STRANGELAND

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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
Strangeland
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
STRANGELAND - 1998
Raucous Releasing/Artisan Entertainment
USA: Rated R

This is a movie with a good idea. Predatory psycho kidnaps Police Detective's daughter, Police track psycho down, Psycho is found not guilty, Psycho is cured and returned, town goes psycho.

The fact that this movie takes place in Colorado is rather prescient. Although the rape and murder of 6 year old Jon Benet Ramsey (Still unsolved after 6+ years) happened before this movie was made (1997-98), the subsequent high-profile wierdo murder cases in Littleton and Castle Rock, as well as the June 27th FBI raid in a Colorado home looking for serial killer Recendez Ramirez, have made Colorado the momentary sicko crime capital. Even beating out New Mexico and Texas, which ain't easy!

Keep in mind also that these sort of crimes happen almost daily in the hometowns of the nation's Media, Los Angeles and New York: sick is relative.

STRANGELAND takes place in the mythical town of Helverton, Colorado.

As the movie opens, we meet Genevieve (Linda Cardellini) and her friend Tianal Moore (Amal Rhoe). Genevieve is on her computer in a teen chat room when she comes across a cyber aquaintance she knows as CaptHowdy (Dee Snider of TWISTED SISTER). Thinking him to be a cool guy her own age, she jumps at the chance to finally meet him when he asks her "Do You Want To Go To A Party?" Genevive and Tianal go and Merry Mishaps ensue.

This movie is high on torture and low on body count, I mean way low, just 2. Of the two people who die in this picture, guess which one goes first? I'll give you a hint: This is an American horror movie and Amal Rhoe is a black actress.

What CaptHowdy doesn't realize is that Genevieve is a Cop's daughter. This could have created a very suspenseful, tense tale of the yo-yo machinations of pursuit and pursuer. How the Father and police detective Mike Gage (Kevin Gage) changes as he slowly descends into the pain ridden world of Carleton Hendricks, whose vicious persona is CaptHowdy. This never happens because the chase never fully forms, and mysteries are resolved too quickly and easily.

There is no descent into the alien world of a sub-culture either. All Gage has to do prior to capturing CaptHowdy is pass through a Tribal/Goth club and flip through a magazine on body piercing (Oooh! Dare I look?). Gage is given only a few very short scenes in which he gets to express any emotion over what is happening to his daughter. Even when he gets his moments to really stretch out, he is stiff and dreary as an old car rag. True, the movie does call attention to the fact that his relatives call him the Man Of Steel, but acknowledging the actor's faults doesn't make him any better than acknowledging you're drunk makes you sober. Dull acting and poor pacing of the film does not give us the intended Powerful Man Crying emotional tug as was intended.

Snider, together with Director John Pielplow, dulls it all down by robbing the film of most of its tension. There is not much suspense here, no twists or surprises. Snider followed formula without creativity, everything about this movie is a simple 1, 2, 3. I don't know what Pielplow was thinking.

What Snider fails to deliver in tension, that eager dread of wondering what is going to happen next, he makes up for in intensity, that creepy dread of seeing what is happening now. It also helps that his CaptHowdy character does what he does with a wit bordering on perverse charm.

Unfortunately, director Pielplow waters it all down with mundane direction.

Nearly every night on nearly every TV station around the world, there are cop and robber shows that adequately run the cat and mouse suspense on automatic, yet Snider's script and Pielplow's direction can't even hack a hack formula. Dee's script isn't entirely to blame. This could have been a much better film in the hands of another director. Pielplow's direction is as mediocre as his eye in setting up a shot. I know there are some ferocious film students out there that could show Snider some of their short projects that would drive him mad. As for Pielplow, there are far too many times when he relies on a fixed camera shot instead of the close-ups and movement this movie requires. We've seen better on old re-runs of Miami Vice.

What we do get is the constant droning of CaptHowdy, always explaining the ideology of his world. For his victims, the mental pain of hearing him yap about his choice of lifestyle must be as torturous as the metal barbs he curves through their flesh. Still, Snider has a certain flair to his monologue and displays a real dark wit in the Ampalang scene. For those who are into body art, and dark lifestyles, or like to be scared by it, this movie probably won't give you what you want. Nothing happens here that you aren't accustomed to. I suggest reading Ed Lee and John Pelan's novel SHIFTERS (Obsidian Press) to deliver the goulish chills.

Elizabeth Pena (JACOB'S LADDER, LONE STAR) plays Genevieve's Mother Toni Gage. Pena as always, shines through her role. As remarkable an actress she is, her honed abilities are wasted in this film.

Another bright example put to waste is Robert Englund* (DEAD & BURIED, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, URBAN LEGEND).

For many of us, Englund created threat with his impeccable portrayal of Freddy Kruger in the NIGHTMARE series of movies. Here, Englund plays Jackson Roth. Everything about Roth is pasteboard two dimensional, as he only serves to be a caricature, instead of a character (as all of CaptHowdy's enemies). That said, Englund, by nothing more than his uniquely expressive face and body language, conveys as much threat in a t-shirt and jeans as Dee Snider does in his full tattooed and multi-armor piercing regalia. The revenge moment between CaptHowdy and Roth (a person who is as evil as CaptHowdy, but whose conventional appearance is better accepted by his community), is one theme from the movie that is done quite well. The interaction between CaptHowdy and Roth are the best this movie has to offer. Snider and Englund have a real chemistry with each other. Pity there wasn't more to it. Englund can convey more with his eyes and mouth sewn shut than just about anyone I've seen.

Special make-up effects were done by Michael Burnett, who seemed to have trouble matching the color tone of the latex prosthetics with the actual flesh.

Editing was overseen by Jeff Kushner, who had his work cut out for him. Dee used a slew of make-up effects on his own person to simulate CaptHowdy's many piercings. It was obviously hard to keep track of everything as the metal baubles appear, disappear, and reappear in greater and fewer numbers with every camera shot. Watch especially for the disappearing / reappearing nose ring.

There are some good points to this film, most particular the set design and props. Dee Snider himself, who wore many hats in this film, did a fine job in producing, and considering that this is his first script, it's not too shabby. I'm hoping for better things from him in the future. As for his acting, this is where Dee glowed most of all. His character, for a kidnapping, torturing, insane rapist, yet nearly sympathetic villain, is evil delight, the way it should be.

Dee also gathered together a good line-up for the sound track to STRANGELAND. Bands ranging from NASHVILLE PUSSY, to MARILYN MANSON to MEGADETH, to ANTHRAX and more.

Like any Horror movie, STRANGELAND does have its moments, but the movie relies too much on its make-up effects for the horror and shock, rather than weaving an engrossing story. The make-up effects cannot hold this story up and for good reason. Snider and Pielplow have ventured into a realm that they are afraid of. They give us mild mannered tortures and quick cuts of what could be wicked sights. Mainly, we hear about it; we hear CaptHowdy describe it, but we don't see it. Robert Englund was ripping it up with far more zest, zeal, and gore 15 years ago with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The same can be said for movies with far less budget and polish from EVIL DEAD to HELLRAISER.

The sight of people with their mouths sewn shut serves as the most intense thing happening throughout the flick. It does nothing for us however, as Adam Otcasek, who designed both the movie poster and soundtrack cover, uses this image as the main feature of the ad, so we already know what to expect. The ending of PSYCHO would not have had as much effect for us if the movie poster showed Mother. PLANET OF THE APES would not have hit us as hard had the movie poster showed Heston on his knees before the Statue Of Liberty. Otcasek depicted the movie's strongest moments. Bad idea.

STRANGELAND set itself up to be big bad gory horror. You can see far worse on any TV episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT or X-FILES.

By what we see on the movie poster, and the hype of what we were Going to see, this movie crashes big time. The mood of this film demanded a full blown monstrous, gory ending in its revenge scene and Pielplow and Snider pulled back from that. They set us up for a dark and wicked journey, yet they didn't want to be as intense as HELLRAISER 2 or blow us away like DAWN OF THE DEAD.

STRANGELAND is a domesticated horror movie that arrives at it's ending with the brakes on full.

Two Shriek Girls

Shriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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DVD


SOUNDTRACK



Strangeland soundtrack
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

*
One of the most steady working actors in Hollywood, Robert Englund has been in movies every year since 1974, and he started in Television in 1973. The man knows his craft!

 

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