Dee Snider - Carleton Hendricks/Captain Howdy
Kevin Gage - Detective Mike Gage
Brett Harrelson - Detective Steve Christian
Elizabeth Pena - Toni Gage
Linda Cardellini - Genevieve Gage
Robert Englund - Jackson Roth
Amy Smart - Angela Stravelli
Amal Rhoe - Tiana Moore
Year - 1998
Score - 1 Howl Outta 4
Back in the 1980s, heavy metal was all the rage. One of the bands who capitalized on it was Twisted Sister. With hit singles like "We're Not Gonna Take It (Anymore)", "I Wanna Rock", and "The Price" from their 1984 album "Stay Hungry", Twisted Sister captured the music world by storm with their infectious head banging music and even more famous make-up they wore in their videos. Dee Snider, the lead singer of the band, was the face of the group - scaring people with his big blonde hair and make up that the late Tammy Bakker would be jealous of. The government made the group even more famous when they criticized his lyrics, which Snider intelligently counterattacked in front of Congress and made fools out of government officials. Despite all this publicity, Twisted Sister got lost in the shuffle of other glam heavy metal bands and pretty much faded with a whimper in 1987 when they disbanded.
Dee Snider is still somewhat in the public eye. He performs music occassionally, hosted a radio program, and pops up on those VH1 specials as a correspondent. In 1998, he wrote a horror screenplay that went against the SCREAM clones that was the craze at the time. It was called STRANGELAND and it seemed to be a warning about the internet and all the sexual predators that cruise on it for unsuspecting victims. He even decided to produce and star in it. Obviously a vanity project, Dee Snider tries to create a new brand of horror in his own vision. Too bad with STRANGELAND, I would rather log off than sign on any day of the week.
In a small Ohio town, Genevieve Gage (Linda Cardellini) and her friend Tiana Moore (Amal Rhoe) mess around on an internet chat room. They suddenly start getting instant messages from a guy calling himself Captain Howdy (Dee Snider, trying to capitalize on THE EXORCIST), who claims to be a teenager and invites them to a party. Genevieve and Tiana decide to go, but end up missing for days. Tiana turns up dead while Genevieve is taken prisoner by the sinister Captain Howdy.
Genevieve's father, Detective Mike Gage (Kevin Gage), desperately searches for clues to find his daughter. Eventually, Gage finds out Howdy's location which saves Genevieve's life and puts the tattooed and pierced Captain Howdy [whose real name is Carleton Hendricks] in police custody. However, Hendricks is sent to a psychiatric institution to be treated. He gets a release after four years, obviously looking and acting like a changed man and ready to move on with his life.
However, the town doesn't want him back and decide to make Hendricks life a living hell. A lynch mob led by Jackson Roth (Robert Englund), and witnessed by Detective Gage, attacks Hendricks and decide to hang him in the woods. But Hendricks survives and goes off the deep end again, torturing everyone involved. Hendricks, now back as Captain Howdy, kidnaps Genevieve again and decides to finish what he started with the Gage family.
REVIEWI got three words for STRANGELAND:
WHAT THE F---!?
STRANGELAND is one of those films that has many ideas and messages that are dying to be explored but just end up confusing the narrative in the long run. Dee Snider obviously had a goal for this film as some kind of social commentary on sexual predators [or I think he did], but doesn't really dig far enough to really complete what he's trying to say. Honestly, I have no idea what message this film was trying to send to its audience. There was so many that I actually thought I was watching more than one film with the same characters. It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle and then realizing none of the pieces fit together at all. Just a mess really.
Dee Snider is really the one to blame for the mess. I mean, he wrote the script and tried to create a modern horror film that was some sort of commentary about the world we live in. And what's sad is that I saw and got what he was trying to say, but he never actually says it, just frustrating you. The first part of the film obviously deals with the dangers of trusting someone you don't know in an internet chat room. We've all heard stories about people meeting others online who just happen to be sexual predators. Hell, DATELINE on NBC has created a phenomenon with its TO CATCH A PREDATOR series. And yes, bad things happen to these girls for trusting a stranger from an online chat. But nothing really follows up on that. The film pretty much goes into its regular spin cycle of cliches and predictability, leaving its previous message in the dust.
Another part of the film that left me confused was bringing up Captain Howdy's tribal tattoos and piercings which relate to his methods of torture and murder. It's discussed and barely explained for five minutes and then...nothing. It's like Snider wrote it into the plot just to give Howdy some kind of character background but it doesn't lead to anything either. I can see why Snider would want Howdy to have some kind of self-explanation to make him look less like a freak. But Howdy becomes a freak at the end anyway, so why does it matter?
And I think my biggest gripe with the film is Howdy's character change from beginning to end. At the start of the film, we totally believe the guy is a freak with some sort of mental inbalance. I mean, he sticks hooks into people and sew their lips together as a way to bring them closer to death [or so I believe, I'm not really sure]. Once he's caught and treated for four years, Howdy [now Hendricks] is a sympathetic character that you feel bad for when the town treats him like shit. Here, we're not sure who the villain of the film is anymore: Hendricks or the town he lives in. And we kind of root for him when he gets back at the people who tried to hang him to death. But that changes when he kidnaps Geneveive again just to get back at Gage for arresting him and letting the town attempt to murder him. Do you believe Gage? I don't. Howdy becomes a creep again and all sympathy is gone. I'm not sure what Snider was driving at here.
The dialogue is also very cliched and pretty forced. It's obviously written by someone who probably never wrote a real screenplay in his life and there should have been someone with more experience than Snider to rewrite what needed to be polished. But at least the story has some decent cringe-worthy moments and has a nice bit of tension. Plus it's never boring, which is a plus.
The direction was okay. John Pieplow isn't gonna win any awards any time soon. It looks more like a late-90s MTV music video than anything, but it doesn't really hurt the film. It actually makes the film sort of appealing. There's decent pacing, nice moments of suspense - just a decent directorial job. And what was up with lack of gore and guts? There was barely any blood. All I saw were images of people getting tortured and then it would cut right away from it. Ho-hum.
The characters are pretty bland for the most part. The two detectives, Gage and Christian, aren't more than stereotypical police characters you usually get in films like these. It's pretty sad because Gage is the main protagonist but doesn't really do heroic things. He's pretty much an idiot who ends up getting lucky everytime he's against Howdy. I really couldn't root for him. And Christian was just annoying with his outbursts. The two girls, Genevieve and Tiana, didn't do anything for me either. They were victims of their own naivity and stupidity. They should have known better and I didn't feel sorry for them once. And the town community were stereotypical as well. We had the redneck who liked beer, sex, and accusing people of things they didn't do. Plus we have a religious woman who actually uses foul language to get her point across. I was waiting for one character to like in this film. Never happened.
Of course, the character with the most "depth" is not only the villain, but Dee Snider's character Captain Howdy! Gee, I wonder how THAT happened? And even though he was the only character with a background and stuff going on in the film, I still didn't understand Captain Howdy. Why did he do the things that he did? Why is he so interested in tribal tattoos and inflicting tribal customs on unwilling people? How does not taking one's pills for an hour make a quiet reserved guy back into a raging lunatic? Nothing about this character made sense. Like his dialogue, he was one big riddle. And by the end of the film, I stopped caring about figuring it out.
At least the acting was pretty good by everyone involved. But no one had a presence or had that "it" to be remotely memorable. Not even Snider, who tried his hardest to turn Captain Howdy into some sort of modern horror icon. If I have one suggestion, stick with the glam look. That look is a whole lot scarier than this entire film, sad to say.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE QUITTING MY CHAT ROOM ACTIVITIES COMPLETELY
1. Don't ever fall in love with someone named Captain Howdy. He's probably a redneck sailor, meaning not only does he like sea men but keeps it in the family too. Or maybe he's a future player on TO CATCH A PREDATOR. I have no idea which one is better or worse.
2. Genevieve had her lips sewn together so she couldn't scream. They should do the same to Ann Coulter. I'm sure everyone will vote unanimously on that decision.
3. The black girl, Tiana, died first. Nice to see some cliches will live on forever.
4. Captain Howdy gets off on torturing people by piercing their genitals. Hey, if it will help them satisfy their partner in the sack, then I'm all for it! Just keep that thing away from me. I'm cool, bro.
5. Robert Englund wants to take the rehabilitated Captain Howdy out for murdering all the town kids. You'd think he would be the most understanding of Howdy's situation. Oh the irony...
6. A member of the "Christians Against Moral Decay" called Howdy a "murdering son of a bitch" while condemning him to Hell. Against moral decay, huh? I'm sure cussing is off the list of all things immoral. Hypocrite.
7. The townspeople tried to hang Howdy to death for his past crimes, but failed and only pissed him off. He's not gonna take it. No, he ain't gonna take it. He's not gonna take it...anymore.
8. If your wife does a really bad striptease in front of you, she either has no rhythm or has her neck broken. In Bai Ling's case, I'm not really sure which.
9. Howdy sewed Robert Englund's eyes and lips shut while sticking metal hooks into him, torturing him. I'm sure it was a lot painful than what the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake will be. We're all still suffering over that announcement.
10. The things you don't do are more powerful than the things you do. Remember, karma has a way of biting you in the ass. So be active and not passive! Look at this negative review. If you still watch this film after reading it, don't blame me if you think it sucks!
THE FINAL HOWL
STRANGELAND is a weird film. I can't honestly recommend this one. I'm still trying to figure out what the film was mainly about since there were so many things going on that never really gelled as a whole. I give credit to Dee Snider for trying, but it just didn't work for me. There's no blood, no scares, nothing really memorable enough to elicit a repeated showing. Just listen to those great Twisted Sister songs and tune this film out. You'll be grateful for it, trust me.