DEE SNIDER’S STRANGELAND

Just like WILD CACTUS, here’s another movie I rediscovered while browsing through my VHS tapes. Released in 1998 it was written by Dee Snider (& directed by John Pieplow), who also stars as the villain. As an 80’s kid who grew up on MTV I, of course, fondly remember Snider’s rock band Twisted Sister, and their awesome early music videos, which is what intrigued me enough to check out this movie when I’d heard about it.

Snider stars as Carleton Hendricks, a deranged psycho whose body is covered in tattoos and piercings (not that that makes anyone a psycho). Using the screen name Captain Howdy, he lures teenagers over the internet to come to his home where he has a basement/dungeon where he ties them up or locks them in cages and tortures them, forcibly tattooing and piercing their bodies, including their genitals (THAT’S what makes him a pyscho). One of the teenagers tortured by Captain Howdy is Genevieve Gage a 15 year old girl whose father, Mike (Kevin Gage) leads the search for her when she goes missing with her friend Tiana (Amal Rhoe), whom Howdy tortured and killed. Mike tracks down Howdy and rescues Genevieve, whom is found naked in a cage with her lips stitched shut, and arrests the madman, despite being tempted to just kill him.

A montage flashes forward a year, where Hendricks is found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity and sentenced to a mental institution. Three years later he is supposedly cured, with the help of medication, and due to be released. We see Hendricks using making to cover his tattoos, and all piercings are removed, and he is now a meek and quite man who seems genuinely remorseful for his past. The neighborhood is, naturally, outraged at the prospect of Hendricks’ release. And one night, after he’s moved back into his old house, an angry mob (led by Robert England and Barbara Champion) breaks in, kidnaps him and takes him to a tree and hangs him. Mike was in car, staking out Hendricks’ home at the time, and he and Hendricks’ eyes meet as Hendricks was being carried away, but Mike refused to do anything to stop what was happening). Hendricks is hung until he apparently stops breathing, and it starts heavily raining so the mob leaves. Then lightning sticks the tree and the branch breaks. Hendricks’ body falls to the ground and he starts breathing again. Declaring “What a rush!”, Captain Howdy is back.

Re-piercing himself, and removing the makeup that covered his tattoos, Howdy gets back to his old work. First capturing the characters played by Englund and Champion, so he can take them to his new lair to torture them, and then he decided to get revenge on Mike by capturing Genevieve again. Via a video feed on their computer, Howdy taunts Mike and Mike’s wife Toni (played by Elizabeth Peña) and forces them to watch as his tortures Genevieve all over again, including re-stitching her mouth shut. And thus leads to the deadly cat and mouse game between Mike and Howdy, as Mike desperately tries to get to his daughter in time.

This was a great horror movie, I liked it at the time, but rewatching it now I think I appreciate it even more. Snider was ahead of his time in many ways when he wrote this. This was during the middle of the so-called Dotcom boom, where the internet was growing, but nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. This is long before social networks (Howdy finds teens through chatrooms) and smartphones and all that stuff. And yet it is such an ingenuous premise, as we’ve seen in real life that this sort of thing can and does happen. Look at To Catch A Predator, showing sick older men using the internet to lure teens and children for sex, and cases like Philip Markoff aka The Craigslist Killer, and the multiple cases of cyberstalking and cyberbulling that had lead far too many young people to kill themselves. This was, I believe, the first film to show a villain using the internet to find his victims. And with Captain Howdy’s methods of torture, this also predates the SAW franchise, or Human Centipede. And Snider himself makes and excellent villain, I see no reason Captain Howdy couldn’t stand toe to toe with horror movie icons like Freddy and Jason.

I actually would love to see a sequel or remake to this movie. SPOILER ALERT: Captain Howdy does apparently die at the end, but that could just be an excuse to have him resurrected as a more supernatural type of character now (like how Jason become a “zombie” when he was resurrected in FT13 part 6). Maybe show him coming after Genevieve’s daughter, who would be a teenager now, which forces Genevieve to relive her own torture at Howdy’s hands? Or start over and remake it. Either way, with the way technology and the internet has dominated society I think the film would be even more relevant today. And with a bigger budget and promotion it could spawn a franchise.

The only thing keeping me from giving this film an A+ is that there are some implausible bits in the story. The way Howdy, after surviving the attack, was able to set up a new lair with all the cages and piercing and tattoo equipment again, after all those years, wasn’t adequately explained. But overlooking things like that, I still enjoyed this film.

GRADE

And word is that Snider’s son wrote a prequel comic-book to this film, but I’ve been unable, thus far, to track it down. But I’ll keep trying.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

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