Written by: Lois Kennedy
Directed by: John Pieplow
Cast: Robert Englund, Dee Snider, Kevin Gage
Captain Howdy (Dee Snider) is a friendly guy who likes to meet teenagers in chatrooms and invite them to his house. Then he tends to torture them, his rationale being that young people today need a rite of passage that must be physical, painful, and leave a mark. His latest prisoner, Genevieve (Linda Cardellini), happens to be the daughter of detective Mike (Kevin Gage), who catches Howdy. After four years in a mental hospital, Howdy (AKA Carleton Hendricks) is apparently cured, and allowed to go home. Where he’s promptly snatched by an angry mob and hanged—and unfortunately doesn’t die. Mike, who saw Hendricks get nabbed (and Hendricks saw that he saw) is once again targeted by a vengeful Howdy.
One of the most striking things about the movie is that it’s terribly dated. Released in 1998, the film’s depiction of computers and methods of communication through them are ancient. (Not to mention Mike’s pager.) Even the star is a bit of a has-been, who is recycling ideas from his band Twisted Sister’s 1984 album Stay Hungry (which I grew up listening to on vinyl). However, what with the popularity of websites like Myspace and Facebook, where people can recreate themselves on a whim and befriend strangers, the situations presented are still very modern.
I first saw Strangeland when I was a misanthropic fifteen-year-old, and back then I could feel a small amount of pity for the sane Hendricks, who’s a mopey nerd. Especially since the mob that tries to do away with him is composed of less than savory characters, for example Sunny the hypocritical Christian and drunken redneck Jackson (Robert Englund), who in one scene is shown watching a porno about what appears to be a teenage girl getting molested. But now that I’m a parent, I feel nothing but scorn for Hendricks. I’m not pondering who the real monster is as the crowd hangs him—it’s still Hendricks, no matter how pumped full of anti-psychotics he is and how hangdog he looks.
There are some aspects of the film that are done well; it’s mighty disturbing and has a good soundtrack, but it bears the Hollywood mark of multiple scriptwriters who don’t care about script solidarity: the last half hour turns into a pile of crap, with an overabundance of one-liners and everyone acting out of character. There’s also a mound of plot holes, like the decision to send Hendricks back to live in the house he tortured people in, and the lack of facial scarring on the part of both Hendricks (who as Howdy had multiple facial piercings) and Genevieve, who had great big stitches in her face. Then there’s Howdy’s reappearance; Hendricks goes back to his Howdy look in rapid succession, which involves putting all of his piercings back and dyeing his hair red. I guess the jewelry and dye were just sitting around his house in case he changed his mind about being nice.
Of those I know who have seen it, some like Strangeland, and some hate it. I myself am ambivalent—the sense of nostalgia I feel for both Snider and the movie clash with the unpleasant feelings it also invokes in me. Check it out if you’re in the mood for gore and brief instances of nudity—and want to turn your brain off.