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Film Review: Strangeland (1998)

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SYNOPSIS:

A deranged man that goes by Captain Howdy lures people to his lair via Internet chat rooms (remember those?) where he subjects them to a number of cruel and painful body modifications.  

REVIEW:

Review-When I was in the 5th grade I was really into heavy metal, hard rock, and hair bands, and Twisted Sister was one of my favorites. When I finally got my grubby little paws on a copy of their album Stay Hungry (on cassette, of course) there were two songs on it that I’d never heard before as they had never been released as singles called “Horror-Teria (The Beginning): Captain Howdy and Street Justice.” These songs told the story of a scary-sounding dude named Captain Howdy that did some pretty horrible things and even in my ten-year-old mind I thought that they would make for a great movie. Years later this became a reality when Strangeland was released in 1998 and I couldn’t have been happier as it was just as awesome as I’d always hoped it would be. Of course, the movie differs from the songs in a few ways but in general it is about a guy that uses the chat room handle of Captain Howdy that does some pretty messed up things to people. While Strangeland is a little out there and isn’t for every taste I always thought that it ruled and believe that it is one of the most underrated horror films of all time for a number of reasons.

So, our basic premise is that this oddball that calls himself Captain Howdy pretends to be a teen boy and lures teenagers (and some adults) via an online chat room to his home where he proceeds to put them through all sorts of tortures in the name of body modification (he’s really big on painful piercings and one poor young man is on the receiving end of one of these at one point in a scene that never fails to make me wince). After doing it for a while his luck runs out and he finds himself being arrested and sent to trial for his actions. In a Freddy Krueger-like moment he ends up not going to prison as the jury finds him not guilty by reason of insanity and he is released, much to the chagrin of the local townspeople who eventually hunt him down and attempt to kill him. They fail to do so and he reverts back to his Captain Howdy persona (he had been taken medication since his trial to keep this personality at bay as he is diagnosed with schizophrenia) and before you know it he’s back to his old tricks as the detective who arrested him (whose daughter was victimized by Howdy) tries in vain to bring his reign of terror to an end for good. I think that the premise is pretty cool as well as original, and it works on many levels. I always dug the fact that Howdy doesn’t really set out to kill anyone so to speak and is more interested in giving them unwanted piercings, brandings, and other forms of body modifications because in his twisted mind he believes that he is doing them a favor by doing so.

Dee Snider (who also wrote the script) is awesome as Captain Howdy and you can tell that he had a field day playing the character. Not only is he totally and completely creepy as Howdy, but he is also very good at playing the character’s true personality, which is the sad and pitiful Carlton Hendricks. You can’t help but feel sorry for Hendricks despite the fact that his other personality makes him a sick and twisted individual that enjoys hurting people as he is just as much as a victim in a way as the people that he tortures. When he is on his meds he is a soft spoken and nervous guy that wouldn’t hurt a fly (hey, a Psycho reference!) and I actually felt sorry for him when the angry mob comes calling for his blood. The scene where he is attacked, beaten, and left for dead always bothers me as he really isn’t responsible for the things that his other personality does and in my opinion most of the people in the group that attacks him are just as bad as Howdy is in a lot of ways so I don’t feel too bad for them when he eventually comes after them for revenge. Snider is genuinely creepy and unsettling as Howdy, but at the same time he is sympathetic as Carlton and does a great job with both. If you ask me he pretty much makes the movie thanks to his excellent performance(s) and pretty much knocks it out of the park every single time he is on screen.

I also liked the fact that the film is so brutal and violent. Howdy’s victims go through a lot of agony and while the majority of them survive their ordeals I’m sure that most of them probably wished that he’d just killed them as opposed to putting them through such tortures. People have their mouths and eyes sewn shut, hooks inserted into various body parts, and receive unwanted piercings to very sensitive parts of their anatomies that are extremely painful and uncomfortable. While some of the things Howdy does are shown off screen or after the fact I can imagine that a lot of people with weak stomachs were still bothered by them even though we don’t technically see him do some of them. In a way I think that it is actually a lot more powerful and disturbing NOT seeing him do them because it leaves them to your imagination, and only seeing what potentially happened to some of his victims in your own head is probably a lot worse than literally witnessing it take place on camera with your own eyes.

In addition to Snider the rest of the cast is top-notch. Kevin Gage does a great job as the detective determined to stop Howdy once and for all and it gets to a point that he is so obsessed with doing so that he almost becomes Sam Loomis to Howdy’s Michael Myers. Linda Cardellini is also quite good as his daughter (and the victim that Howdy is most obsessed with) and her character goes through a lot of horrible things not once, but twice during the course of the film at the hands of Howdy. Robert Englund rules as usual as the drunken redneck idiot Jackson (who leads the mob that attacks Howdy at one point) and is one of those characters that you love to hate (thankfully he gets what’s coming to him eventually though). All in all, I thought that the entire cast was quite awesome in general and helped make the movie something special.

I’ve always been a fan of Strangeland and think that it is a lot better than a lot of people give it credit for. It is entertaining, has an interesting premise and is just an awesome little flick in general. I’ve always thought that Captain Howdy had the potential to be a big name in the horror world but unfortunately this has been the only time the character has appeared in a movie even though I ‘ve heard Snider say several times that he’d like to do a sequel one day. There is comic series based on the character, and while it is cool I would still love to see him on the big screen once again one day. Do yourself a favor and check this movie out if you haven’t already done so because it is quite awesome and I have a feeling that a lot of people would agree with me if they gave it a shot.

One comment

  1. Is it Citizen Kane? No. Is it Night Of The Living Dead? No. Is it a wild, out of control freak ride straight from the man that fronted Twisted Sister? Yes. Yes it is. A bloody, violent romp that brings all the HOLY GOD WHAT DID HE JUST DO???

    Yeah, I enjoyed it for what it was meant to be.

     

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