Thursday, October 29

Some quick thoughts on Strangeland (1998)

Glam metalist legend/Tipper Gore lover boy Dee Snider stars as a wigged out and tatted up body mod fetishist dubbed Captain Howdy (how original!) with a flare for sharing his passion with unwilling participants. After kidnapping a girl lured from a chat room, can her weary detective father (Kevin Gage) stop the towering star member, but more importantly what can save the story from imploding upon itself?

Snider's inaugural foray into silver screen horror both as star and writer is a commendable trainwreck. The rocker's heart seems in the right place as he constructs an individualized killer around himself. Captain Howdy is fairly unique from the bevy of post-Scream blade murderers of the time but Snider can't quite disappear behind the ink and fails to be as savage as the character's infamous persona claims. In fact, the 'Cap doesn't actually kill anyone (allusions to Jigsaw) and we only hear of his most aborrent deeds through his mad diatribes speaking of youths not having a proper wright-of-passage into adulthood.

Strangeland's crippling problem is that it's like two stories befitting two separate movies belonging to the same series crushed into ninety minutes. The first story concerns Howdy kidnapping the girl, the detective tracking him down, and eventually saving his daughter while arresting Mr. 0ga Prince Albert. The second begins with a reformed Carleton Hendricks with cake make-up concealing his facial Tyson-on-steroids tattoo moving back into his now ransacked home in the very community he defiled just four years before (huh? really?). The same night naturally his vengeful neighbors (led by a hillbilly Robert Englund) break in, break his face, and drive him out to the sticks to the gallows. With everyone gone the limb he's swinging from snaps and Captain Howdy is suddenly reborn as his make-up runs in the rain (nice touch). The maniac then tortures the beer-swellin' Krueger and re-kidnaps the detective's daughter launching the final showdown in a empty kinky goth nightclub.

To accomplish this .zip file of horror, Snider glosses over much of the hows and whys. Especially in the last half; Howdy's second kidnapping of the same girl is completely unseen, two cops we've never seen before happen upon his victim lair without explaination, and the climatic face-off seems to be race to the end credits. Though all of Strangeland is filled with this lack of attention to finer points. A young Amy Smart's only function is to help the 'puter-dumb detective to talk with Howdy over the Internet. Despite enduring so much, the twice-tortured daughter has absolutely no character development, but she is naked a lot. The detective's partner (a terrible Brett Harrelson) does nothing and always seems twenty steps behind the story's times. Not to mention the film feels made in the early '90s and the DVD's unrated cut is very tame by any standard.

There's one thing that nearly makes up for all the frequent trip-ups into mediocrity. Before the likes of Feardotcom and Cry Wolf, Snider seems to beat everyone at including naive teens facing grave consequences with the perils of the Internet in a straight horror film. Howdy uses an instant messaging program similar to AIM under a stolen account prowling "Teen Chat" for prey to invite to a party/dungeon basement with torturous hook and spike. The use of a faked computer prog also isn't as embarrassing as seen in many other horror flicks. There's no beeping with each command, swosh sound with windows maximizing, or extremely simplistic layout designed for second graders. Still, Snider didn't seem to see the scope possible with this then relatively new idea and it falls to all the problems.

There's a sequel long in the works (info here) and I hope it becomes a reality someday. There's fertile ideas here aside from the avalanche of head scratching for a sequel that could easily best its predecessor.

sorry, had to.

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Unknown said...

this film is messed up, though i enjoyed it... mostly cause it is messed up... i can honestly say i only want to see this once...

so when the dog barks, you listen!

have a great one and a save helloween weekend!

stop by sometime and say hell-o!


Unknown said...

One thing I enjoyed about the film is Freaks and Geeks hottie Linda Cardellini!!! I wouldn't mind a sequel to Strangeland. I'd prefer it to ANOTHER Saw sequel. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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