Its been years that I watched it; last time a heavily cut version in the graveyard slot on TV. That kinda got stuck in my head, and I was really surprised about the end of the movie. Doesn’t happen too often!
The story is quite original, and probably deserves the term “torture porn” more than most other movies with this label. Unlike most of them, the subject is in fact not *killing* people under torture, its the torture self – but keeping the victims alive. Captain Howdy is a body modification freak who sees it as his only mission to help others reach spiritual ascension through painful rituals. To find victims, he uses a local chat site and a profile of a cool teenage boy whose parents are on vacation, and invites other teenagers to a party. This party obviously never happens, they end up with their mouth stitched and their hands tied up in a basement, where Captain Howdy scars, pierces and brands them.
His most recent victims are Tiana and Genevieve; the daughter of police officer Mike Gage, who investigates the kidnapping cases. Tiana soon shows up dead in the trunk of her car; which is later explained by a heart condition that caused her to die from a heart attack, Captain Howdy declares it as an accident. Anyways, with the help of his teenage niece Angela, Det. Gage locates Howdy in a chat, and finally makes it to track him down and arrest him. In his basement, Gage doesn’t only find his daughter, but 5 more – alive – victims.
Howdy is arrested and sent to a mental ward; and despite public protests, released as a “changed man” only 4 years after the kidnappings. Still under heavy medication, he tries to lead a normal life; but the angry smalltown mob goes vigilante style and hangs him outside the city. Gage, who is observating his house, decides to not interfere when the lynch mob drags Howdy out to his “trial”. Due to his extensive training with near death experiences, Howdy survives and finally feels reborn on a new spiritual stage – he goes after the lynch mob, and to punish Gage for not holding them back, also his daughter again.
There are a lot notable things about this movie.
First of all, its still a very relevant topic. Teenagers with internet dates, and parents that can barely turn a computer on without help. Then we have the not-every day psychopath. Captain Howdy isn’t a killer, he considers himself a guide to a new stage of existance. Don’t we all get a bit tired of psycho killers that kill for the sake of killing, revenge or whatever? Howdy is different, in his mission and in his motivations. A deeper insight in the extreme bodmod scene is also a more original take on modern day scares than the average masked maniac in the woods, or the slasher in the house on the end of any road.
And then, Strangeland is yet another fine example that musicians make great directors and producers of horror movies. In this case, even more. While it often goes wrong if a producer plays the main character, and even more often if a musician decides to become an actor, it goes perfectly right here. 80ies hair metal hero Dee Snider of Twisted Sister wrote and produced Strangeland, and also plays Captain Howdy. Sure it doesn’t take that much skill to play a sick freak, especially if you have a rather impressive appearance to work with. Howdy has a full body tribal tattoo (face included), long neon red dreadlocks, sharp fangs and an impressive amount of visible piercings on the face and upper body; he’s big, buff and bad.
But Dee Snyder also portraits a believable “changed man” – the introverted bookworm Carleton Hendricks, without visible bodyart – before turning back into the monster man Captain Howdy. Another point is certainly a great soundtrack, and the final blessing for Strangeland comes from Robert Englund, who appears as lynch mob leader Jackson and later falls victim to Howdy. And what’s a legend like Englund if you don’t pay the tribute? Captain Howdy uses a few lines from the original Nightmare on Elmstreet.
Famous last words: Great authentic movie, original and different from the average slasher; violent, bizarre and full of surprises. Totally worth a watch – but make sure to get the uncut version, the PG16/TV cut tells a whole different story.