Dee Snider’s Strangeland (1998) Film Review

strangeland 1998Dee Snider’s STRANGELAND 2: DISCIPLE is scheduled for production later this year, some eleven years after the first STRANGELAND was released on DVD. Dee Snider has been fighting the courts to claim back his creative rights over the movie, after the original production company Shooting Gallery had all of its material seized by the government. Finally, this year, he won and is promising us a sequel much more shocking and terrifying than the first, but is it really a case of better late than never? I revisited the original to review it, knowing that the release of the sequel would spark a new interest.

Firstly, I have a confession to make, and I may as well just come out with it: I’m the world’s biggest Dee Snider fan. I love the guy. My admiration for him is borderline obsession. So could this film possibly live up to my expectations of it? Well, to be fair, no. That’s not to say it’s all bad, however.

Carleton Henricks [played by Snider] is a glorious and menacing villain, obsessed with tattoos and body modification. He looks intense to say the least, with his flaming red Mohawk, pointed teeth and multiple piercings, not to mention a fantastically muscular and heavily tattooed body; he is a very intimidating character. Carleton, using the name Captain Howdy [the same as the demonic presence in The Exorcist] frequents internet chat rooms under the guise of an ordinary teenage boy. He invites the people he meets to ‘party,’ and once he has them, he tortures them. When he lures Detective Gage [played by Kevin Gage]’s daughter into his insane world, he keeps her with his other ‘party guests’ in his candle-lit basement where he sadistically tortures them whilst he gently explains his reasoning. The detective tracks him down, and he is arrested, prosecuted and declared insane. After four years and now a reformed character he is released with a whole new image and subdued demeanour. [I never want to see Dee Snider as a bespectacled cardigan wearer again; this was the most disturbing image in the whole film for me!]. He is hounded by the unforgiving locals who are hell bent on revenge, and when Jackson Roth [A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund] gets together with a group of friends, Hendricks is lynched and left for dead.

Of course, it couldn’t end there! Surviving the ordeal, Hendricks reverts to his old sinister self and sets out to terrorise those responsible…….

The best thing about Strangeland is Dee Snider’s character. Sinister, perverse, and yet strangely charming, Captain Howdy is brilliant: he looks amazing; he is well acted and thoroughly believable. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are not so great. In particular Kevin Gage was terrible; the screenplay went some way to excuse his lack of emotion at his daughter being taken, by explaining that he is ‘a man of steel’, but even with this reasoning, his calmness is more down to poor acting than bad writing. Robert Englund, however, is brilliant opposite Snider as the equally evil, but socially more acceptable rough neck, and it is promised that he will also appear in the sequel.

The screenplay is fair. For a first attempt, Snider did a good job, apart from one line that must be the worst line I’ve ever heard: On discovering his daughter trapped - naked in a cage, her lips sewn shut, and having endured agonising torture at the hands of this mad man – Gage puts his gun to Henricks’ throat and says ‘Give me a reason!’ What? There’s the reason right there swinging naked in that cage, you looney! 

The direction was poor and did nothing to build any kind of atmosphere, so I hope there’ll be a different director for the sequel. The soundtrack was good, including tracks from Megadeth, Pantera, Marilyn Manson, and Anthrax.

Strangeland arrived in theatres before torture porn became a recognized sub-genre (post-SAW and HOSTILE), and it may have been a bit ahead of its time to be properly appreciated. With decent actors and a good director, Strangeland could have been brilliant; instead the film is below average. Captain Howdy was every bit as good as I’d expected, however, and I have high hopes for the sequel, if it is well produced with a talented director and a strong supporting cast.

DEE SNIDER’S STRANGELAND (1998). Directed by John Pieplow. Screenplay by Dee Snider. Cast: Dee Snider, Kevin Gage, Elizabeth Pena, Robert Englund.

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Deborah Louise Robinson

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