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Strangeland – 5

Director – John Pieplow

Cast – Kevin Gage, Dee Snider, Elizabeth Pena, Brett Harrelson, Robert Englund, Linda Cardellini, Tucker Smallwood, Ivonne Coll, Amy Smart

Release Year – 1998

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This is a film I passed over HUNDREDS of times while scouring video rental stores for something to watch for the night, but I never once gave it a chance because I figured it was going to suck. Well, after 15 years of diss I have finally given this flick a watch, and while it was by no means a “good’ film I did find joy in this mess. Starring hair metal legend Dee Snider, who also surprisingly wrote the film as well, Strangeland comes with a decent and pretty interesting story that was ultimately plagued by poor execution from the film’s director. Fans of Snider and his love for the occult, piercings, tattoos, etc. should hopefully find the same amount of joy in this flawed piece, which also comes with an epic soundtrack sure to please the viewers Snider will attract.

The youth of Helverton, Colorado are falling for the newest digital fad to hit the mainstream: chat rooms and instant messaging. When someone going by the user name of Captain Howdy (Dee Snider) begins luring people to his secret chamber of torture and mystical mayhem, Det. Mike Gage (Kevin Gage; Laid to Rest, Kill Theory, May, Amusement) is assigned to the case. The detective manages to catch the killer and bring him to justice, but justice in this case is four years in an insane asylum and those four years are now up. With a town still seeking vengeance for Howdy’s crimes, Det. Gage makes the mistake of a lifetime and once again finds himself on the killer’s trail – this time to save his daughter’s life.

Much of the appeal behind this film is Dee Snider’s involvement, and I must say that if it were not for him I would have blown this off and given it a much lower rating. He did an OK job writing this piece, giving us all of the necessary elements needed to result in its interesting story, however those picky about screenplays will find many faults in his dialogue and his writing execution. Nonetheless I loved his inclusion of the underground “sub-culture” brewing in Helverton, Colorado, which is where Captain Howdy feeds off the young naïve internet noobs who choose to accept his invite to “party”. What do Captain Howdy’s parties consist of? Well, there’s “suspension” torture, constant body piercing including genital areas, and his favorite…watching them squirm and beg for their lives. I enjoyed the idea of Det. Gage catching Howdy and then Howdy pretty much screwing the justice system by getting pampered treatment at a mental facility instead of the jail time the townsfolk wanted as it added to the conflict faced by the town and the viewer. In addition to that Howdy comes out a “changed” man, but the society around him will not allow for it and eventually drives him back to the person that he used to be. I enjoyed this dynamic as it kept the story moving and the conflict high, and while it was obviously very cliché that Howdy would kidnap Det. Gage’s daughter I did not expect great results from the story anyway.

Director John Pieplow is the biggest reason why this flick was not better than it should have been, and unsurprisingly he never direction another film after this. His only directorial credit before this piece: TV movie Jurassic Women, which NOBODY saw. I’ll be fair and state that the film did not have an overly high budget ($1,100,00), but it would have been enough to provide a much better effort had Pieplow’s lack of talent not been in the way. His camerawork was so-so and his atmosphere lagged, all of tied in to his lack of good execution of pretty much everything going on in the film. Even the acting performances were bad, and they consisted of veteran genre actors like Robert Englund and Kevin Gage, and I was a bit disappointed in Dee Snider’s performance but more forgiving given his lack of acting credits. Despite all of this I did enjoy the horror provided, thanks much to the subject matter and torture scenes written by Dee Snider. Pieplow’s execution of these scenes was bearable but could have been more “full frontal” and horrific if he had showed some directing guts.

Overall, Strangeland is a decent flick that could have been better if the screenplay was touched up and the direction much better than it was. Sadly a lack of talent and too many elements held back kept this from an experience I would recommend to all, but most likely one fans of Dee Snider and 80s metal should check out.

Rating: 5/10

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