Strangeland (1998) poster

Strangeland (1998)


USA. 1998.


Director – John Pieplow, Screenplay – Dee Snider, Producers – Dee Snider & David L. Bushell, Photography – Goran Pavicevic, Music – Anton Sanko, Music Supervisor – Barry Cole, Special Effects Supervisor – Matt Anderson, Makeup Effects – Michael Burnett, Captain Howdy Tattoo Design – Bayoran ‘Bee’ Cortes, Production Design – Debbie De Villa. Production Company – The Shooting Gallery Inc/Snider Than Thou Productions


Dee Snider (Carleton Hendricks/Captain Howdy), Kevin Gage (Detective Mike Gage), Brett Harrelson (Detective Steve Christian), Elizabeth Peña (Toni Gage), Linda Cardellini (Genevieve Gage), Robert Englund (Jackson Roth), Tucker Smallwood (Captain Churchill Robbins), Amy Stuart (Angela Stravelli), Amal Rhoe (Tiana Moore)


In Helverton, Ohio, Genevieve Gage and her friend Tiana go out on a date with a chatroom lurker known as Captain Howdy but fail to return. Tiana turns up dead. Genevieve’s father, police detective Mike Gage, obsessively tracks Captain Howdy down as the body-piercing freak Carleton Hendricks and arrests him. However, Hendricks is only sentenced to a psychiatric institution. Released after four years and deemed cured, Hendricks returns to Helverton. An attack by a lynch mob of angry parents then sends Hendricks over the edge again and causes the Captain Howdy personality to emerge. He kidnaps Genevieve and determines to settle old scores with Gage.

In the 1980s, Dee Snider was the lead singer with the heavy metal band Twisted Sister. Twisted Sister had a big hit with the single We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore (1984) and incurred the wrath of much parental outrage, due to Dee Snider’s garishly over-the-top crossdressing antics and ghastly makeup. Beyond the five-minute appeal of the single, Twisted Sister failed to sustain their shock theatrics into any substantial musical content and the group disbanded in 1987. Dee Snider is still about, performing with other groups and even maintains his own website The oddest reappearance Snider made was as the star, screenwriter and producer of this peculiar vanity production.

It is now the 1990s. Snider clearly still desires to cause parental outrage but all his crossdressing theatrics are passé and here he now models himself as a Marilyn Manson copycat. As such, the film co-opts the imagery of 1990s body piercing, tattooing and body art counterculture – there is even a speech about the right gauges of metal to pierce with. Snider cuts a freakish figure with tattooed body, red mohawk and with piercings all over his cheeks, nose and brow, even his eyelids. There are some fairly wild images of whippings, seeing Snider strung up and being hung by his nipples and victims with their lips sewn shut, their bodies pierced, impaled through spikes and hung on chains (even if in the end all the body-piercing, BDSM imagery has only been borrowed for old hat shock imagery).

Its moderately charged wildness aside, Strangeland feels confused. One senses there is something oddly autobiographical to it upon Dee Snider’s part. There is the shock rock role he obviously relishes, and one that he was charged with by parental groups of the 1980s – of the demoniac figure corrupting and torturing children. [The character Captain Howdy is even named after Linda Blair’s invisible playmate in The Exorcist (1973)]. Snider happily plays into it all.

Dee Snider as Carleton Hendricks/Captain Howdy in Strangeland (1998)
Dee Snider as the freakish Carleton Hendricks/Captain Howdy

Oddly about halfway through in an abrupt and not at all convincing change of pace, Hendricks is turned into a pathetic figure of sympathy – going from a roaring sadistic tormentor to a painfully shy social reject (with Dee Snider looking for all the world like the man out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting) being persecuted by parental lynch mobs. Here the film changes its sympathies from seeing Hendricks as an insane, sadistic monster to being on his side, where we see that it is the conservative parental groups that drive him over the edge, before in the final act he returns to being a sadistic psycho again.

The final act of the film has the diligent detective pursuing and eliminating Hendricks, seeing him as entirely evil, something that the film has no doubts is a good thing. It is this central confusion of sympathies, with the film wanting to portray Hendricks/Howdy as someone irredeemably evil yet also sympathetically persecuted, that gives Strangeland such an odd mixed message. Certainly, Dee Snider is not enough of an actor, not much of one at all really, to be able to make the complexities of the part convincing.

Dee Snider has announced a Strangeland 2: Discple for all of the 2000s but this has yet to emerge.

Trailer here

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