"Dee Snider's Strangeland" Logs On To Your Fears
by Amanda N. Nanawa
I remember this joke in the '80's about a nun in a blender and the punch
line was a twisted sister. Now take that blender metaphor and substitute
in for nun a computer, a stalker, and a suburban neighborhood and you
have "Dee Snider's Strangeland." Shot on location in Colorado Springs in
August '97, the film stars co-producer/writer/actor/musician Snider as
the sadistic stalker Captain Howdy. Kevin Gage ("Heat"), Elizabeth Peña
("Lone Star"), Brett Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt") and Robert
Englund ("Urban Legend") also star.
"How many people are lucky enough to have a dream come true in their
life," asks Snider from his home in Colorado. "You know, like, 'I'm
gonna be a rock 'n roll star and do ten million albums worldwide,
international acclaim'. . . I got platinum and gold [albums] paved in
my walls. Actually, paved in my attic now because, I took 'em off. I
love it, but it's too in the past." Snider is referring to his stint as
lead singer in the '80s uber-metal band Twisted Sister. Thanks in part
to an MTV generation that clamored to such hits as "We're Not Gonna Take
It" and "I Wanna Rock", the l.p. "Stay Hungry" catapulted Twisted to
superstar status until they disbanded in 1987. Now, Snider tackles
filmmaking as screenwriter and actor; his previous filmmaking
experience was being Twisted in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985) and
"Private Parts" (1997).
"And then I said, 'You know what? I want to make movies'," says Snider.
"No experience. No inclination. I didn't even do good in English. Just
an idea and a dream and just go. And it took me thirteen years. Now,
that's persistence, perseverance."
indieWIRE: How did you get involved with The Shooting Gallery?
Dee Snider: It was kinda back door. 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." So, I had a couple of smaller companies that were very
interested and one in particular who was going to do a deal, who I'm not
going to mention by name because they fucked up in the end.
And The Shooting Gallery have a company called Gun For Hire, where they
rent their production facilities out to bigger companies. So, this
company was talking with Gun For Hire about doing the movie and when
they fell apart, I said, "Hey...Would you be interested in doing it with
The Shooting Gallery?" And they were like, "Absolutely." Larry Meistrich
said to me in the first meeting, "This movie will make us New Line."
First of all, [he recognized that] all the great studios have been built
on the backs of genre films. You'll find some genre films that put the
ass in the seats, brought in the money, stay and go, and make sure
they're no less than God. Which is fine, but, it's nice when it's
acknowledged and Larry Meistrich and The Shooting Gallery recognize it.
In order to go and take that next step for the company, they need to do
more commercial properties and at the same time, they wanted something
unique and exciting and that wasn't going to be like another slasher
film. 'Cause this movie definitely leans more towards the "Seven" than
it does a "Friday the 13th".
iW: How did you get Director John Pieplow involved?
Snider: He found out about the film. He was a young director coming from
a theater and commercial background. And he pursued us, he came to the
table and he brought some really strong abilities to complete working
with developing the script. And helping me as an actor, John's
background really came fruitfully in those ways.
iW: Let's talk about the incarnation of the script. When you started
writing "Strangeland," how did it evolve to what it is now?
Snider: It started in 1983 with two songs I wrote for Twisted called
"Captain Howdy" and "Extreme Justice." And the opus I entitled it "The
Horrorteria" and that's when I wrote the beginning because I was already
at work with a rock-horror opera that I intended to record, release, and
perform - don't worry, rest easy, I never finished it [laughs]. But, the
idea of the script was in the back of my mind. And when I started
writing scripts in '85, well I started learning how to write scripts in
'85, when it came time to do my second script I thought to write a movie
version of this and I called it "Helltown." And it was a real derivative
slasher film, it was really bad. It was just completely hack, it took
bites off of every other slasher movie. So, I showed that and I
continued to write and in '94 I was looking to film my first screenplay
and I finally brought up a good angle, approach, a fresh approach for
this movie, for this basic story documenting a story that I had and in
'94 I wrote "Strangeland".
iW: So you have other screenplays?
iW: Are they all different from what you have now?
Snider: Yeah. A comedy, family film - two family films. Actually, my
third screenplay, "The Jump Squad", I actually had optioned by Savoy
Pictures. It was all G rated. I'm married, have four kids and I'm pretty
skitch. I take my kids to movies. And I'm just tired of takin' them to
movies that my wife [and I] were like bored to tears. When Savoy
Pictures went under, the script was released back to me and I never did
anything further with it.
iW: Do you plan to have it sent off again, to be optioned by another
company or is TSG planning to look at it?
Snider: You know what? I got this great relationship with TSG. I could
but now, I'm on my fifth screenplay, and my first produced film, and
after twelve drafts of "Strangeland" and ten sets of color pages, I look
back on those stuff, there are too many problems with them. So either I
go back and re-write them, which I may do, strip 'em apart and put 'em
back together because I'm just much better at my craft now, so I
couldn't just send 'em. My wife [goes] "Why don't you send out those
scripts"? And I said, "Because they're just not good enough". Yeah, it
was optioned but now I know why at the time it was optioned; they wanted
to bring in like another writing team to polish it. So, I'd rather go
back and polish it myself. Although I plan on writing 4 or 5
"Strangeland"s, I plan on doing this for the next five, ten years. Being
the next icon of horror, it's my goal. At the same time, I have ideas
for human interest stories: dramas, comedies, family films. That's the
thing about writing that appeals to me so much is that you really aren't
limited by any of your physical presence - your age, sex or anything. As
long as what you put on the page is believable, you're okay. So if I can
write a convincing black, 14-year-old lesbian, they'll accept that from
me; except for maybe Spike Lee. But, hopefully there will be some actor
who'll say, "I'm telling ya. I would spend time with Dee as a black,
14-year-old lesbian." So, writing for me has so much appeal.
iW: How did it feel for you as an actor in front of the camera, watching
your entire script unfold in front of you?
Snider: The greatest. Absolutely a fucking dream come true. There was
one scene in particular - we refer [to call] Captain Howdy's [rooms as]
lairs - so I was in lair one where [a victim's] being captured and I'm
laying on the ground in full Howdy; ten hours of special effects makeup.
And the room is filled with like six victims all strung up and caged in
different devices. A room filled with candles, I got a gun to my head, a
cop, and they go "Okay. Roll sound," and I just started giggling. And
he'll go "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
iW: How much input did you give to the soundtrack?
Snider: A lot and I had the ultimate say. I don't know if Barry [Cole,
music supervisor] would've necessarily picked this kind of music. This
is my baby, and if I'm going to have source and score music in my film,
its going to be the music that I like. I'm going to champion my cause;
and my cause is heavy music, metal, contemporary stuff. It also worked
very well for me because my score is very lush and traditional, dark but
its very Howard Shore-ish. It was a nice contrast between the real world
in the movie and the darker world where we can find most of this heavy
music playing. Once he knew what I was looking for, man that guy can
freakin' find stuff. He buried me in stuff to the point where I was so
inundated, I turned to my son, my 16-year-old, we piled the stuff in his
room. So my son was listed up there as music consultant.
iW: Talk about the research you put into "Strangeland". How did you get
into the character?
Snider: After Twisted, I just got into a lifestyle of always working
out, always running, eating well and I was thin and in shape. For the
movie, I definitely stepped up my training. When you're doing a movie
and you're going to be in a loin cloth, you gotta make sure that you're
loin cloth worthy, you know? That had a lot to do with the character. I
used, with exception to the sadist part, I used my basic personality as
a chassis for this guy. He's mean to the like, tenth power. But for a
very basic level, it's me. It's completely amplified and the sadist part
is not me at all, or the bi-sexual thing for that matter. I have a fear
of being hurt so I use my fear as his weapon.
iW: The Captain Howdy character uses chat rooms to lure his victims.
Have you tried getting into chat rooms and see how it was like, how easy
Snider: Oh yeah, baby. I thought of this crap way before the first
internet crime was committed. I remember that guy from Columbia
University, I called my wife up and I started railing, "Some guy ripped
me off! He stole my idea! I had that idea in my script!" And my wife's
going, "Dee, do you ever want to be remembered as the guy who invented
this? Maybe they'll name it after you, 'Oh, another Snider was
The minute I got online, I said "Whoa. What the hell is this here?" This
is like a psychotic's dream...that was too friggin' easy. That's scary.
We have this incredible gullibility when we're online. We seem to know
that this is a novel thing, there's people out there pretending they are
some of the things they're not. The minute somebody contacts us and
seems to like us, we're like, "Yeah! I like ya too!" As soon as I saw
that, I said, "Whoa. This is how my guy finds his people." He just
collects 'em, you know, just finds 'em and invites them to parties; they
come over and its a whole different kind of party. That was eye-opening.
["Dee Snider's Strangeland" is distributed by Artisan Entertainment and
opened October 2nd in theaters nationwide. Snider was also given the
"green light" to write a rough draft sequel to "Strangeland" . He hopes
to go into pre- production by the end of this year and have it ready by
the end of next year. And if you missed the Night of a Thousand Scars
event in New York City (10/1/98), you can catch Snider live on the
Strangeland Tour. Check your local concert listings. Also, check out the
film's website: www.deesnidersstrangeland.com].