Welcome to Trollheart's Box Office

Assuming I’m not ridden out of here on a rail in the next few days or weeks, one thing you guys will discover about me is that I never shut up. Never. If you’ve been reading my reviews of progressive rock albums you’ll know that I just ramble on and on, and will do till someone puts a 9mm slug in my head once and for all. Thing is, I love to write, and when I’m not writing stories or trying vainly to get to grips with a novel, I like to write about things I enjoy, things that interest me. And although I don’t watch as many movies as I used to, I’ve seen a lot of them given my advanced age, so here I want to introduce you to this:

Before you ask, The Couch Potato is, or was, my TV series review journal, which, if this turns out to be of interest to anyone, I may start running here. But for now it’s movies all the way. A few things you need to understand before we begin:

These reviews are complete, that is to say, there are spoilers in them. You’ll read about the twists and turns, the resolutions, the endings, so if you see a movie here you haven’t watched yet, and are intending to watch, my advice would be don’t read: it’s likely to spoil it for you, and I don’t intend to be held responsible for that.

The synopsis, though, detailed as it is, is only the beginning. Next you get my analysis – what I thought of the movie, what it was trying to say or accomplish, and if it did that right, and so forth. Following this I usually tend to focus on the stars, then famous quotes from the movie, famous scenes, and there’s also a section where I go on at length as to why I love, or hate, the movie. So be warned: lots of verbal diarrhea coming!

This thread will also encompass a thing I do, or did, called

This is where I take a satirical and biting look at a movie I really thought sucked, and basically rip the pis…tons out of it. It’s all in good fun. The worse the movie, the better its chances of being featured here. No, it has to be really bad. But with some redeeming features that I can point out while I’m laughing at how terrible it is.

But that’s for later. You probably wonder – hey! Don’t walk away when I’m talking to you! Please? Come back! I know you wonder, don’t you? - what sort of movies I’m going to be looking at here. Well, I’m choosing the ones I review very carefully. They have to be perhaps not unique but not generic in the main, and they have to have impressed me enough to have left a lasting impression. Some of them you may not even have heard of, and it’s a safe bet that few if any will be blockbusters.

First and foremost, of course, this is a discussion forum, so comment, argue, debate and post death threats (well, maybe not the last: I can give you my postal address if you’re that upset!) and let’s have a conversation. I’m not always right – I remember one weekend in 1996 I think it was… and I’m always willing to hear opposing views. As in all things though, let’s keep it civil and friendly, and if you have mud to sling please leave it at the door; it will be returned to you when you leave.

I’m happy to take requests for movies to view and review, though you should know that in general I’m not a big fan of horror, never watch slasher movies (maybe Scream, but that’s about it), not much into rom-coms and of course take the com out and I’m not so fond of romance movies either. I also hate, pretty much, any movie focusing on sport. But hey: make your case if you feel I really need to see and talk about a movie, and if you’re convincing enough, who knows?

Mostly though I’ll just be doing my best Barry Norman (what? Oh come on now! None of us are that young!) and talking about movies I like, hate or thnk you should at least consider. Surely not everyone will agree with me, but then, that’s why this is open, as are all my threads, to comment and discussion.

Despite the fact that I said few if any of these will be blockbusters, and that you would likely know very few of them, I think everyone will know the first one up, one of my all-time favourite movies.

And why not?

Title: The Odd Couple

Year: 1968

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Jack Lemmon as Felix Ungar

Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison

John Fiedler as Vinnie

Herb Edelman as Murray

David Sheiner as Roy

Larry Haines as Speed

Director: Gene Saks

Writer: Neil Simon

One of my all-time top three favourite movies, there are two words that aptly and perfectly describe why this is such a great movie: Lemmon and Matthau. One of the best double acts since Hope and Crosby, these two guaranteed - guara-an-teed! - an excellent film just by their mere presence. I’ve always loved Jack Lemmon as an actor, and while I can, in general, take or leave Walter Matthau on his own, when put together these two guys were just comedy gold. Even though neither did stupid pratfalls or necessarily said anything overtly funny, it’s the chemistry between the two - rarely seen before or since - that truly marks them out as one of the greatest pairings of all time.

Written by Neil Simon from his play of the same name, the film was so successful that it gave birth to a whole TV series, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, which I remember watching as a kid without even realising it was based on this movie.

Felix Ungar (Lemmon) arrives at a New York motel looking down and dishevelled, and requests a room. When asked for how long, he mutters “Not very long”. He is in fact intending killing himself, having been thrown out of his house by his long-suffering wife. As he checks into his grotty room a woman on the other side bids him goodnight, and he tells her “Goodbye”. He carefully places all his personal effects in an addressed envelope, but then in a master stoke of finding comedy in tragedy, in seeing something amusing in the attempts of a man to end a life he believes has nothing left to offer him, Simon has Lemmon try to remove his wedding ring. No matter how hard he tries it will not budge, and he eventually has to leave it on.

He puts the envelope, now sealed and we can see addressed to “My wife and loving children” on the dresser, and heads to the window, but fate again mocks him, as he cannot open it. Being a cheap, nasty motel the room’s window is stuck, fused shut, and he cannot jump as he had originally intended. As he’s struggling with the uncooperative window his back goes out, and he has to lie down, consider his next move. He decides to leave the hotel room and struggles downstairs and out into the street, his back giving him hell.

He wanders till he comes across a cafe where there is some sort of party going on. He enters and sits, watching the dancing girls and listening to the music. However, he is not to be allowed any respite, as as he knocks back his drink his neck goes, and in terrible pain he hobbles out of the party, back into the street along which he wanders till his tired feet bring him along the waterfront. He stares down at the river, thinking about throwing himself in, then looks up at the lights of a nearby building, recognising it as the one where his old friend, Oscar Madison lives.

The action switches to that building, where we see four guys sitting around a card table, bickering as men do when playing poker. One of them worries where Felix is: he’s very late. They call in to Oscar (Matthau) who is in the kitchen, plundering the food. They ask him to call Felix, but he ignores them. He opens cans of beer and it shoots everywhere, to the chagrin of the guys. It doesn’t seem to bother Oscar though: he’s obviously something of a slob. Murray gets a call to tell the guys that Felix has gone missing; his wife doesn’t know where he is. When Oscar rings her she tells him that they broke up, and the guys start to worry, especially when Frances, Felix’s wife, tells them he told her he was going out to kill himself.

Meanwhile Felix, who has decided to go to the game after the stuck window thwarted his plans to see if there is an afterlife, gets caught in the lift doors as he exits, adding a sore arm now to his already sore neck and back. The guys, anxious to pretend they don’t know anything about what has happened in order not to tip him over the edge, relax and act as if everything is fine. They try a little too hard though, almost ignoring him and making him even more miserable than he already is. Suddenly the card game is forgotten as Felix declares he does not want to play, and goes to the toilet. The guys, afraid he might kill himself while in there, rush after him and hear him crying in there. They don’t know what to do.

When he comes back out of the toilet he tries to maintain the pretence but quickly breaks down. He goes to leave, and there follows a comic chase as his friends try to stop him doing anything silly. He manages to lock himself in one of the rooms, they break down the door and rush to the open window, fearing the worst. From behind the door comes the plaintive complaint “Oh! My back! My back!” and the door swings back to reveal Felix flattened against it, cartoon-style. When he then tells them that he took a whole bottle of pills they go into overdrive, trying to get the pills up, trying to keep him awake, considering phoning the ambulance for him, but he tells them he already threw up.

When the lads leave, Oscar and Felix go for a walk, then end up in a cafe where Felix immediately starts displaying his weird little quirks. The air conditioner is too cold - he says he never lets his wife turn theirs on in the summer, to which Oscar remarks she must love that! - and he has an odd sinus condition that seems to affect his ears too. He starts making weird noises. I can’t really describe it. It’s like he’s trying to clear his throat, blow his nose and suck in air all at once. I don’t usually do this when reviewing movies but you really need to see this to understand. Here, watch this clip:

Everyone thinks there’s something wrong with him.

Felix discusses with his friend how annoying he was to live with, but Oscar invites him to move in. Felix is delighted, and says he’ll be able to pitch in around the place. And indeed he does. The next week, when the guys come over for poker, it is a very different apartment they find. Everything is clean and tidy, there’s cold beer - cold! - and coasters, and Felix is serving munchies from a hostess trolley. He’s also fussing around like a housewife, telling the guys not to get marks on anything, frowning at the cigar smoking, and making special sandwiches. Oscar is slowly simmering like a stew coming to the boil. His voice is low and dead, and you can tell that he’s waiting to explode. He tells Murray, who is a cop, he’ll pay him two hundred dollars for his gun. When Roy realises that Felix has disinfected the cards he leaves, following Speedy, who has already lost patience with Felix’s new cleaning regime.

In the course of an escalating argument about why Felix has to have everything just-so, he takes up a cup and goes to throw it against the wall. When he grins and puts it back, Oscar goads him into throwing it, telling him it’ll make him feel better: he doesn’t have to be so controlling all the time, let himself go. Eventually Felix does throw the cup, but a) it hits the wall without breaking (somehow) and b) he hurts his shoulder! Oscar tells him he’s a hopeless case. They decide to go out, rather than end up killing each other.

In an attempt both to break the monotony, draw Felix out of himself and get himself some, Oscar arranges a double date. However of course it doesn’t go according to plan; Felix, who only agreed to the date after constant haranguing by Oscar, is ill-at-ease and not at all comfortable, and falls back on the only thing he can think of to keep the dying conversation going when his friend goes to get drinks: his failed marriage. And the two girls spend the night consoling Felix, crying with him. When they then suggest that the boys come up to their room Oscar is delighted (especially as it’s very hot up there and clothes may be an optional extra) but Felix does not want to go. As the girls were very taken with his roommate, Oscar doesn’t think there’s much point in his going alone.

Now there’s a wall of silence between the two. Not a word is exchanged, but black looks are. Oscar does his best to spoil Felix’s attempts at cleaning, making things dirty and untidy just as Felix gets them sorted, and Felix retaliates by switching off the TV programme Oscar is watching (this is in an era, remember, long before remote controls). Tempers finally snap when Oscar hurls a plate of linguini at the wall, and forbids Felix to clean it up. Their arguments turn violent and Oscar chases Felix up to the roof, then tells him to leave. Felix eventually agrees, but tells Oscar it is on his head, which despite the high-running tempers worries Oscar, considering what happened at the beginning of the movie.

Of course, he feels guilty afterwards and he and the guys go looking for his ex-roommate, but it turns out that he has taken refuge in the flat of the two sisters: he’s fallen on his feet again!

Classic scenes

Oh where do I start? This movie has so many! Almost every scene is class, but to pick a few out:

"It’s linguini, you fool!"

Just before their cold-treatment reaches fever pitch, Felix sits at the poker table with his dinner. Oscar, annoyed at Felix just having turned his ball game off on the TV, comes over and says “Get that spaghetti off my poker table!” Felix just sits there, laughing as if at some private joke, which makes Oscar even more angry. “What’s so funny?” he demands, and Felix sniggers “That’s not spaghetti: it’s linguini, you fool!” Whereupon Oscar grabs the plate, takes it into the kitchen, flings it against the wall and declares “Now it’s garbage!”


Already demonstrated in the attached YouTube, it’s a hilarious scene which shows how neurotic Felix is, and how much of a pain he can be as he tries to clear his sinuses in a restaurant, while everyone looks on and wonders if there’s something wrong with him. Felix, though, is so wrapped up in himself that he can’t see the looks he’s getting, and anyway, to him this is normal behaviour. He just doesn’t even consider that it could be seen as odd.

Not quite a perfect date

The scene where Felix, left alone with the girls while Oscar fixes the drinks (seriously: how long can that take? It seems to be about ten minutes before he returns) desperately searching for conversational topics, takes out the pictures of his kids, leading to a sobbing session as he recalls his family, Cecily her own dead husband and Gwendolyn her failed relationship. Oscar breezes back in, expecting to see everyone chatting and laughing, and is confronted by a scene straight out of a wake!

"Poker was never meant to be played like this!"

Having established himself at Oscar’s home, Felix makes sure everyone at the card game has (and uses) coasters for their drinks, eats over the plates, and sprays air freshener around like it’s going out of fashion. He also plugs in a dehumidifier, which one of the guys complains is “sucking all the air out of the room”. When the guys realise though that he has washed the cards they’re playing with, it’s the final straw and the game breaks up.

"A triple play!"

I know, and want to know, nothing about baseball, but apparently a “triple play” is rare? When Oscar, commentating on a game (he’s a sports writer) has a chance to see one, he is distracted by a totally unnecessary phone call from Felix, and can’t believe that he’s missed it!

Looney Tunes

When Felix is trying to take the vacuum cleaner into the kitchen, he leaves the cable strung out on the living room floor and tries to pull it after him. Oscar quite deliberately steps on it, stopping him. Looking in, Felix sees what he’s at and loops the cable around his shoulder, ready to give it a hard tug. Just as he does, Oscar lifts his foot and the sudden release of pressure and his own momentum send Felix flying, and we hear the sounds of crashing, things breaking, things falling. With a satisfied grin on his face, Oscar walks off.

"What time do you call this?"

As they prepare for their big date, Oscar comes in late and Felix takes him to task, asking him why he is late and almost sobbing that his meatloaf will be ruined. He’s just like a wife, even complaining about “slaving over a meal” while Oscar makes some excuse about working late, which Felix triumphantly dismisses, saying he phoned the office and knows that Oscar was at the bar! Absolutely hilarious!


Murray: “Did you know Felix was once locked in the john overnight? He wrote out his entire will on half a roll of toilet paper!”

Murray: “Aren’t you going to look at your cards first?”
Oscar: “What for? I’m gonna bluff anyway!”

Oscar: “I got … um… brown sandwiches and green sandwiches. What do you want?”
Murray: “What’s the green?”
Oscar: “It’s either very new cheese or very old meat.”

Oscar (on the phone to his five-year old from California): “Yeah, I got your letter honey thanks. It took three weeks! Next time, you ask mommy to give you a stamp.” (Pause) “Yeah, I know honey, but you’re not supposed to draw it on!”

Oscar: “You think you were impossible to live with? Blanche used to ask me when I wanted to eat. I’d say I don’t know, I’m not hungry. Then three in the morning I’d wake her up and say now!”

Oscar: “Hello? Frances?”
Felix: “I’m not here. You haven’t heard from me, you don’t know where I am, I didn’t call, you didn’t see me and I’m not here. I am not here!”
Oscar: “Yes Frances, he’s here.”

Felix: “Where’s your coaster?”
Roy: “What?”
Felix: “Your coaster. The little round thing you put your glass on.”
Roy (thinks): “I think I bet it.”

Speedy (heading out the door in frustration, and thus breaking up the game) to Oscar: “You’ve got no-one to blame but yourself! It’s your fault! You stopped him from killing himself!”

Gwendolyn: “What field of endeavour are you engaged in?”
Felix: “I write the news for television.”
Gwendolyn: “Oh! Fascinating. Where do you get your ideas from?”

Felix: “You’re asking to hear something I don’t want to say, but if I do say it I think you oughta hear it!”
Oscar: “You got anything on your chest beside your chin you’d better get it off.”
Felix: “All right then you asked for it! You’re a wonderful guy Oscar! You’ve done everything for me! If it weren’t for you I don’t know what would have happened to me! You took me in here, you gave me a place to live, something to live for. I’m never going to forget you for that, Oscar! You’re tops with me!”

Oscar: “Why doesn’t he hear me? I know I’m talking: I recognise my voice!”

Felix: “In other words, you’re throwing me out?”
Oscar: “Not in other words! Those are the perfect ones!”

Why do I love this movie?

Apart from the already-mentioned presence of both Lemmon and Matthau instantly guaranteeing a great film, Neil Simon’s script is pure gold. The way he writes it so that one of the guys is essentially the wife, concerned about cleanliness, good food and throwing little temper fits when he doesn’t get his way, making it seem as if the guys are married to each other in all but name, is what makes this movie work. There’s also no hint of homosexuality at all: this is just two guys living together who begin as friends and by the end are at each other’s throats. The chemistry of course between the two leads is also what makes it work. Admittedly, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman did well in the TV version, but then they really based their performances on those of the two masters here.

The Odd Couple brings to the forefront all the little niggly things we know about, but tend to overlook in our partner, whether they’re a wife, live-in girfriend or roommate. All those annoying little noises. The sticky notes left in strategic places. Oscar tells Felix at one point he hates those sticky notes: “I woke to find one on my pillow: We are out of cornflakes FU. Took me three weeks to work out that “FU” stood for Felix Ungar!” The arguments, the recriminations. Things done one way because that person has always done things that way and has no wish to change, despite the fact that the other person hates doing things that way. The pure hell, in other words, of living with someone you have known but have never shared a house, room or apartment with before.

Felix is a neurotic, cleaning-obsessed, health freak who can’t believe that someone would rather leave a table untidy rather than clean it up, or that a man could eat a day-old sandwich, or that people can’t see the benefits of having a dehumidifier. Oscar, on the other hand, is, and let’s be totally fair to him, a slob, who enjoys doing things his way. He’s not prepared to change, and to be honest the way he goes on you can see why his wife threw him out. To be fair, Felix must have driven his wife mad too. These are two examples of total opposites, these men, who should never be brought into close contact with each other, for any appreciable length of time. They certainly should not even dream of living together.

But underneath it all, under the simmering resentment, the shocked anger, the disbelief and the accusations, both men are friends and at one point Oscar, tough, hard, ornery Oscar Madison, breaks down in front of Felix, begging him to leave him alone before he does something he’ll regret. This rather poignant scene is then totally trumped as Felix, seeing Oscar go into the kitchen, cattily declares “Walk on the paper: I just washed the floor!” Oscar then does snap, and chases Felix out of the apartment and onto the roof.

It’s a buddy movie, a cautionary tale, a comment on the relationships between two people, even of the same gender, living together. At the beginning of the film, as Oscar offers to take Felix in, he quips “Come and stay with me, Felix. I’m proposing here: what do you want, a ring?” Later he will discover how appropriate that remark is, for Felix ends up driving him as mad as any nagging wife. And of course Oscar bugs Felix too. Why can’t he just eat over the plate, smoke less, clean up after himself? It’s a marriage made in Hell, and pure classic comedy gold, the likes of which we’re not likely to see again.

1 Like

I never shut up also, the CV shows this, a little often has carried one through a whole…long time. :smiley:

:beer: :beer:

Here’s to running off at the mouth!

Only two?

Started to read , got quite into it thinking I wouldn’t then began to think , I think I’d like to see this film rather than read about it , so I’ve stopped reading and hope I can find it out there on the world wide Web, any idea where ?

It looks good

I can hook you up if you want…

1 Like

I think Neil Simon’s stuff is smart and well written but it doesn’t make me laugh much.
Also Jack Lemmon is always too neurotic for me.Other than that… :grinning:

Fight me.

Now where did I read that…? :thinking:

Of course if you promise to stay in Ireland I promise to give you a damn good thrashing.

Produce a paper bag and I will try to fight my way out of it. I of course make no promises…

1 Like

Body seems unclear. Is it a complete sentence? YAWN!!!

Title: Dust Devil
Year: 1993
Genre: Horror
Starring: Robert John Burke as The Dust Devil
Zakes Mokae as Sergeant Ben Mukurob
Chelsea Field as Wendy Robinson
John Matshikisa as Joe Niemand/Narrator

Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley

For me, this was a strange film to decide to watch. Many of you here probably love horror, the gorier and more frightening the better. Me, I don’t. I mean, generally speaking I don’t enjoy gory or scary movies. I do however like myths, legends, folklore and fantasy, and this film blends all these elements together into what is really a quite excellent movie which should be better known than it is.

Shot entirely on location in Namibia, South Africa, it tells the story of a serial killer who is believed to have mystical powers, and who is referred to in the opening sequence, narrated by one of the characters, Joe Niemand, a healer and kind of witch doctor: “Back in the first times, in the time of the red light, Desert Wind was a man like us. Until by mischance, he grew wings and flew like a bird. He became a hunter, and like a hawk, he flew to seek his prey, taking refuge in those far corners of the world where magic still lingers. But having once been a man, so does he still suffer the passions of a man, flying in the rages sometimes, and throwing himself down like a child, to vent his wrath upon the earth. The people of the great Namib have another name for those violent winds that blow from nowhere. They call them Dust Devils”

The movie opens, and indeed is mostly set in, the great Namib Desert, where a man walks along a long dusty barren empty road. At first glance he looks like a hitch-hiker, a vagrant. But it is soon apparent he knows exactly what he is doing, and he takes out a strange-looking pocket watch whose hands move around the face much faster than they should. Closing it with a nod, he then lies down on the road as if sleeping, but as the camera angles changes we see that he has in fact his ear to the ground, as if listening to, or waiting for something. Soon a battered old car comes along the road, and the man stands up, hailing it.

His eyes beneath the brim of his weather-worn hat are dark and mysterious, and somehow unsettling, but the car stops and its driver, a young woman, gives him a lift. Meanwhile we see the old mystic who narrates the movie make or trace strange patterns on the wall of a cave, and watch the circling motion of a bird of prey in the sky high above him. The woman invites the stranger into her house, isolated and in the middle of nowhere, and later that night they make love, but in the midst of the act he kills her, snapping her neck.

The scene switches to the town of Bethany, where the police Sergeant Mukurob picks up a ringing phone and hears strange, disembodied voices. The same thing happens to Wendy Robinson, in Johannesburg, but she is in bed and puts it down to a crossed line. Back at the murdered woman’s house the hitch-hiking stranger looks at his watch again. He notes the time and writes it on a photograph he has taken of the dead woman. He holds up a bowl (whether the photographs are in it or not I don’t know, but you can bet the girl’s blood is) and utters strange words, and then paints strange symbols on the wall of the bedroom. As he leaves we see that he has removed the girl’s hand, minus the fingers and nailed it to the wall. The fingers he then carefully places in a small box.

Before leaving he torches the house, while listening on the radio to news of the great drought that is afflicting Namibia, killing the cattle and drying up the crops. He then takes his victim’s car and drives away. In Johannesburg Wendy leaves her husband after an argument in which he accuses her of cheating on him. Sergeant Mukurob is called by the station to the site of the arson attack, where they have found the dismembered body parts of the woman. On further investigation they also find the abandoned car. The stranger has by now hopped a train, and is on his way to Bethany, which the radio reports tell us is the centre of the drought, and is said to be “doomed”.

Doing the autopsy of the dead woman, the doctor discovers that the symbols on the wall of her house were made with the victim’s blood and other bodily fluids, and she suspects witchcraft. Mukurob is incredulous: witchcraft, such superstition in this enlightened age? But this is Africa, where the old gods do not die easily, and the devils less so. She suggests the policeman consult a Sangoma, a holy man, who would be able to tell him what parts the killer was looking for, and what he would be likely to use them for in a ritual. Mukurob is reluctant but he does know of a Sangoma who lives locally, and goes to talk to him.

Wendy arrives at a bar near Bethany just as the stranger is leaving with some people who are driving a camper van ; he looks in the window at her but she does not see him, her back being turned to the window. That night, as she drives on and dozes a little behind the wheel, straying off the road, she almost runs over him as he walks out into the road. In the glare of her headlights his face appears momentarily inhuman, bestial, demonic. She swerves desperately to avoid him and goes off the road. Realising she has narrowly avoided crashing, and unwilling to go any further in her exhausted state, she sleeps in her car overnight.

The next morning, seeing her car has become buried in the hard sand of the desert, she gets out and goes to seek help. She notices a van up on the rise ahead of her, but when she climbs to it and knocks on the door there is no answer. A man with a shovel taps her on the shoulder and asks if she is the driver of the van, which is in fact a camper van; she says no but could he dig out her car, down the hill? As she leaves we see the inside of the van is smeared with fresh blood, and it’s obvious everyone inside is dead. Further up the road she comes across the stranger hitch-hiking, and picks him up. She realises this is the same man she almost ran over last night. While in the car he takes a Polaroid of her and asks her some questions about herself, though she is reticent with answers. She tells him she is going “straight through, all the way to the sea.”

Police meanwhile have discovered the camper van, and indeed everyone inside has been butchered, with body parts all over the place. Sergeant Mukurob meets with Joe Niemand, the Sangoma, who tells him he believes the world is about to end, and the drought is a sign of that. Joe appears to be building some sort of magic circle around his home, protection presumably, and it corresponds in design to the symbols the murderer drew in blood on the walls of the burned-down house. The enlightened Mukurob however cannot believe what the Sangoma tells him, and he can really get no sense out of Niedman so he leaves.

When Wendy admits she believes in neither god nor devil, and has no expectation of a life after death, the interest seems to go from the stranger and suddenly they appear to pass him hitch-hiking on the road. Doing a double-take Wendy looks over at her passenger and — he’s gone! She slams on the brakes, confused and if she’s honest with herself, more than a little afraid. Mukurob is told by his boss that he has to take him off the case, as the UN are taking over in the wake of political unrest in the country. He himself is being forced into retirement, but Mukurob believes he is close to catching the man who has so far killed twice, and just needs more time. Information has come to light about a white woman whose car was seen near the camper van with the mutilated corpses, and he sets about tracking Wendy down.

She, meanwhile, desperately unhappy and perhaps thinking she has lost her mind, tries to commit suicide in the bath but cannot make herself use the razor blade and drops it into the water. Outside, her erstwhile hitch-hiker lurks, but when she detects a presence and gets out of the bath to check, she finds nobody there. However the next morning she finds him in her car, and he convinces her to again take him with her. Mukurob’s boss meets him and turns over all the files on unexplained and unsolved murders in the area that he has been able to find; Mukurob is amazed to see that one, which mentions a pocketwatch like the one found inside the first victim, goes all the way back almost to the turn of the century!

Wendy and her passenger finally reach the end of the desert, and on the high sandstone cliffs overlooking the sea, they embrace, while her husband is now on her trail, heading for Bethany. Mukurob awakes from troubled dreams of his wife and son to find Joe Niedman sitting at the foot of his bed; he tells him he has come to help him. While Wendy’s husband is getting beaten up at the bar she passed through, she is making love to the stranger, and Niedman is leading Mukurob into his caves. There he shows him the symbols carved on the wall, which correspond to the ones scrawled on the walls of the first victim’s house. He tells the sergeant that what they seek is called a naghtloeper, a Dust Devil, a shapeshifting demon who preys on the weak and uses them to make himself stronger, even invincible. Mukurob of course thinks he’s mad and does not believe it.

Joe tells him that the only way to destroy the demon is to trick him to step across a holy stick called a kerrie. If he does this he can be stripped of his power, but there is danger; in so doing he may transfer his essence to that of the policeman, taking him over. Still not believing, Mukurob takes the stick. While the Dust Devil showers Wendy goes through his things and finds the box of fingers. He tries to kill her but she escapes, driving off into the night. The demon though makes a gesture and a truck swerves into her path, knocking her off the road. In the pileup that follows she barely gets free of her car before it, and the rest of the crashed vehicles explode, and she runs off into the desert.

Mukorob and Mark, Wendy’s husband, have joined up to try and find Wendy, or at least the Dust Devil, while the demon is using his unnatural powers to try to comb the desert to find her. He whips up a sandstorm and she is blinded, stopped, can go no further. He then attacks the oncoming Mukurob and Mark, overturning their police vehicle, and the sergeant shackles Mark to the car, telling him that he should be safe as Dust Devil only takes those who have nothing. Then he walks off into the storm.

As the storm abates Wendy begins walking again, but when she eventually comes across a village it is completely deserted, its habitants having long ago abandoned it in the face of the harsh desert. Here she meets Mukurob and they both unaccountably hear a phone ringing. Mukurob gives her a gun and they head towards the sound of the phone. Picking it up Mukurob hears the voice of his dead wife, calling him to her. Confused, he staggers into an old abandoned cinema, and as he exits it he runs into Dust Devil, who stabs him. Wendy goes looking for him in the building and not finding him comes back out to encounter Dust Devil. He looks at his watch: it is running backwards. He is not happy.

She threatens him with the gun but it jams and the demon advances upon her. Mukurob though, who is lying nearby, throws down the kerrie stick with his dying breaths as the monster advances, and as he crosses it, an instant too late realising what has happened, Wendy grabs the policeman’s shotgun and blows Dust Devil’s head clean off his shoulders.

As Wendy wanders out into the desert she comes across her husband, still handcuffed to Mukurob’s police car. For a moment she levels the shotgun at him, a dark, dead look in her eyes, then she turns and walks off into the desert, the shotgun over her shoulder. She walks out along the desert road, lies down and presses her ear to the ground, and presently a convoy of UN trucks arrives. She stands out in the middle of the road, hailing them.

It’s fairly apparent from the ending of the film that, just as Joe Niedman warned Mukurob, the Dust Devil has transferred his essence into Wendy, just before dying, and she is now his. Indeed, the final scene shows a figure garbed in a long shabby greatcoat and hat, the dress originally worn by the stranger in the opening scene, pass in front of a fiery setting sun. The end monologue seems to confirm this: "“The desert knows her name now, he has stolen both her eyes. When she looks into a mirror, she will see his spirit like a shore blowing tatters around her shoulders in a haze. And beyond the dim horizon, a tapestry unfolding of the avenues of evil, and all of history set ablaze”.

(Mostly from the narration of Joe Niedman)
“He sifts the human storm for souls. He can smell a town waiting to die and the manhood festering in a boy from a thousand miles away. Their smell is sweet to him.”

The doctor examines the corpse of the first victim:
“We’ve got evisceration, partial cremation, sexual mutilation, possibly even cannibalism. We found the remains of a clock wedged inside her, for god’s sake!”

Dust Devil is offered a ride by Wendy:

Wendy: “Where you headed for?”
Dust Devil: “Nowhere.”
Wendy: “Just came from there. Any other place I’m good for.”

Joe Niedman, in response to Mukurob’s query as to why the killer is taking fingers from his victims:
“There’s a whole lot of power in fingers. Lots of knuckles and such. If you want to win a war, you need a whole fistful of knuckles!”

Joe (in narration)
“This is the work of the naghtloeper, black magician, a shapeshifter. He seeks power over the material world through the ritual of murder. The power of vision, of ecstasy. The power to shield himself from detection, and death. To travel, and to transform, he feeds off our life, he preys upon the damned; the weak and the faithless, he draws them to him and he sucks them dry.”

Joe to Mukurob:
“You’ve got to stop thinking like a white man; start thinking like a man instead.”

Joe to Mukurob, in the cave:
“We are nothing to him. We are dust in the wind. He smelled Bethany dying, and he has come here for souls, to build his power and return to the realm of the spirit. Until the ritual is complete he is trapped ike us in the material world, bound by the flesh. He must work through human form while he is in this world, and so is vulnerable to human failings. Only through ritual, through any power over the flesh can a spirit awake to fuller consciousness. To work the ritual he must keep moving, but if he can be tricked to cross this kerrie he can be rooted to the spot and stripped of his power.”

Joe, again to Mukurb:
“Death hunts you, just as you hunt the Dust Devil.”

Joe (in narration)
“The serpent lures its pray entranced, eyes wide open, through the mirror, to the land of the dead. To the house of the dust, where the air is thick and hard to breathe.”

Those clever little touches

Just before Dust Devil disappears from the car, Wendy takes a bite from a shiny green apple. Eve biting into the apple of temptation while the devil urges her on?

There is also a reference, intended or not, to Kansas’s big hit “Dust in the Wind”, though the director wisely refrains from taking the easy route and using it in the soundtrack.

Why do I love this film?

For many reasons. One is the fact that it is, on the face of it, a movie I would normally not have bothered with nor been interested in checking out. Serial killers, ritual murder, usually not my scene. But this film blends in those elements with legend and myth, superstition and folklore and really neither proves nor disproves either. There’s a sceptic, as you would expect, in Ben Mukurob, but at the last he gambles that the Sangoma was not rambling and it is his throwing down of the kerrie stick that enables Wendy to get the drop on Dust Devil. Admittedly, she’s not fast enough in despatching him and gets taken over, but in essence the ploy works, and Niedman did after all warn Mukurob that this could happen.

It’s also a very small cast: three really. There are other people, the likes of Mark and the police captain, but they play relatively minor roles. The movie is really carried on the quite understated performances of the main trio. And understatement is the name of the game. Even Robert John Burke, in the role of Dust Devil, the supernatural killer said to be a demon from the desert, is quiet and menacing rather than maniacal. Chelsea Fields as Wendy portrays a desperate woman rapidly running out of things to live for, while Mukurob is a man with a dark past who is trying to atone for past mistakes, though we are never let in on what those mistakes were. They do seem to have led to the deaths of both his wife and son though.

I like the fact that, though the murders are savage and ritualisitic, and feature dismemberment you don’t see Dust Devil kill his victims, other than the first, and even there it’s just a basic snap of the neck. You don’t see him cut her up later. The most graphic thing in the movie really is the autopsy on the burned and dismembered corpse later. Even when we see the camper van and it’s obvious everyone inside is dead (we more or less know this when we see Dust Devil take a ride with them at the bar) there are few gory details. We see a window streaked with blood and a fly walking across it, and when the door is eventually opened later and the corpse or corpses discovered, the only thing we really see in close up is a severed hand. It’s not in-your-face gore; this movie trades more on the horror of what might have happened rather than shoving it front and centre in a “Saw” manner, which I much prefer. It’s left up to your imagination rather than forced down your throat.

The music, too, is great. A mixture of kind of Gregorian Chant with Spaghetti Western film themes, which works really well, and some African rhythms and melodies layered over it too. It all creates a very otherworldly atmosphere, a striking, desolate air that sends shivers down your spine.

And the setting is perfect for a film of this nature. Against the vast expanse of the unforgiving Namib Desert humans do indeed seem small and insignificant, and the idea that some all-powerful and evil entity is out there controlling everything is no doubt a notion that has come to the minds of anyone who has crossed such a desolate wilderness. It’s clever location too, because it obviously cut back on costs and provides a bleak, barren backdrop to a story of humans battling evil and eventually succumbing to it.

Dust Devil is also a classic case of a movie that succeeds without any big names, any flash settings or any - really, none - special effects. In fact, apart from the desert this movie could have been made on a shoestring budget, though it certainly does not show in the final product. But it avoids diverting attention away from the storyline and the characters; it doesn’t pad out the plot with too many unnecessary personnel, and the narration device is a good way to keep people apprised of how the story is coming along. It’s also a clever touch to have the narrator take part in the story.

Although loosely based on a real-life story of a serial killer in South Africa, the film really only borrows elements from that and mixes them in with local folklore and legend, stirring the whole thing up into a devil’s brew of a powerful story that comes across as both chilling and almost believable.

Finally, there’s a great sense of there being no happy ending about the movie. Sure, in the end the “bad guy” is defeated, but he’s almost then seen as just an aspect of evil, which reaches out and claims the one who vanquished him and makes her its new emissary. A message about the timeless and shifting nature of evil, and how humans invite the darkness in, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes all too willingly. In the vast desert, both of actuality and of imagery, the tiny soul of man, or woman, is swallowed up and lost.