31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #13: Strangeland (1998)

Posted: October 13, 2016 in Movie Review
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13. Strangeland (1998)

Director: John Pieplow

Starring: Kevin Gage, Dee Snider, Elizabeth Peña, Brett Harrelson, Robert Englund, Linda Cardellini, Amy Smart

So, yeah… Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame wrote, co-produced and starred in his own horror movie! This is a thing that actually happened! Once that’s had time to sink in, “Strangeland” can be seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of meeting people online. It treads familiar ground in depicting vigilantism as a non-solution to violent offenders. It is one of (if not the) first horror films to place a great deal of emphasis on the culture of body modification (tattooing, piercing, etc.). More than anything else, what “Strangeland” can best be described as is just plain weird.

After being invited to a party via chat room, high school student Genevieve Gage (Linda Cardellini) goes missing. Genevieve is the daughter Halverton, Colorado police officer Mike Gage (Kevin Gage). As if the unknown whereabouts of his own flesh and blood were not reason enough for Mike to spring into action, the discovery of the body of Genevieve’s best friend… who died from fright… creates an even greater sense of urgency. Frustratingly, he lacks any real leads to follow. Mike’s niece Angela (Amy Smart) helps him browse the chat room that Genevieve frequents, and to get in touch with Genevieve’s last known contact, the username Captain Howdy (Dee Snider).

Mike tries to pose as a teen looking for a party, but Captain Howdy senses his real intent and profession. Still, Mike is able to figure out where Captain Howdy’s lair is. There, he finds Genevieve alive, but naked, tied up, and her mouth sewn shut… and she’s one of six which Captain Howdy is holding prisoner. The elusive man himself, whose real name is Carlton Hendricks, is subdued and arrested with surprising ease. But that’s hardly the end of the story/movie.

Much like with Freddy Krueger, the trial of Carlton Hendricks ends with a verdict that leaves the entire town dissatisfied, in this case with Hendricks being found not guilty by reason of insanity. When he is released from the mental hospital a mere three years later, it is Jackson Roth (fittingly played by Robert Englund) who protests the loudest. Hendricks, who now shows no signs of the tattoos or piercings he displayed as Captain Howdy, seems timid and harmless. This could be attributed to the drugs the mental hospital has prescribed for him.

One night when Roth’s own daughter is out later than expected, Roth believes that Hendricks is up to his old tricks again and leads a lynch mob against him. Mike sees the whole thing happening, and it occurs to him to get out of his car to put a stop to it, but he ultimately decides not to. During the scuffle, Hendricks drops his medicine bottle. The lynch mob then carries out their plan to hang Carlton Hendricks from a tree. They leave satisfied, but they should have stuck around long enough to confirm the kill. The tree branch snaps just in time, and Hendricks’ near-death experience snaps him back into his Captain Howdy persona.

Captain Howdy kills Roth’s wife before kidnapping and torturing him and several others. This includes recapturing Genevieve, which serves to make you question Mike’s ability to protect his daughter. This time, Captain Howdy makes sure Genevieve’s parents bear witness to some of their daughter’s torturing by contacting her mother (Elizabeth Peña)’s computer. With a team of officers, Mike goes to Captain Howdy’s old hideout, where he discovers all of the torture victims alive, including Genevieve. Mike then tracks Captain Howdy to a church. Their fight this time is more difficult, and more brutal. By the end of it, Captain Howdy is left hanging in the air by a meat hook, allowing Mike to end him by setting Captain Howdy on fire.

Dee Snider’s “Strangeland” is a remarkably strange horror film indeed. Based on the songs “Captain Howdy” and “Street Justice” from Twisted Sister’s most popular album, “Stay Hungry,” “Strangeland” can get genuinely unnerving at times. This is due mainly to Dee Snider’s effective performance as Carlton Hendricks/Captain Howdy. He shows good range in his distinctive portrayals of each of his character’s two personalities. In particular, it’s the rather poetic way in which he delivers his lines when in the Captain Howdy persona which is the most lively. It’s quite a shame, then, that the movie in which his character exists possesses very little life of its own. Come for Dee Snider and the film’s rock soundtrack, but don’t expect too much out of your trip into “Strangeland.”

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Gotta say that I’ve never heard of this movie and I’m a little bit intrigued! I might have to check it out!

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