The Movie Waffler DVD Review - Lust in the Dust (1985) | The Movie Waffler

DVD Review - Lust in the Dust (1985)

Arrowdrome's new release of Paul Bartel's cult camp western.

Directed by: Paul Bartel
Starring: Tab Hunter, Divine, Lainie Kazan, Geoffrey Lewis, Henry Silva, Cesar Romero, Woody Strode

The Movie:

Making a Western in the eighties must have seemed a bold idea. Making a camp, farcical, musical one with a female impersonator in the lead may have been outright foolhardy. Lust in the Dust is a film that on the surface should be a delight; a mixture of the high camp grotesquerie and satire that has served John Waters wayward work so well combined with the independent spirit and nose for contemporary issues in a grindhouse package that had produced such films as Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000 for director Paul Bartel.
When strong thighed Chanteuse Rosie Velez (Divine) arrives in the small desert backwater of Chilli Verde with her savior Abel Wood (Hunter), a mystery surrounding missing gold, a limerick and the existence of two tattooed buttocks unfolds. Add a rivalry between Rosie and the pneumatically upholstered Marguerita Ventura (Kazan) that could turn murderous and a gang of outlaws arriving on the scene also looking for the treasure and revenge. The plot is well worn, all the better to hang a series of set pieces, which, depending on your tolerance for high camp and the dubious charms of Divine as both an actor and singer, is either nails on the blackboard excruciating or a gay delight.
The problem is that the film seems so geared towards cult status, aiming for a raucous 42nd street or Scala Cinema crowd that positively demands interaction. It goes for bad taste but Bartel’s film chops are too skilled to make a deliberately grubby movie.What  you get is a mixture of sub par Carry On innuendo mixed with a rich visual aesthetic that wouldn’t disgrace a mainstream Western ( The films title comes from the nickname for the film Duel in the Sun, scandalously sexy and cleavage heaving in its day). The authenticity also stretches to the casting of such familiar faces as Juliette’s dad and long time Clint Eastwood collaborator Geoffrey Lewis and John Ford regular Woody Strode. Throw in gimlet eyed character actor Henry Silva and one time Batman nemesis Cesar Romero and you have no lack of named performers who can do this stuff in their sleep. Even Tab Hunter is giving it his full Clint impression as Abel Wood.
Made as a showcase for Divine, who had previously worked with Hunter on Polyester, the former Harris Glen Milstead has always been an acquired taste. Briefly hitting the UK charts with a cover of the song “Walk Like a Man”, but mostly known for her work with John Waters and in particular the original version of Hairspray. In Lust in the Dust the mixture of high camp and low brow comedy clashes with the labored drag schtick that Divine peddles here. Always working best as part of an ensemble, Waters always managed to bring the best out of her. Waters likes his grotesques and is unafraid to put them front and center, aiming his barbs at a square society that values surface over character, and if he can get someone to eat a dog turd on camera then all the better. You can tell Divine has gone mainstream with this Western, no fresh steamer here, a clearly fake dead vulture is as stomach turning as it gets.
In the end, what we have is a film uncertain in its approach. Afraid of letting itself go. It wants to be vulgar but not to disgust. It wants to flame and be camp, but not so it offends or be too flagrant in its homosexuality. It’s trying to be good bad taste and no one wants that. Or to put it another way, don’t feed me a Mars bar and tell me it’s dog shit.

Part of Arrows bare bones cult label, so all you get is an original trailer and a booklet by Michael Brooke.

Jason Abbey