Dee Snider's Underrated STRANGELAND - Web 1.0's First Horror Film
As far as I can tell, (disregarding Sandra Bullock's 1995 film 'The Net' as a thriller) STRANGELAND is the first internet horror movie to exist.
The internet 1.0, at least.
When we were past the over the top cyberspace ideas of 'Lawnmower Man' or virtual reality possibilities of 'Virtuosity' but not yet aware of social media. Where you received your first internet via CD Rom in the mailbox from AOL, used A/S/L (Age, Sex Location) in chat rooms to try and find members of the opposite sex and maybe even found a blurry photo of a naked person. The introduction of chat rooms to us young people at the time was the mischief making teenagers virtual version of getting your driver's license. The freedom and possibilities were endless.
This is where Dee Snider's 'Strangeland' lives. A predator in cyberspace who, oh by the way is a deranged psychopath obsessed with enlightenment through extreme forced body modification. There's a lot going on here in a short amount of time.
In STRANGELAND, Carlton Hendricks' (Dee Snider) online persona, Captain Howdy (Which, you'll remember from 'The Exorcist') uses internet chat rooms to pretend to be a snowboarding teenager who listens to hip hop so he can lure teenage girls to his dungeon of pain. This is before profile pictures existed or the ability to even send photos online without an big ass, expensive scanner. So, all Howdy has to do to pretend he's a teenager is fill out a profile with the right information complete with a quote at the bottom like "Hey buddy, where's the kegger?"
Using instant messenger, he easily manipulates Detective Gage's (Kevin Gage) daughter Genevieve (Linda Cardellini) and her friend to his house of horror where he's performing body modification rituals on multiple victims.
It's not only nostalgic for those of us that grew up in the time of this internet awakening but actually hilarious to watch these teenagers explain simple features like "search for member profile" as though they were experienced hackers. You'll also watch grown adults fumble with things like turning on desktop computers or putting money into vending machines. Some would call these moments dated but I'd call it them more of a time capsule.
The pure horror from 'Strangeland' comes from what Captain Howdy does with his victims once captured coupled with his extremely over the top presence. He's jarringly physically intimidating, intelligent and well spoken, spends his time hanging from his own skin on hooks from the ceiling and stitching his victims mouth's shut before he mutilates their private parts. All the while never shutting up, spouting creepy dialogue like "We must all go through a rite of passage, and it must be physical, it must be painful, and it must leave a mark", before sticking a gigantic needle through his own arm skin. In short, he's scary as fuck and big enough to be a formidable villain in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Now, imagine this guy has your daughter.
'Strangeland' may be underrated as a whole but Captain Howdy as a villain is incredibly so.
There's a wild ride to be taken with 'Strangeland' and even though it's not a perfect film and some of the action could have benefited from a more experienced hand (Director John Pieplow had only done one TV movie before this) you have to hand it to Dee Snider who both wrote and produced the film. There's an entire aura to this world that feels more sinister than many other grizzled detective versus psychopath films ever before it. There's a certain meanness to the torturous violence that finds the line between disturbing and gratuitous and really digs in deep.
The three different acts of the film are in themselves movies, albeit never straying from the main plot. When you think things are over, they aren't. The nightmare starts all over again and you feel sick to your stomach for the victims. Yet, amidst all this darkness the film is able to maintain an entertaining 90's metal vibe throughout complete with a walk through of an upscale metal goth drug den concert party. What was it with 90's movies always taking us to these places? The clubs in 'Bad Boys', 'Airheads' and 'Ace Ventura' come to mind immediately. There's always people dancing on platforms, lots of drugs and a semi popular post metal band typically covered in makeup doing weird shit on stage.
'Strangeland' attempts to take you through the seedy underworld of piercing and extreme body modification and it's entertaining but over the top in a way that actually ended up offended people in that community at the time. Not as much as it offended critics though. The film sits currently at a 6% rotten on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Which, is why I'm happy to call 'Strangeland' horrendously underrated. You even get to enjoy Robert Englund playing an over the top drunken hillbilly and Dee Snider wearing a cardigan at one point for crying out loud! (To tell you why Dee Snider wears a cardigan would only serve to be a spoiler and I want you guys to check this out)
If you haven't had the opportunity to view 'Strangeland' it's available to rent on streaming platforms now for a few bucks and it is more than worth it. I've always considered this a hidden gem bordering on cult status. When you mention it to someone who's also seen it, the typical response is "Dude, I know, right?"
I probably watch 'Strangeland' once every few years myself. Yet, until last night I never stopped to think that this might be the world's first internet horror film which adds a whole different layer to it and hopefully will get a few of you to check it out. Let me know what you think! Until then, don't go to random snowboarders houses because they have cool internet profiles, kids. It's just not worth the body mutilation.