By Samuel Zimmerman
The long-in-development sequel to STRANGELAND, the 1998 fright film penned by rocker and FANGORIA RADIO host Dee Snider, who also starred as the evil Captain Howdy, is finally headed before the cameras. Encouraged by tax breaks for film production in the state of Ohio, STRANGELAND: DISCIPLE, whose story Snider began writing shortly after the original was released, has been picking up speed and will lens soon in Cleveland and Youngstown, OH. Snider spoke exclusively to Fango and let us in on a wealth of new info about what to expect from the follow-up.
Most likely, if you’ve kept up with any of the recently posted news, you’ve read this synopsis of DISCIPLE: “One year after Carleton Hendricks’, a.k.a. Captain Howdy’s, sadistic rampage, much more than the physical scars the schizophrenic, sexual sadist gave his victims are left behind. Their lives destroyed by emotional torment and the media frenzy surrounding the crimes, Detective Mike Gage, his daughter Genevieve and vigilante Jackson Roth each have their crosses to bear. But when the badly burned and mentally broken Carleton Hendricks is taken from a state-run mental hospital and off his medication by billionaire media mogul Morgan LaForce, leader of the body modification/fetish haven called ‘The Torture Garden,’ the door swings wide open for each of Captain Howdy’s victims to find closure…and retribution.”
As Snider tells Fango, while that synopsis and much of the script were written years ago, it’s pretty accurate except for “one glaring thing,” he laughs. “It says, ‘One year later.’ Somebody on-line mentioned, ‘One year later—what, are you gonna have old [Internet] technology?’ But the emphasis is not so much on that. Back when I wrote the first STRANGELAND, the technology was brand new, but now it’s sort of an accepted part of the fabric of society; there’s no real revelation in it.
“We’re in the process of going out to directors,” Snider continues, “and when we bring one on board, I know whoever it is will have thoughts and input as to how the script should be changed or modified. At that point, we’ll figure out how many years will be an acceptable time to have passed, and how that affects the storyline. I don’t think that will greatly affect the script.”
In 1998, STRANGELAND had a pioneering attitude about it—not only regarding the increasing popularity of the Internet and its ability to make human connection (for better or, in this case, for worse) much easier, but also in its emphasis on the kind of torture that horror fans would see a good deal of in the early 21st century. “It was the first movie to ever have the phrase ‘and scenes of torture’ with its MPAA rating,” Snider says. “The R was given with the stipulation that that be in the description. No film had ever had that, and I was very proud. I was trying to reinvent the wheel, or do something different. To me, that was a significant designation.
“One of the things that DISCIPLE focuses on still continues in reality-based form, something that could happen,” he continues. “It focuses more on society and the cult of personality. These villains become sensationalized in the press and almost become antiheroes and have followings. The media also glamorizes and blows these things up. Again, it makes them something like heroes to certain people, because they’re so oppressed—‘Oh, the poor sick man.’ The movie looks a lot at that, which is a big theme today. Then, it goes much further into the world of body modification and tribal ritual. Since I did the first one, people have become much more aware of what’s going on in the subculture, but I believe there’s even more depravity to explore.”
Snider is in the midst of assembling a team to go exploring with him, and it sounds quite promising. As far as a director goes, he’s tight-lipped, revealing only that the short list has been narrowed down to 10, each of whom he’d be equally excited about if they were to helm. “We’re focusing on young, talented filmmakers, and there are some great ones out there. The difference between the last time I looked for a director and this time is that I’m really invested in the horror community on the next level, through Fango Radio and through making STRANGELAND and becoming a fixture or a semi-fixture in the horror community, so my awareness of the talent pool and what’s out there is much greater. We have to lock in a director in the next 30 days; we’re going out to representatives right now and making offers.”
Thankfully, the Twisted Sister frontman doesn’t shy away from naming names when it comes to the rest of the production. “As soon as we [sign a director], we start rolling in earnest. It’s looking like Robert Kurtzman is going to be doing the special effects; that’s not signed, sealed, delivered, but we’ve had significant conversations, he’s around that area, he wants to do the project, we want him to do the project. So now it’s just about putting together the deal.”
With Kurtzman just about on board, it can only be assumed that Snider and his director will be keeping things practical and tangible when it comes to the FX. “Absolutely,” he says. “A number of things dictate that. I also want to add that I’m hoping to put together a situation where Kurtzman will bring Michael Burnett, who did the effects last time, in on his team, specifically for some of the Captain Howdy stuff. Sitting in a G-string in a chair for 12 hours at a shot, I’m much more comfortable with Michael than with a lot of people; you really get to know somebody when you’re lying on a table for 12 hours in a G-string. Burnett is working at Universal Studios now, so his ability to just pick up and leave and go do a film for several months is not as great.
“We’re working with roughly a $5-million budget,” Snider adds. “The first movie was made for $1.1 million. It’s definitely more to work with, but still, it’s a limited budget, computer effects just aren’t a reality in independent filmmaking and in this kind of movie, I just don’t believe it’s needed. There’s a lot of body modification, a lot of rituals and some intense stuff, and I think they’re even more effective with practical rather than digital.”
Obviously, Snider will be reprising his role as Captain Howdy, but he reveals he’d like to see a lot of the supporting cast carry over from the original as well. “Robert Englund is attached, period,” he reveals. “He is all set to reprise his role as Jackson Roth. He was significant in the last one, but he comes back in a much more powerful way. This is definitely a movie about revenge, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get that Jackson Roth is none too happy about having been made Captain Howdy’s bitch in the first movie.
“I would love to bring back some of the other people from the first one,” he continues, “but mind you, some of them have gone on to become quite big stars. Amy Smart is a much bigger name now, as is Linda Cardellini. I’m actually going to reach out to Linda; coming off ER as a single mom and, before that, the SCOOBY-DOO movies, she may be ready for something darker. Linda’s very cool, even though she’s out of my price range these days, but you never know. I hope to reach out to Kevin Gage, who played Mike Gage, the father and detective, in the original. He’s a much greater actor than he was allowed to be by that movie’s director, and I’ve seen HEAT and all these other films he’s done since. He’s very talented, he’s a great guy to work with, and having some connection back to the original is a cool thing to do.”
In the realm of new faces, Snider plans to cast a good friend who should be quite familiar to Fango fiends—and he also has info on how you can score a bit role. “I’ve got a role for [FANGO RADIO’s] Debbie Rochon in the movie. It’s a speaking role in an opening sequence. It’s a pretty cool part, she’s a good friend and a talented actress and I told her I’d love to bring her onto the movie. Beyond that, we’re going to go wide with the casting. What we are doing is a national call; now that we’re rolling, we’re going to go through screentest.biz. Specifically, there’s a big club scene, with a lot of body modification elements and some really cool things we’ll need extras for, and we’re definitely going to be casting those off of screentest.biz. It’s a publicity thing, absolutely, but as an independent film, you’ve got to do everything you possibly can, so the open casting call is definitely a way of getting more attention for the picture.”
With the decade-plus road to a STRANGELAND sequel about to reach its end, Snider is excited thanks to the original film’s fans and the idea of making a worthy and better successor. “I’m very pleased by the on-line chatter and enthusiasm for it within the horror community,” he says. “There are people out there who shit-talk the original STRANGELAND, and the things they say about it are all absolutely true. I say, ‘Was it shocking?’ Yes. Did it seem rushed at times? Yes. Was it all it could be? No. I had a little over a million dollars to work with, and we actually went to litigation with the director because we didn’t want him to be paid; he was pulled from the post work and the edit was taken out of his hands. I hope to correct all the wrongs with the new one.
“Just recognize that independent filmmaking is not the easiest thing in the world,” he notes. “You can solve any problem if you throw money at it. If you can’t do that, you have to do the best you can, and sometimes the best isn’t good enough. I often say on FANGO RADIO that I think they should put the price tags of movies at the beginning, so people would say, ‘Oh, this was made for a million bucks, let’s see what they did… Oh, this was made for $80 million, it sucks!’ That’s something that people should be aware of sometimes. People can look at STRANGELAND and look at SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and go, ‘Oh, SILENCE is way better.’ Yeah, of course it is. It’s one of the greatest movies of all time, and they had Oscar-winning actors and a major director and millions of dollars to make it. I’m not saying I’m comparing myself, but the point is, you’ve got to put things in perspective when you’re judging movies, based on what the resources are.”