William Shatner in the old days. I think he also has some class, Dario Argento reminds me of Uncle Creepy. He's always had an Uncle Creepy look about him.
DRE: Do you have a feature that you want to try and get going?
RS: We're on the brink of one. I wish it was just a little ways further down the line and I could tell you about cast.
DRE: Is it another horror film?
RS: Oh yeah, I wouldn't do anything else. Not in the near future anyway.
DRE: Do you still do music videos or commercials?
RS: No, I don't do commercials. I try to stay away from them.