There was a brief moment in 1998 when few films on the video store shelf caught your attention quite like Dee Snider’s Strangeland. The image of a young woman with her mouth sewn shut practically begged my brother and I to ask our mom to rent it for us, and of course she did. Why wouldn’t she? It was the 90s, baby.
You see, I have a particular soft spot for Strangeland, so when I saw Modern Horrors’ own Final Girls were diving into it as part of their listener request month, I knew it was time to revisit the strange world of body modification and Xibalba once again. Here’s why it still rocks.
It’s 90s as fuck
Chat rooms, nu-metal, and mentions of pagers color a script that feels strangely relevant in a world where online dating has become the new norm. Strangeland even thumbs its nose at law enforcement’s inability to keep up with budding technology–a problem that remains true today. It’s 90s AF, but there’s a HD version available on iTunes if it’s been a while since you last revisited it. Or if, for whatever reason, you’ve never seen it all.
Dee Snider’s performance is genuinely good
Most of the dialogue is absurd, but Captain Howdy remains a unique, thought-provoking, and, dare I say, poetic figure even in 2019. In fact, his turn as the empathetic Carleton Hendricks is arguably one of the better stints of the film.
The soundtrack is literally a time machine
Coal Chamber? Bile? Snot? Sevendust? If those names don’t get you amped, then we definitely weren’t friends in middle school. I remember buying the soundtrack to Strangeland back when CD stores still existed in the mall. As you can imagine, I was pretty popular back then.
Light on blood. Heavy on strange
So… Robert Englund dances for a marionette of his murdered wife in his underwear. There’s also genital piercing, hardcore suspension, all sorts of weird skin-puncturing sequences, and a good ol’ fashioned lynching. It’s not as extreme as you might remember, but it’s still quite the rush (get it?).
It’s surprisingly large in scale
Strangeland features numerous locations, hundreds of extras, actual fire, and a cast of characters that includes names like Robert Englund, Amy Smart, Robert LaSardo, and Dee Snider himself. It’s safe to say that if the long-rumored sequel/reboot ever comes to fruition, it won’t come close to the original’s reported budget of $1.1M.
Of course there’s plenty that hasn’t aged well. The two lead detectives are relatively bad, and I don’t know how I never noticed that painfully-obvious prosthetic in Captain Howdy’s final battle. But through it all is a film that still means something.
Snider’s commentary on America’s sensitivity to physical appearance and the dangers of the internet are arguably more relevant today than they were in 1998. Howdy was a bad dude, but he kinda had a point. Right?
Be sure to check out next week’s episode of the Final Girls Horrorcast to hear Aimee and Carly’s take on this “cult classic.” I can’t wait.