Strangelands (1998)

1998 was a crazy time, perms on girls were an acceptable, some would say fashionable hairstyle (they were wrong), Bill Clinton got caught being .. well .. Bill Clinton, and the internet was still in virtual Pampers. The Creepy Joes of the world though, were selling their white vans full of puppies and sweets and trading them in for computers, forced to familiarise themselves with the predators paradise that is the interweb to fit in with the changing times, and this little cult favourite (penned by and starring Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider) was one of the first in a new breed of horror that highlighted the dangers in this strange new online landscape.

Genevieve and Tiana are chatting on the internet one night when they are invited to a party by the interestingly named Captain Howdy, and innocent young teens that they are assume that since he hasn’t offered them sweets or told them he‘s a complete psychopath, he must be legit and going to his house is a really good idea. Two days later, they are way over their curfews and Genevieve’s cop daddy is a huge frowny face in the world of emoticons. Luckily after going to a computer expert (his teenage niece who happens to be down with the kids and what they‘re into – snowboarding apparently ..) he manages to switch on a computer and after a very short game of cat and mouse the culprit is caught and all is well in the world once more.

Cut to four years later and Carleton Hendricks (The Captains dowdier altar ego) has been medicated, rehabilitated and is has been released like a big declawed kitty back into the community. Unfortunately, the community isn’t best pleased, and a gang of vigilantes (headed by the always brilliant Robert Englund) decides that some good old fashioned home town ‘’justice’’ is in order. Following a botched attempted murder at the filthy hands of the local white trash, the Captain, sans his sanity pills and with a renewed thirst for blood, returns to say Howdy to his former victim ..

The film is by no means perfect, but Snider has actually written something that with a bigger budget could have rivalled Seven, or Frailty in the thriller stakes. Part horror thriller, part torture porn (before the phrase was even coined), Strangelands gives some interesting views on morality and with better scripting could have been something special, but with some overindulgent Hanibal Lecter style speeches about the ritualistic symbolism of body modification, and a rushed, chaotic sprint to some sort of ending, we are left with a decidedly average, but surprisingly likable and highly entertaining B-Movie.

Now the film has copped quite a lot of stick from horror fans and critics alike, undeservedly so, in my humble opinion, as Snider’s acting performance in the film is as close to brilliant as it gets, and along side Englund, carries the movie while more experienced cast members lazy and amateurish performances, bring the ‘Straight to Video’ vibe to the table like a bottle of cider at a dinner party.

Strangelands is an acquired taste, but as a Twisted Sister fan and a horror connoisseur, it was love at first sight, and its potential to be great, with the added bonus of an energetic Snider, helped me overlook its flawed but charming execution.

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