Movie Reviews 277 – Strangeland (1998)

StrangelandWhen Twisted Sister hit the airwaves with their hit “We’re Not Gonna Take it” back in the mid 80’s, I didn’t think much of the group or their long frizzy haired lead singer Dee Snider. While taking a cue from other rock groups that employed exotic makeup and wardrobes as defining styles, the rouge faces and excess blue eyeshadow made them look like dolls rather than give them any desired appeal. Little more than one-hit wonders I thought, and with the sporadic output that followed, Snider and the band faded as quickly as they arrived.

So I was reluctant to pick up the Strangeland DVD when I came across it diving into DVD bins a few years back. Branded “Dee Snider’s Strangeland”, the DVD cover was interesting enough featuring a stitch-mouthed girl, but it also boasted Snider with the writer’s credit as well as the  starring role.  I chucked it into my buy bag and promptly forgot about it. Later, whenever I scanned my DVD shelves picking my next movie to watch, I just as quickly drifted over the title figuring I must have something better to watch.

Then a few months ago, I came across a new video of Snider singing a remarkably different rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” as part of magician Criss Angel’s charitable venture for pediatric cancer. Now riding on low octane, his voice was in top form. But more impressive was that Snider was imparting an older, wiser, poised, concerned look. He sure has come along a long way I thought. Which got me to thinking about this movie on my shelves.

While not a remarkable movie, Strangeland does have a few things going for it and yes, Snider is one of them. Snider plays the role of “Captain Howdy”, the online alias he uses to lure young men and women to his den of torture and degradation.  When Captain Howdy makes the mistake of luring a cop’s daughter, her dad, detective Gage (Kevin Gage) manages to track him down and bring him in and even save her.

But Carlton Hendricks, Captain Howdy’s real name, is declared insane and ends up being rehabilitated in a psychiatric hospital only to be released a few years later as a weak, quiet and sedate, even fearful of retribution citizen which. This displeases not only Gage but many other locals as well, and it’s those locals led by a particularly overbearing redneck (Robert Englund) decide to take matters into their own hand. This is when Gage, sitting in his car in front of Hendrick’s house turns a blind eye to the deed. Hendricks is beaten, hauled to a hangman noose and left for dead. Instead of ending the nightmare, this leads to the resurrection of “Captain Howdy”, now worse than ever and with revenge in his blood.

Dee deftly plays the role of the psychopath Captain Howdy whose physique is heavily adorned with ‘body art’ and other artistic modifications. The transformation between Captain Howdy, Hendricks and then back again to the Captain is jarring. And that’s one of the few problems with the film. As Hendricks, Snider is just too placid and quiet and despite the fact that he’s on medication it’s a bit unconvincing given Dee’s stature and especially given his prior Captain Howdy persona. With that and the the almost laughable Internet ‘chat’ application (yeah this was pre Internet 2.0, but still), my only other minor gripe was that the story could have used a bit more to the plot.

The gore is as the poster/DVD would suggest and does deliver the depicted scene but it’s tastefully handled (as much as such a scene can be) along with a few other scenes featuring body centric implements of torture.

The clear attraction here is Captain Howdy and I’m glad to have just learned that Snider is putting together Strangeland 2 at which point we’ll all be able to say “Howdy” once again to this Captain.

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