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Strange Stories From Behind The Scenes Of Dee Snider's 'Strangeland'

A villain who sews up the mouths of his victims while espousing views on nihilism and the idea behind being a modern savage. A detective who has to use an early version of the internet to track down his missing daughter. Featuring bondage, gruesome scenes, and a character who begs to be slayed, Strangeland isn’t a normal horror movie

The brainchild of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Strangeland is a relic of late-'90s horror cinema. Rather than delighting in upending the tropes of the genre - a fashionable horror trend at the time - Snider’s slasher film maintains an air of realism that gives it a sense of deep foreboding absent from many of its contemporaries. 

Made with almost no money and inspired by a failed rock opera, Strangeland was a labor of love by Snider, the film's writer, producer, and star. More than a vanity project, this 1998 horror film was slaved over, and ultimately wound up in the used VHS bin of every video store in America.

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  • Snider Didn’t Care Who Picked Up ‘Strangeland’ As Long As He Had Creative Control

    In most instances, screenwriters don't get a lot of say about what happens to their story after it gets picked up. Once it goes through producers and a director, the screenplay often serves as nothing more than a blueprint for what ends up on screen. 

    Snider had been working on the Strangeland script for years. Though there was interest in producing it, Snider's need for creative control pushed a lot of studios and production companies away. It wasn't an issue of money - he just wanted to make sure the film achieved his personal vision. As many writers can no doubt attest, having your personal work taken from your hands and reinterpreted by other creators - especially after dedicating a good chunk of your life to it - can be difficult. Snider resisted, as he told Indiewire:

    When I wrote Strangeland, I got a lot of interest from a couple of small companies. My agent was like, "Yes. We’re gonna sell this for the big one." And I’m like, "I’ve got news for ya. I want to star in it and I want to co-produce it." And they were like,  "Wait a minute, you haven’t done that. You’re gonna limit your opportunity, your options." I said, "I don’t care. Find me a small company. Find someone who believes I can pull this off. And that’s what I’ll do with it."

  • The Idea for ‘Strangeland’ Came From Two Twisted Sister Songs

    Captain Howdy had been floating around in Dee Snider's subconscious for a while. Before he was thrust upon the viewing public in Strangeland, he was kicking around on Twisted Sister's hit album, Stay Hungry. Sandwiched between  "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" sits "Horror-Teria (The Beginning)," a song in two parts. The first part, "Captain Howdy," tells the story of the eponymous character who preys on local teens. The second part, "Street Justice," describes the lengths to which locals go to get their revenge.

    In the song, Captain Howdy is released on a technicality, something Snider changed in the script. Strangeland follows the blueprint of the song by spending the first 45 minutes of the movie with Howdy as he snatches teens and submits them to his deeply disturbing acts, with the rest of the film dealing with the "street justice" the Colorado locals enact upon him. 

    According to Snider, the song was initially part of a rock opera he was working on at the time, which he never got around to finishing. After losing interest in that version of the story, he transformed the idea into his first screenplay, Helltown, which eventually became Strangeland.

  • Captain Howdy’s Makeup Took 10 Hours To Apply

    Captain Howdy says his "badges are forever," referring to his piercings and tattoos. As for the actual process of getting those body modifications camera-ready, it wasn't forever, but it may have felt that way. To transform into Captain Howdy, Snider spent 10 hours a day in the makeup chair.

    Even though his piercings, tattoos, and shaved-down teeth look real, the only piercing Snider actually had during production was a standard septum piercing - which was nowhere near the size of his character's septum piercing. There's no confirmation of how much all that metal weighed once it was finally on his body.

  • Snider Was So Excited To See His Vision Come To Life That He Would Giggle During Dark Scenes

    With Strangeland, Dee Snider was able to transition from the singer of "We're Not Gonna Take It" to the screenwriter - and primary creative voice - of a feature film. To succeed in one artistic discipline is a pipe dream; two is borderline miraculous.

    Seemingly aware of his good fortune during the production of the film, at one point, he disrupted a very dark moment by breaking into a giggle. Snider couldn't get over how excited he was to be in the middle of a production for his own film. In the scene, Captain Howdy is being detained by Detective Gage, and the room is filled with unclothed people who've had their mouths sewn shut. Some are in cages, others are in torture devices, and Snider couldn't keep a straight face. He told Indiewire

    I got a [side arm] to my head, a cop, and they go "Okay. Roll sound," and I just started giggling. And [the director said] "Cut... Dee, what are you doin’?" So like this very solemn, intense moment of the film; a dark part of the movie, so [I said] "I’m sorry. I just remember writing this." And no, it wasn’t Titanic, but it was still like a forty-person crew and it was a big undertaking and it was happening. And because I was co-producer, it was as I envisioned it.