Strangeland (1998)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2009


I’ve managed to go over a decade without watching Dee Snider’s Strangeland, a film I have never once heard anything positive about. And now that I have seen it, I wish I had kept my self-imposed moratorium going. It’s no worse than at least half of the nonsense I have watched, but most movies this bad aren’t the creation of a guy I like.

Not that I was ever the biggest Twisted Sister fan, but I enjoy what I’ve heard and enjoy Dee’s theatrics whenever I see him at a Fangoria show or whatever. And he inspired Adam Green to make Hatchet (cool story, look it up), so props to him for that. But my dog is this movie lame. Seemingly made up as it went along, it is constantly switching gears that will often do little more than remind you of better horror movies.

For example, our hero, seeking his kidnapped daughter, finds the killer (Snider) about 40 minutes into the movie. I thought we would then get a movie where the killer traps the hero and the hero has to find a way out and save his daughter and the other folks who are chained up around him. But no, he arrests him and Captain Howdy is put on trial. He then goes to an institution, so I thought we’d get a hospital set movie; a serial killer version of Cuckoo’s Nest. But no, he is just as quickly set free, and seemingly normal (this is the only part of the film I liked, partly due to the creepy sight of Snider made to look meek). But the parents of those he abused/killed catch up to him. “OK, now it’s a Clockwork Orange type deal!” Wrong again, they kill him and then he comes back to life (somehow) and goes after the parents. Nightmare on Elm St now? Nope - after attacking one (not killing him), this subplot is forgotten. Instead the hero’s daughter is kidnapped (again) and he has to go rescue her (again). Then it’s over. In any traditional sense, it would be impossible to write a synopsis about this movie without spoiling things, because it just keeps leading to disappointing climaxes, followed by new plot threads that are resolved just as quickly.

Also, for a movie that is built around mutilation and such, it sure is tame. Our body count is 2. The daughter gets her lips sewn together, but is otherwise unharmed in any way. The hero (Kevin Gage playing a guy named Mike Gage), his wife, his niece who is the only one in town who knows how to use the internet, etc - all escape the movie without as much as a scratch. Hell, even Gage’s partner, a character who should be any movie logic be killed during the 2nd act, never even gets involved in an action scene. Hell, Howdy doesn’t even kill the guy who tried to kill him (Robert Englund, in a clever reversal of his original Nightmare on Elm St role)! It’s a Serial Non-Killer movie. Englund says this is what makes the movie scary, but I wholly disagree. It makes it seem like no one is ever really in any danger whatsoever.

Snider’s dialogue doesn’t help. Awkward attempts at hard-edged cop talk never work, and people either speak in single word phrases or lengthy exposition. When Amy Smart shows the cops how to use a chat room, she stops the scene cold to explain what a “Locator Member Online Search Engine” is, despite the fact that its very name is, if anything, overly self-explanatory. Or it simply makes no goddamn sense - a tech explains that because Howdy used a stolen credit card, they cannot find him, only his screen name (how would they get THAT without an IP trace of some sort?). Gage is also written as the least effective cop in movie history; when he is knocked to the floor, rather than sweep Howdy’s feet from under him or kick him in the balls, which he is in a perfect position to do, he instead rolls over and begins to crawl for his gun. And the entire movie is like that, resulting in a narrative that’s not only weak, but artificially depicted to boot.

Editing/direction is also a major problem, particularly on the computer scenes. We will clearly see Gage typing out his name (“G-A-G-E”), but on-screen it will just say “I am a detective” or something. He then types “K-O-I” (again in close-up), which not only doesn’t match anything on screen, but doesn’t match any common word at all, unless he was discussing Koi fish for some reason. I know the budgets for these movies aren’t high, but come on - would it really take that much effort to have the guy type out what he is actually going to be saying? Why bother inserting the closeup if it doesn’t match the master shot? Later in the same scene, Gage realizes that the killer is nearby due to hearing a dog bark on a recording when there is also a dog barking nearby (clearly, there is only one dog in the town). He begins looking around to find the dog and then deduce where the house is. And in theory that’s fine, but it doesn’t work when Gage keeps turning his head in different directions and yet everything they cut to is the same shot/angle of the dog. It makes it look like he is surrounded by identical dogs.

Oh and there’s a lengthy, pointless sequence that directly steals from Silence of the Lambs, except it’s played for (failed) laughs by ending with an old couple having sex.

Remember in Sphere when they dissect one of the creatures and discover that it has organs but they aren’t connected to anything, that it’s just a half-assed imitation of a living thing? That’s what this movie is like. The creators saw some other movies and made their own, clearly without really knowing how. It would be a grand thing to watch drunk with friends and/or at a midnight screening, but by yourself, it’s almost insulting (moreso when you consider that it somehow managed a theatrical release. And Inside goes direct to DVD?).

And I actually considered whether or not the film was played for laughs, but Dee Snider starts his commentary by saying that it won’t be a funny track because it’s a serious movie. So much for that. He points out a few of the filmmaking errors and admits a few of the films he is copying from, so that’s nice. But he also admits that he doesn’t like to write “slow” (read: character or plot based) scenes, which just proves that he had no business writing the film itself, since these types of films require a few solid characters to give a shit about in order to work. His “plot”, such as it is, probably could have been worked into a decent serial killer film in the hands of someone who could write something besides fun rock songs, so he should have hired a ghost writer instead of tackling it himself. Oh well. He also takes time to slam Scream, and is baffled that critics would like that film and not his. The track closes with an ironic prophecy that in ten years this type of movie would be PG-13 (this being long before the PG-13 invasion) and that everyone would be doing it. Indeed, the torture scenes, light as they may be, and his ‘intelligent villain’ character certainly will remind horror fans of the Saw films at times.

There’s also a music video on there, but I assume it’s a song from the soundtrack and not Twisted’s awesome, underrated cover of “Leader of the Pack”, so I don’t care.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Well said, BC.
    Another way Strangeland shoots itself in the foot is that it seems so cocky and self satisfied about how novel and disturbing its subject matter is, therefore instantly dating itself and making the serious tone even more laughable.

    Snyder seems so confident that he's exposing (what I imagine he presumes the movie's inevetable audience to be:) a bunch of squares("..maaan"), to this CRAAAZY underworld of crappy nu-metal and ritual piercing dorks, that he assumes the mere culture shock will be enough to make his movie scary. He did call the movie "Strangeland" after all.

    Oh, and if that's not enough, there's this new thing (1998!) the kids are all into that you all totally wouldn't get: internet chatrooms. Your kids will inevetably all be (sort of) killed by crazy people posing as snowboard fanatics. Oh Dee, it's all so overwhelming! What is the world coming to?!

    (..and about the K-O-I thing. That might actually HAVE been about koi fish. Koi fish seem [or seemed..I should probably consult Dee Snyder to bring me up to date with culture, right?] to be a pretty popular tattoo trend. Just one more thing for Dee to throw on the screen to validate how hip his movie is. That was my guess at least.)


  2. Yeah, the movie is pretty lame, but I still like Dee Snider. His testimony during the "Parental Advisory" hearing is just awesome. Thanks for the note about the story with Adam Green.

  3. I pretty much felt the same way after renting this. I remember being disturbed by the box cover and even skipping renting it a few times because I wasn't sure if I could handle all the blood and guts that I thought would be in it, but then sitting down with it one night in the basement movie room I realized that I've seen much more graphic stuff in real life and that this movie was pretty tame.

    Are they still trying to make a second one or did that finally go belly up?

  4. Bad movie. The worst parts to me were Dee's character's monologues expressing his philosophy about pain and tribalism and how today's youth don't have the ritual to bring them into adulthood. They were such bad, half-baked ideas but not in the way you'd expect a horror movie villian to be, just in the way you'd expect some mildly intelligent person writing a script trying to be deep and very intelligent would write it. As in I don't think the monologues were supposed to be so silly and laughable, I think Dee wanted them to be somehow intelligent and disturbed, when it sounded like a freshman college student who had just taken a class in tribalism trying to sound smart.

    I love Dee for his stance against PMRC, he looked smart and strong at those hearings. But this movie made him look just dumb.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget