Monday, March 26, 2007


By James Flower (

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It would be rude in the extreme for me to proceed without drawing your attention to the excellent Richard Stanley “official fansite”, titled Between Death And The Devil ( Much of the information in this article was gathered from that site, and it should be your first port of call for all things Stanley. They even have the unproduced script for Hardware 2!


Richard Stanley’s desert set art-horror opus Dust Devil had a chaotic post-production depressingly common to many horror films produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax company since: taken out of the director’s hands and re-edited and re-shot into a work that was a hollow shell of the director’s intentions. The Miramax version, running 87 minutes long (as opposed to the 107-minute director’s cut eventually released), was premiered at Cannes and then released internationally to almost total confusion from audiences. Trying to cash in on the wave of serial-killer thrillers that followed in the wake of The Silence Of The Lambs (During production, Stanley received production memos from Miramax simply saying, “More Silence”), this version remained the only available one on video for some time.

In a unique, audacious move, Stanley spent the next few years reclaiming the original film elements to put together his “Final Cut”, which was to resemble his original intentions as much as possible. Spending £44,000 out of his own pocket, Stanley completed the film his way, and the result was released on British video by Polygram and broadcast on UK TV by co-producer Channel Four. Now, the Final Cut has been released on DVD no less than three times, most notably in an astonishing five-disc set by independent American distributor Subversive Cinema. In a situation unthinkable ten years ago, it has become the commonly-seen, definitive version of the film, and the Miramax edit has vanished into ignominy.

As a big Dust Devil fan, I found myself wondering: could the Miramax cut really be as awful as Stanley claimed? I tracked down an NTSC VHS, and was surprised by the fact I actually quite enjoyed it. Before any other Stanley fans accuse me of being a Judas, no, I am certainly not saying that it is preferable to the Final Cut, or even that Stanley is wrong in dismissing it. (He claims he has been unable to watch it all the way through.) He is after all, a visionary who makes intensely personal films; Dust Devil, especially, is the unique product of his interest in the occult and his unease over his South African roots, and the Miramax cut away many of these interesting layers, a process that was undoubtedly extremely painful to him. (As he told one interviewer, “In any normal circumstances I would’ve never attempted to put out my cut. But in the case of Dust Devil I felt that if I did not put my cut out, the film essentially wouldn’t exist.”)

The Miramax cut is best seen as a condensed, streamlined version of the film – “Diet Dust Devil”, if you will. Providing the viewer lowers their standards enough, this version of the film is entertaining on its own terms as a slightly more commercial (though in Dust Devil’s case that’s not saying much), linear thriller. Whereas Stanley deliberately crashes several disparate plotlines together in order to disorientate the viewer into the film’s dream-like state, the shorter version “sorts out” the film, ostensibly making it less confusing. The narration by Joe (John Matshikiza) has been re-written (rumour has it by Peter Atkins, writer of the Weinstein-produced Hellraiser sequels) to provide a less abstract, more obvious glimpse into the Dust Devil’s background. And Stanley’s inarguable talent for visuals means that no matter what version of the film you see, it will be a treat for the eye. The result was often compared to other spare desert-bound, somewhat “arty” chillers like The Hitcher and Donald Cammell’s deeply underrated White Of The Eye.

It is undoubtedly still very confused, though; for example, the film deletes any reference to the killer Hitch’s (Robert Burke) more sympathetic side, seeking to make him (in the words of the VHS box) “a relentless Terminator from the spirit world”, but still retains elements of the character taking only people who want to die, muddling the audience’s reaction to him even further. (In fact, the Miramax cut extends this idea by reprising Hitch’s promise “We’re almost there…” several times, which the Final Cut does not.) The character of Ben Mukurob (Zakes Mokae) has his main character arc - his guilt over the death of his son manifested in nightmares about his departed wife - excised completely, turning him into an obsessed cop with little other motivation. Generally, the Final Cut is, perhaps predictably, a richer, more engrossing experience, both in terms of character detail – Mark (Rufus Swart) becomes less of a clumsy oaf, for one – and allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the Namibian mileau.

But the Miramax version still serves as an interesting curio, and one that new fans often question about having had the Final Cut as their first Dust Devil experience. It is unlikely to be released on DVD, and perhaps that is best. But for the curious, the following is a comprehensive list – in chronological order - of how the shorter version differs from the director’s cut. I have tried to make it as exhaustive as possible, even going to the trouble of having both cuts play simultaneously on two screens side by side just to catch little differences that might otherwise be missed. It is intended for Final Cut viewers who have never seen the Miramax cut, though can be understood to some extent by people coming to the film vice versa; but certainly the former seems to outweigh the latter nowadays.

Three sources were used for this article: a DVD of the Final Cut, released by German company Laser Paradise; the Miramax/Paramount NTSC VHS of the shorter version; and a DVD-R of the Italian VHS release, re-titled Demoniaca, which is identical to the Miramax edit with one or two exceptions that are noted in this review. Note that the Italian VHS is open-matte, meaning that the top and bottom of the screen include picture information not present in the widescreen DVD releases. This is not Stanley’s preferred vision though, as evidenced by the amount of boom mics on display throughout the film. All screencaps are from the Italian DVD-R. I will refer henceforth to the Miramax cut as Demoniaca to distance it from Dust Devil (after all, Stanley has said “It’s almost another movie made from the same rushes as mine”), but as aforementioned, will differentiate between the Italian and US releases if necessary.


NOTE: Stanley has said in the past that Miramax drastically re-graded the colours in the film, making them “deep red”, apparently to resemble his earlier film Hardware. Personally I, however, can detect little difference between the three copies I saw, except that the reds and yellows in the opening and closing scenes were much more bit more saturated in both VHS copies; perhaps Stanley never made it past the opening five minutes? If anything, the colours looked more “natural” in the Miramax VHS than the Final Cut DVD.

The Italian VHS features a different design of credits – in Italian, obviously – but they all appear in the same order and at the same time as the opening credits in all other cuts. (Just to avoid confusion, the credits are both exactly the same on the Final Cut and the Miramax/Paramount VHS.)

The second half of Joe’s opening titles narration is different:
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 in the earth. But having once been a man, so does he still suffer the passions of a man. The people of the great Namib, me and my ancestors before me, we have another name for those violent winds that blow from nowhere. We call them... dust devils.

Unlike the Final Cut, Demoniaca features narration by Joe as Saartjie Haarhoff (Terri Norton) pulls to the side of the road to pick up Hitch:
Like moths into the flame, the dust devil draws them into his fatal aura. Hypnotised by his razor glare they came - the faithless, the grieving, the lost.

During the negative image of Saartjie, we hear Hitch say "Saartjie...", but Demoniaca also adds him saying "We're almost there..." which isn't in the Final Cut.

The shot of Hitch gliding his knife along Saartjie’s back (having just broken her neck) is a few seconds longer than in the Final Cut, though nothing new happens.

Between Saartjie’s death and the first Wendy (Chelsea Field)/Mark scene, Demoniaca has a shot of Hitch unveiling a set of sharp tools he is inevitably going to use on Saartjie’s corpse, as opposed to the Final Cut’s shots of an owl outside and the moon falling.

The scene of Ben talking to his dead wife Katie on the phone is completely cut from Demoniaca.

Demoniaca loses the shots of Hitch in the shower and the blood on the wall (before the full carnage is unveiled in the next shot).

As Hitch prepares to leave Saartjie’s house, just as the camera comes closer to her severed hand, there is another voiceover by Joe in Demoniaca:
Their death, his gift to them. Their blood, the tribute he takes, to paint his way out of the circle of incarnation.

Demoniaca cuts out the scene of Hitch getting the petrol cans from the car boot, walking up the steps and drinking tea on Saartjie’s veranda. Instead, it cuts straight to the close-up of Hitch’s hand dialing the radio to the religious broadcast.

As well as the shot of Hitch getting in the car and starting to drive being trimmed in half, Demoniaca deletes a few shots as Hitch leaves: a medium shot of Hitch driving, and close-ups of burning objects around the house (including a photo of a baby). The evangelist’s rantings are shorter as a result.

The scene of Mark confronting Wendy (just before she walks out) is re-cut in Demoniaca. Here, it cuts straight to him slapping her, following by his saying, “You’re lying to me Wendy! Where were you?” In the Final Cut, the two have a longer argument sequence (including said dialogue) that culminates in Mark’s slap.

As Wendy leaves the house, there is some very awkwardly dubbed-in dialogue in Demoniaca:
MARK: Get out of my house! Now!
WENDY: Your house? Your house? You bastard!
Then it resumes to "I'm not changing my mind, not this time" as in Final Cut.
After Wendy drives off, Demoniaca features an aerial shot of Wendy’s car driving through town that is not in the Final Cut.

The scene in the Final Cut of Joe waking up to a phone call about Saartjie’s death is deleted from Demoniaca. Instead, it cuts straight to him driving his land rover into the crime scene.

The brief shot of Ben turning his “whalesong” cassette off is deleted, along with the sound of the tape.

After the policemen look at the burned remains of Saartjie’s house, it cuts to the scene of Hitch talking to the two men on the train. In Demoniaca, the scene opens with an aerial shot of the train; in the Final Cut, this shot is used to close the scene.

The scenes of Wendy driving through the desert and the policemen discovering the abandoned car are deleted in Demoniaca.

After the first two shots of the cows in the station, Demoniaca cuts straight to the passengers walking through dust (eventually revealing Hitch). The Final Cut has two more shots of the cows being herded, including a close-up of one's eye.

As Hitch walks out of the train station, the Italian VHS cuts in a brief subliminal shot of Wendy driving, then goes back to the shot as usual. This is not in the Miramax VHS, or any other cut of the film.

There is a voice-over from Joe as Hitch walks through the streets of Bethany:
He has been here since the first times, passing from one human host to another, searching out the damned he walks this world drawn to his prey as they are drawn to him. He smelled Bethany dying, and now he's come for the souls he needs, souls to empower his return to the realm of the spirit.

There is also voice-over from Joe at the beginning of the firing range scene. Interestingly, it seems to insinuate the boy at the firing range is a "dust devil" too.
He has kin. Though his people are few. They see each other, behind their masks of flesh. But like the hawk, they hunt alone.

After the firing range scene, the Final Cut goes straight to the morgue scene with Dr Leidzinger (Marianne Sagebrecht). This scene takes place later in Demoniaca, which instead cuts to Wendy pulling her car up outside the diner.

Demoniaca cuts the scene of Wendy asking the barman where the washroom is, and subsequently washing her face in said room. Instead, it goes straight to the close-ups of the pinball machine being played by Hitch as Wendy leaves the washroom.

The video of Wendy that Mark is watching is different in the two cuts; in the Final Cut, we see Wendy sink to the bottom of the pool; in Demoniaca, she stays afloat.

The subsequent close-up of Wendy in the diner (which then fades to the “driving at night” sequence in the Final Cut) is deleted from Demoniaca.

(Now this is where the re-ordering of scenes gets rather complicated – many apologies if this becomes as difficult to read as it was to write!)

At this point Demoniaca cuts to the scene of Hitch watching Wendy nearly slit her wrists in the bath, which is much later in the Final Cut. There is a voice-over from Joe in Demoniaca as Wendy holds the razor blade over her wrist:
He hears the silent call of the damned, the faithless, and never fails to answer. But only when they are truly ready will he draw them into his dark embrace.

A few shots from the Final Cut are missing from this sequence also: a long shot of the motel from outside; a brief shot of the light reflecting off Hitch’s blade; and the shots from outside the motel of Wendy peering out of her room (and seeing there’s nothing there), a coyote silhouetted on a hill and the moon creeping behind the clouds. Instead, Demoniaca cuts straight from Wendy opening her door (from inside the room) to the scene of her driving at night.

The “driving at night” scene is edited slightly differently in Demoniaca to incorporate different footage not in the Final Cut. Demoniaca opens the scene with the close-up of the owl that closes the scene in the Final Cut. Also, there are four cutaways to a masked Hitch (i.e. a body double hired for Miramax pick-up shots) walking from a burning wreck and raising his blade, replacing the shot from the Final Cut of Hitch (played here by Richard Stanley, fact fans) transforming in Wendy’s headlights.

Here, Demoniaca cuts to the morgue sequence with Ben and Dr Leidzinger. Unlike the Final Cut, however, which divides this scene into two shorter scenes, Demoniaca has it as one long scene. The Demoniaca version is missing a few cutaways from the Final Cut of freaky objects in the morgue, such as fetuses in jars. Instead, it features a longer version of the cutaway to the bloody mural on Saartjie’s wall, taking in a pan to a blood-spattered photo on the wall. Some angles are different in this scene, such as a long shot of the two that is placed earlier. The dialogue that opens the second scene in the Final Cut is gone (“Did he sleep with her?” “If he did, he didn’t come”) as well as their final conversation about Joe (Demoniaca finishes after the line “You must have a local sancoma, why don’t you ask him about it?”).

Ben’s nightmare about his wife Katie is deleted from Demoniaca. The opening shot of him asleep in bed is used later on, however.

After both versions fade to the sun looming over the mountains, Demoniaca deletes the scene of Wendy waking up in the car and seeing a light from the cliff tops (which she then follows), as well as the shots from outside and inside the dead man’s trailer. Instead, Demoniaca cuts to Ben walking into the drive-in (Star of Bethany) to see Joe, which is later in the Final Cut.

Ben visiting Joe is edited differently in Demoniaca. The opening shot is missing Ben driving up in his car (and the voice-over from the Final Cut), but opens instead with a longer, uninterrupted take of Ben walking through the archway and up to Joe which is cut up in the Final Cut. Demoniaca deletes the shots of Joe watching Ben arrive as a dust storm gathers in the distance, and resumes from Joe’s line “Been talking to him Ben…” as Joe sits in the rock spiral. The dialogue about “loom” as Joe points to the mini-tornado in the distance is cut from Demoniaca also.

Because of the re-editing to the drive-in scene, after the policeman steals the watch from the severed hand, Demoniaca cuts to the second scene of Hitch and Wendy on the road rather than to Ben entering the Star of Bethany, as in the Final Cut.

Before Wendy says "When you're dead you're dead, that's it", there is a shot in the Final Cut of a hawk landing on ground that is not in Demoniaca.

Ben's line "For Christ's sake what have you done?" to the brutal policemen is delivered on-camera in the Final Cut (and Miramax VHS); in the Italian VHS, it is laid over a shot of the prisoner's wounded face. After the line "Release him!" Demoniaca cuts straight to the wheel of the train grinding to a halt then Ben's nightmare about Saartjie.

Cornelius’ (William Hootkins) intervention in the prison, and Ben’s drink in the bar with him is deleted from Demoniaca.

In Demoniaca, Ben's nightmare about Saartjie is preceded by the shot from the earlier nightmare of him in bed murmuring "Katie... Katie..." (In the Final Cut, we see a close-up of Ben’s eyes, then a flutter of a hawk’s wings, and then the dream begins.) There is also some additional dialogue from the policemen at the beginning of the dream (before Ben enters the room) that is not in the Final Cut: "the Haarhoff woman is here sir." "She's in here sir. She's been waiting for you sir. I'm afraid you'll have to explain it to her."

The scene where Hitch re-appears in Wendy’s car outside the motel: After Wendy asks "And what makes you so sure I want to give you a ride?" it cuts straight to a brief shot of Hitch being silent, before cutting to Wendy smiling and closing the door (which in the Final Cut she only does after Hitch's line "I won't blame if you tell me to take a hike").

Before the scene where Ben goes to see Cornelius at his house, the Final Cut has a shot of a monkey on top of a hill that is deleted from Demoniaca.

After the wife honks the horn and Cornelius tells her off, there is an alternate angle from the front of Cornelius saying "I'd better not keep her waiting" in Demoniaca before cutting back to "You have to look after yourself Ben" as in the Final Cut.

Demoniaca erases Wendy's line "We're driving in circles, I'm sure of it" when she and Hitch drive up to the canyon.

When Ben is sawing the barrels off his shotgun (just before Hitch and Wendy’s dance at the motel), Demoniaca cuts out the close-ups of the television programme of whales being clubbed.

Like Joe entering the drive-in, Demoniaca features a longer, uninterrupted take of Hitch and Wendy dancing to Hank Williams outside the motel. The shots from the Final Cut of the moon, an owl, and the bottle moving on the table as Hitch and Wendy continue to dance are gone; Demoniaca cuts straight to the beetle moving across the old coins.
Since Ben’s nightmare was moved, Demoniaca cuts straight to the scene of Mark entering the bar.

The crosscutting between Mark getting beaten up, Ben and Joe talking about the Dust Devil, and Hitch and Wendy having sex is edited slightly differently in Demoniaca. Wendy licking Hitch’s fingers is cut; the first shot of Joe leading Ben into the cave is cut; and the shot of Ben shining his torch around the cave and seeing the spiral on the wall is not only placed slightly earlier, but divided into two, so we only see the spiral after Hitch comes.

Hitch’s teary monologue (as the camera spirals down from the ceiling) is cut completely from Demoniaca.

When Hitch has his flashback in the shower, Demoniaca cuts to a shot of the car driving away from Saartjie’s house, as opposed to the Final Cut’s helicopter shot of the house.

Mark’s arrest is edited so we don’t see the policeman’s face; his dialogue is played over Mark on the floor being handcuffed.

In Demoniaca, the shot of the demonic Dust Devil in the mirror offering the bowl goes negative halfway through.

Joe’s dialogue/voice-over is different in Demoniaca; in the first half of the scene he says:
This is the work of a dust devil. Black magician. A shapeshifter. He gains power in this world through the ritual ecstacy of murder. He is as trapped as his victims. The killings are a means to an end, and that end is his tranformation, his transcendance, his escape.
And then later Joe says:
You can't hunt a dust devil (he says “nagtloper” in the Final Cut) like an ordinary criminal. He is of the spirit, we are nothing to him. We are here just to use and discard. His world is older than ours. He has been here since the first times, he and his kin, walking in our shadows. Their hearts as dry as the desert sands. Leeches growing fat on the world's pain. Until this ritual is complete he is trapped, like us. Bound by the flesh. There's only one way to rub out a dust devil. He must work through human form, while he is in this world. So he's vulnerable to human failings.

In Demoniaca, Joe says, "Fail in this and he will take you, his murderer, to be his new host," rather than "Otherwise he will take you..." as in the Final Cut. Then Demoniaca has an additional, dubbed-in line: "Take the stick. You must complete the ritual, burn the root."

A few shots of Ben being hesitant about taking the stick from Joe are cut from Demoniaca; here, he takes it almost straight away when offered.

Before the close-up shot of Wendy grabbing the keys, there is a shot of Hitch on the bed. In Demoniaca he is still unconscious; in the Final Cut he is stirring, touching the back of his head, waking up. Before Hitch grabs Wendy's leg, the Final Cut has a shot of him crawling across the floor; Demoniaca omits this.

Demoniaca has two extra shots during the car crash: a close-up of Wendy's face, and a close-up of the truck's headlights getting closer and closer. There is an extra shot somewhere during the second crash as well.

After Mark throws away Wendy’s letter in the motel room, Demoniaca deletes the shots from the Final Cut of the turkey and Wendy bandaging her wounded ankle with a strip from her dress, instead cutting straight to Hitch watching her with binoculars.

Demoniaca cuts Mark's speech about how he and Wendy met, instead opening the scene with Ben's line "The tracks lead straight on to open desert..." which is dubbed onto the opening two-shot of Mark and Ben in Demoniaca (omitting the pan from the Final Cut). Demoniaca cuts the shot at the end of this scene of Ben putting the whalesong tape on, though the whale music remains on the soundtrack.

As the sandstorm sweeps over Wendy, Demoniaca cuts a shot from above of sand blowing over Wendy (who is lying in a foetal position).

Demoniaca has a different version of the scene following the fade to black as Ben walks into the storm, leaving Mark behind. In the Final Cut, we fade up to the sleeping Wendy at night, a spotlight over her in the sand-filled cinema, as a snake slithers towards her and Hitch puts a hand through her hair. In Demoniaca, however, we fade up to a shot of the moon at dusk, behind a sandy hill, as it pans down, then fades to alternate takes of the snake slithering towards her. The colours in these shots, as well as Hitch putting his hand through her hair before she wakes up, are re-graded so they look like they take place during the day.

There is also a voice-over from Joe during this scene:

She has stepped through the mirror now. And she and he are one. Partners in a dance of death, from which neither can withdraw until the circle is completed.

Demoniaca features an alternate take of Wendy’s reaction to seeing the empty town, wherein she puts her hands through her hair.

In Demoniaca, there is a shot of Wendy walking up to the house, shouting "There must be somebody here!" The line is delivered on-camera, whereas in the Final Cut it is laid over one of a series of shots of the empty town which are excised from Demoniaca.

In Demoniaca, as Ben sees Wendy on the steps, he shouts "Mrs Robinson!"; he does not at all in the Final Cut.

Demoniaca omits the sound of the phone ringing from the house present in the Final Cut; instead Ben and Wendy hear a strange grinding sound coming from the house.

As the camera pans around the house, after we see Hitch through the window in the mirror, Demoniaca cuts straight to Ben walking through the sand-filled doorway, deleting his picking up the phone and hearing his wife's voice.

Before the cinema scene, Demoniaca features two additional shots from around the town: one of the back gate of a house swinging in the wind (we see this earlier in the Final Cut); the camera moving in slow motion up a sand hill in the house (this is unique to Demoniaca); and then Wendy waiting with the gun (an abbreviated version of a shot that comes later in the Final Cut). Also, a shot of Ben squeezing through a doorway filled up with sand is cut out in Demoniaca.

In Demoniaca, as Ben sees his wife in the rays of the projector, we hear a ghostly reprise of Hitch’s line “We’re almost there…”, rather than in the Final Cut, where there is voice-over from Joe.

After the film rolls off the screen, Demoniaca cuts back to the projector turning itself off and Ben realising he is alone in the cinema. (Rather than being new, these shots may very well be previous ones played backwards.) Because the shot that follows in the Final Cut (Wendy holding the gun) was moved earlier, Demoniaca then cuts straight to Ben running outside and being stabbed by Hitch.

Demoniaca cuts out Hitch speaking in Ben’s wife’s voice (“It’s all because of you, you and your stupid pride”) before he stabs him. A brief jittery cutaway of hawk’s eyes during the attack is also removed.

As Mark cries for help as Wendy walks away, Demoniaca omits an aerial shot of the car, a close-up of Mark ("Wendy?"), and fades straight into the next shot, a long shot of Wendy (shot through sweltering heat) walking down the highway.

Joe’s final voice-over is different in Demoniaca:
The desert knows her name now. The devil has taken her hand, he has stolen both her eyes. When she looks into a mirror she will see his shadow. The dust devil must keep moving to survive. Blown by the desert wind, on and on throughout eternity, without rest, or pity.

Before the credits in Demoniaca, the film fades to black over the final shot of Joe. In the Final Cut, the final shot is of Hitch walking into the sunset. In Demoniaca, this is shown after the credits have finished, and has the words "(C) 1992 PALACE (DEVIL) LIMITED 1992" and "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED" over it.

The Final Cut has additional "Final Cut" credits not featured in Demoniaca, and the Italian VHS has additional end credits for people who worked on the Italian release, e.g. the dubbing performers.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


DVD Comparison by James Flower (

The Reflecting Skin (Imagica, Japan, R2 NTSC)
Video: Anamorphic 1:78:1
Sound: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: Japanese (optional)
Chapters: 12
Extra Features: Trailer, Text Notes, Foldout Poster

Schrei In Der Stille (Laser Paradise, Germany, R2 PAL)
Video: Full-Frame 1:66:1
Sound: German Stereo/German Dolby Digital 5.1/German DTS
Subtitles: German (optional)
Chapters: 20
Extra Features: Trailers (Superstition/Teuflische Begegnung/Greenfingers/Fast Sofa), Filmographies (Viggo Mortensen/Lindsay Duncan/Jeremy Cooper)

La Piel Que Brilla (DeaPlaneta, Spain, R2 PAL)
Video: Anamorphic 1:85:1
Sound: Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: None.
Chapters: 15
Extra Features: None.

Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) is an eight-year old boy living in an isolated farming community in the 1950s. With nothing to do, he and his friends Eben and Kim spent their time torturing animals and harassing a nearby English widow, Dolphin Blue (Lindsey Duncan). Upon reading a pulp horror book owned by his father Luke (Duncan Fraser), Seth becomes convinced that Dolphin is a vampire. His fears are exacerbated when Eben goes missing, and is later found dead and sodomised at Luke’s gas station. Luke becomes a suspect, and rather than be arrested, he kills himself by dousing himself in gasoline and setting himself alight. This prompts the return home of Cameron (Viggo Mortensen), Seth’s older brother, who has been overseeing A-bomb testing in the Pacific. Cameron starts a relationship with Dolphin, whom Seth is convinced murdered Eben, and is out to kill him and Cameron next. As Cameron falls more in love with Dolphin, and Kim is also found murdered – in fact, as with Eben, by a group of young paedophiles in a black Cadillac – Seth’s quest to stop Dolphin leads to an unforgettable, bleak conclusion.

One of the most visually ambitious features from a first-time director to come out of the 1990s, the release of The Reflecting Skin (co-financed by the BBC) in 1990 announced Philip Ridley as one of the most promising filmmakers in contemporary British cinema. Ridley puts his love of horror films, Andrew Wyeth and Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine in a blender with a caustic look at 20th century American history to create a film that manages the rare trick of being unforgettably disturbing without resorting to explicit violence or sexual content. Though his refusal to compromise his artistic integrity means he has only made one film since – 1995’s The Passion Of Darkly Noon – the reputation of Ridley’s debut has continued to grow in the ensuing years, in spite of its relative obscurity. (I even wrote my university dissertation about it, an exclusive interview with Ridley being the centrepiece of my research.)

Due to rights issues, the film has not been released on DVD in the UK or the US. (I shall address this in the summation at the end of this review.) Three releases have cropped up in various parts of the globe, however, each with various points of interest that warrant examination until a preferable domestic release becomes available. In this review, I hope to give you enough information to make an informed decision about which copy you will buy (or not). To save confusion, I shall refer to them by their international titles: the Japanese release as The Reflecting Skin; the German release as Schrei In Der Stille; and the Spanish disc as La Piel Que Brilla. All three DVDs feature the exact same version of the film (there are no alternate versions in existence), but with varying running times due to PAL speed-up and the presence of company logos.


Schrei In Der Stille is the biggest disappointment of these three releases, especially given the quality of the rest of the disc. Presented in non-anamorphic 1:66:1, the picture is fuzzy, lacking in definition, with the light exposed a few stops too many. In addition, it also seems to have been telecined a little too far to the left, leaving a black bar on the side of the screen (see screencaps). Apparently a full-screen version has also been released, but I have not bought it to compare; I imagine it looks even worse than this.

The Reflecting Skin shows the film in anamorphic 1:78:1, and whilst the picture is somewhat soft and low on contrast, it is nonetheless acceptable. Colours, often have a browner tint than there should be, though this oddly works within the pastoral setting of the film. There are compression artefacts in some scenes however, tell-tale signs that the disc is just a single-layer DVD.

Surprisingly, the otherwise dispensible La Piel Que Brilla features the best picture transfer out of the three DVDs. As opposed to the softer, oftentimes washed-out tones of the other two DVDs, this DVD features a very sharp 1:85:1 anamorphic presentation of the film, showing more picture information on the sides than either, and with a much more vivid colour palette to boot. Scratches and other picture noise are practically non-existent; the print looks remastered, possibly even brand new. While it can come off as a little too dark in some scenes, this is still by some distance the winner.

(Scroll to bottom of page for screencaps of all three releases.)


Imagica are the instant victors here due to the fact the Japanese release is the only one to feature the original English-language audio. It features a pretty standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that’s serviceable though nothing particularly special. La Piel Que Brilla also features a standard 2.0 mix, this time however dubbed into Spanish.

Schrei In Der Stille, on the other hand, offers a frustrating glimpse at what could have been. Although it is only in dubbed German, unlike the other two release Laser Paradise have included 5.1 and DTS remixes (as well as the standard 2.0). I cannot review the latter as I don’t have the equipment to play it – the 5.1 mix, however, is stunning, doing particular justice to Nick Bicat’s fantastic, deeply underrated score. Listen to the choral voices as Seth explores Dolphin’s house just before Cameron’s “pretty islands” soliloquy – the effect is spellbinding in a manner that just doesn’t come across at all on the 2.0 mixes. One only hopes an English-language release can be given similar care in its audio presentation one day. (And let’s have a CD release of the score as well, dangnammit!)


By far and away, this is the best feature on the Schrei In Der Stille disc. Opening with a brief cut of Seth running into the field about to unleash his climactic final screams, an abridged version of Nick Bicat’s opening credits theme plays as slow-motion shots of Seth, Cameron and Dolphin unreel over another shot of Dolphin’s house. Select the “Szenenauswahl” (or Scene Selection), and following a brief shot from Seth’s first scene in Dolphin’s house, an edited version of the end credits music plays over a photo of Seth screaming, with the selectable scenes actually playing in their respective boxes. The audio selection menu is a static shot of Cameron (mixed with Seth from the gas station fire), playing in silence. The extras menus are also static and silent, showing a picture of Seth superimposed over Cameron’s first shot in the film. The most beautiful thing about these menus – other than their brilliant use of Bicat’s music – is a pastel-coloured, crayon-like effect used throughout, appropriately recalling the film’s painterly style. (Both The Reflecting Skin and The Passion Of Darkly Noon actually grew out of an exhibition of artworks Ridley displayed in the late-eighties, titled American Gothic.) Any future special-edition release would do well to emulate these designs.

The menu on The Reflecting Skin is static, and designed to resemble the DVD sleeve’s front cover, with a picture of Viggo Mortensen imposed onto a picture of Seth and Kim running out of Dolphin’s house. Again, an edited version of the opening credits music plays over it. The extras menu simply displays a static photo of Seth and Dolphin beside the black Cadillac, this time in silence. The scene selection menu is also static with no sound, and uses a cool, Gothic-looking “goat’s skull” icon to illuminate the selected scene.

La Piel Que Brilla simply uses a close-up photo of Lindsay Duncan over its main menu, with a snippet of the end credits music playing over the top. This music also plays over the static scene selection menu, which mainly uses the same (quite rare) publicity photo of Seth sitting in Dolphin’s house used as the DVD’s cover art.


The Imagica DVD is the clear winner here. The main special feature is the British theatrical trailer for the film, which excellently tackles the unenviable task of presenting the style and tone of the film to new audiences. It is clearly sourced from a VHS, being in significantly inferior quality to the main feature, but its presence in itself – given how rare it is – is something to be grateful for. Outside the actual DVD, included within the case is a foldout reproduction of the poster (Seth in the chair holding the harpoon – also used as the cover of the US VHS). Text notes on the film are included on the back of the poster, including a brief bio on Mortensen. However I cannot give a review of them, seeing as they are in Japanese.

The extras menu on Schrei In Der Stille also lists a trailer, but don’t get your hopes up – it turns out to be dubbed trailers for four other films, none of which bear any relation to The Reflecting Skin. Biographies/filmographies are included for Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan and Jeremy Cooper, though these appear to be copied verbatim from the Internet Movie Database. (Very lazy!)

La Piel Que Brilla is a totally vanilla (extras-free) disc.

The Winner

The Japanese R2 wins by sheer default – because of the inclusion of the original English-language audio, and its choice of extras. I declare it the winner with some reservations, however, seeing as the Spanish DVD offers superior picture quality, and the German disc gives us an example of what a treat it would have been if Imagica had splashed out on a 5.1/DTS remix (and nicer menus). As a budget-priced stopgap, I have no reservations recommending those two releases to German or Spanish-speaking fans (even if the dubbing is a bit silly). Clearly, there is much room for improvement for a future DVD release of The Reflecting Skin. But how likely is it?

When I interviewed Philip Ridley in January 2006, he told me that Tartan Video had investigated releasing both this and Darkly Noon on DVD in the UK, but were unable to locate the rights owners. The film was released theatrically in America by Miramax, which offers the terrifying possibility that the US rights are owned by Disney, who would almost certainly never release it. Though this is just conjecture, it is more likely however that the US rights may be owned by Lion’s Gate, seeing as the original American video release was handled by Live Home Video, who subsequently morphed into Artisan, who were then acquired by Lion’s Gate. (Just as a potential lead: UK releases of some Artisan-acquired titles have been handled by Columbia-Tristar, e.g. films from the Vestron library like Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride and Bernard Rose's Paperhouse. Otherwise it may even be worth asking the BBC…?)

The fact that the three discs reviewed here are distributed by independent companies seems to imply – thank God - that the rights are not held up by an international conglomerate, who would possibly have no interest in releasing a weird little art film that failed to do much box office. Unfortunately, it all remains a mystery for the time being.

A crying shame, especially seeing as Viggo Mortensen’s star is more in the ascendant than ever following his much-deserved Lord Of The Rings success (not to mention his chilling performance in David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence). As its cult cache continues to grow year after year, perhaps one day a company like Criterion may preserve the film as it deserves to be, with an HD remaster and sackloads of extras (including retrospective documentaries, Ridley’s storyboards and early short films) – Tartan UK’s recent boxset of Chan-Wook Park’s ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ and Subversive Cinema’s jaw-dropping 5-disc handling of Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil are two such role models. Until then, these three releases will have to do; I hope this article helps you make the right choice.

DVD screencaps (click for larger view)
From left to right: Schrei In Der Stille - The Reflecting Skin - La Piel Que Brilla

German DVD menus

Japanese DVD menus

Spanish DVD menus

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