Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Review, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of wasting time on the internet. And oh do I have a film about not wasting time on the internet. Strap yourselves in because this ride gets into territory that is just way too much fun and a lot weird.
Gather ’round kids and let the old one here tell you about the good old days. This is back when the world was a calmer, far more peaceful place: The 90s. I tell you, it was a gentler time, when the scariest thing about youth culture (according to adults) was that your teenager would start dressing in clothing about three sizes too big and, if your parents were truly unlucky, said kids would manage to score that most coveted symbol of forbidden pleasures. Yes, they would find a way to get a body piercing! The horror! The shame upon the family! The ridiculous realization that it was still your kid with a silver ring or a stud in their face and that this really didn’t change anything at all.
Of course, I jest. There was a hell of a lot more shit going on in the world of youth culture back in ye olde 90s. A quick google search will happily remedy any kind of rosy idealism you had about those days but that could also be said of just about any decade. That said, for as stupid as it seems now, there was, once upon a time, some weird attitudes when it came to body piercing. This was especially true of anything that happened to be on the face. The idea that you might have a hole in your body anywhere but your ears was such an offense to decency and good behavior that it was automatically linked to deviancy. Back in the day, piercing was everywhere in pop culture, especially related to teenagers, and that made it terrible. It was often lumped in with different colored hair as a sign of the times and a signifier of everything wrong with Kids Today™. I mean, those kids were weird and they looked imposing. More importantly, unlike the greasers of yesterday with their slicked hair and pretty cars, this kind of rebellion wasn’t something you could write into a catchy musical. However, if you were in need of something to scare the shit out of people without trying, this was a hack with your name on it. Oh yes, if you were a writer and you needed a villain that you wanted to showcase had a bad attitude and may be a killer of some kind, or at least looked like they might be, you shoved a ring in that person’s nose and a few more pieces of metal in other places for good measure.
Tattoos had been showing up on villains for ages but piercings were brought to our attention a lot later in the game. I’m sure there are some lost examples of youth rebellion expressed in monocle-popping clothes and “oh goodness” accessories out there (at least one that is going to make an appearance soon enough on this very site) but body modification as a strictly villainous symbol could be argued to have shown up first in the Cenobites in 1987’s Hellraiser. It was the first time that I could find in film where modification was used as a means to showcase not only the pain that the villains went through but were happily going to bring your way. Piercing made another appearance in a minor but fairly memorable way in 1992’s Silence of the Lambs, wherein Buffalo Bill shows his appreciation for the song “Goodbye Horses”. Until then, body piercing and most modification beyond that was shuffled under the heading “stupid youth fad” but within the coming years, it was going to start showcasing a lot more than dour teens in baggy clothing. On the horizon only a year later would be the memorable chemical burn scene from Fight Club and coming soon after were the suspension scenes and other mods featured in films like Ichi the Killer and The Cell. All this was pretty fucking scary to conservative attitude holders of the day but could this be actually frightening to the jaded, irony-perfecting horror fans of the 90s? One brave soul stood up among the masses to ask this very question and that one man would give it his best shot. Here enters the one, the only, Dee Snider.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, the multi wonder that is Mr. Dee Snider might be more familiar to you as the bleach blond singer in war paint from Twisted Sister, best known for their song “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Sadly, that song doesn’t make an appearance in this film but there’s a nod to it at one point so I guess it can be forgiven. Anyone who has any interest in metal music and its history might not be that surprised to find that the good Mr. Snider would tackle a project like this one but if you’re not in the know, allow me to give you the extremely lazy rundown. Back in the day, Tipper Gore and her merry band of extremely bored housewives decided that Kids Today™ were being influenced by the terrifying media of the 80s and it was putting young, impressionable minds IN DANGER! Of what depended on the album cover they’d taken offense to at the time but basically anything they didn’t like was fair game and they really didn’t fucking like metal music. So much did they dislike this variety of music that they launched a huge censorship campaign called the Parents Music Resource Centre. The good Mr. Snider, along with the likes of Frank Zappa and John Denver (for real), stood up to them and managed to prevent the group from getting their way entirely, which would have labelled every album you owned for violence, the occult, obscenity – whatever you want to classify that as, because that definition is a wee bit broad – and instead the group was only able to get those big ugly black and white advisory labels on your albums in the late 80s and 90s. (And oh golly, wouldn’t you know it, the stupid label had the exact same effect that the comics code labels had for comic books, which was established back in the fifties. Thank goodness everyone had to waste their time in the senate to find out the shit they already knew was going to happen because they had a perfectly good example of it that had just played out in another medium…) Anyway.
Back to the film: Written and produced by Snider, this film’s directing duties went to John Pieplow and features at least one familiar face that isn’t Dee’s, that being none other than the Robert (fucking) Englund. And what is this cinematic masterpiece about, you might be wondering? Well, if you’re looking for an interesting take on body mods and the culture around it, sadly, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because this film starts off with something even scarier than getting your septum pierced. Teenagers talking to people in chat rooms! Online! I suppose if I’m going to dial the sarcasm back for a couple of seconds and be slightly more fair here, I will remind everyone that this was back when chat rooms were not only a thing but a completely new thing. It was exciting that you could talk to anyone anywhere in the world but, to parents, it was fucking terrifying. Sure you could talk to relatives across the country but your kids could also talk to people you’d never met too. Worse, you had no idea who those people were or if they actually were who they said they were. It was the first time that we had that sense of interconnectivity and the immediate fear of it becoming dangerous was something that would be a reality in later years. The stranger danger of yesteryear had come out of the shadows of parental nightmares and managed to find a nice comfortable spot on the other side of a screen that your kid had access to any time they wanted. Dee decided to take that parental terror, something he’d often been the target of, and spun it into a tale of two teenage girls who accept a party invitation from a stranger online. Instead of finding an awkward teenage boy with a group of his friends and a few video games, they find their friendly neighborhood psycho, covered head to toe in extreme modifications. He pulls the body mod equivalent of showing off his toy train collection, except in this case he kidnaps them and introduces them to the world of various piercings and other tortures. I’m sure that he would have gotten away with it too if not for one of those pesky kids being the daughter of a cop.
By now I should introduce you to our big bad online boogey man, Dee Snider! Sorry, in the film, he’s referred to as Captain Howdy and if that name rings a bell, you may have heard it in another little known horror film from back in the 70s. They never acknowledge where the name came from and I’m sure you’ve never seen it. (Really movie?!?!? Captain Fucking Howdy???? And not even gonna throw a tiny bone out about the source of that name at all?? You’re in a fucking chat room and not one human in this story who sees that name didn’t ask you if maybe, just maybe, you might be a horror fan????) Anyway. As you can probably guess, our modification fan isn’t really named after one of the most infamous horror icons of all time so much as he’s actually a “deranged” man named Carlton Hendricks. Our villain of many names hangs out (literally) at a nightclub called Xibalba, which translates to Place of Fear and is the horror film equivalent of putting a large neon sign that screams EVIL LAIR outside your hideout. It’s a strange little club that looks like what people wish goth clubs looked like, what with people branding themselves right out in the open and much fetish gear on display and all manner of pretty people who are in skimpy clothing. (Note: I’m sure there are some lovely fetish events out there with plenty of flesh and body piercings on display but at no point are people allowed to casually just brand themselves or each other without there being all kinds of regulations about these things. Issuing tickets for minor offenses is less sexy and shocking, however, so our cops just ignore that they could shut down the club immediately for shit like that and wander on through, looking for our incredibly easy to identify fiend.) Back to our very noticeable bad guy. When he’s not delivering some of the most melodramatic lines at underlings who don’t allow him to casually die in the nightclub, he’s at home giving less than consensual piercings to kidnapped naked teenagers and monologuing like a motherfucker.
I’ll give Snider credit where it’s due. He did try to research this role and the world of body modification as much as he could, even getting scarification artist Keith Alexander to help out as a consultant for the film. A lot of his monologues are based on, if not direct quotes from, a very important figure in the modification world, that being Fakir Musafar. There is evidence to show that they really did try to make this more than just a one trick pony in terms of shock value and, unlike in films like Silence of the Lambs where the nipple piercing is only there to showcase that Billy boy is on the extreme side of “other”, we do have at least one person who tries to give some insight into the world of the modern primitive and the people who engage in it. Granted, it was a walking plot point in the form of a tow truck driver but at least there was a nod so the movie still gets some points for trying. For Snider’s Carl Hendricks/Capt. Howdy character, he does tend to babble about the concept of what body modification is as a rite of passage but that is where the film tends to wander away from meaningful discussion and ends up in territory that it might not have intended to go.
The thing to remember is that Dee Snider isn’t the strongest actor in the world but he does have some presence and as an effective villain, he fits the bill perfectly. Given the choice between Buffalo Bill’s weird appreciation for Q Lazarus in the form of the world’s most awkward seduction dance and Snider’s hulking modified figure stomping his way towards me, I would personally choose instant death to either option but Snider actually pulls off threatening in a more direct way. Granted, this film is a might bit less serious than Silence of the Lambs but I have to admit that Dee looks the part of a terrifying antagonist and that works really well for this film. Right up until he starts talking. You see, the presence that Snider commands through his look and mannerisms are very difficult to hold on to while he is over acting his way through the (still bitter) Capt Howdy parts. The sad part is that when he plays his alter ego in Carl Hendricks, he’s actually able to put in a better performance because it’s not overwrought and over dramatic. Howdy, however, has all kinds of weird diatribes and that often leads to some of the most unintentionally hilarious moments and lines in the whole film. I don’t want to spoil any of it because some of them need to be heard to be believed. It truly is a baffling kind of logic that he exists in and that alone is worth looking up the film.
So is this a good film then? Does it many any sense? Does it make piercings as terrifying as most people in the older generations thought they were? The answer to all of these questions may very well be no but that’s cheating a bit. Is this a good film? Well, if you’re new, you might have noticed that none of the movies I review could be classified as any Oscar contenders but that doesn’t mean that none of these are worthy of your time. This one is a very weird film with some incredibly bad dialogue and very bad acting but it’s entertaining as hell. It stands as being one of my favorite films in my entire collection. And as for does it make sense and does it go where you think? Not entirely but that’s what makes it stand out for me as being more than just someone’s passion project of silly ideas committed to film. Snider really did try to build some complexity to his villain and I think that is respectable. And while there’s some interesting logic leaps in this movie, I still think it’s fun and has enough to keep you interested and, if nothing else, entertained. And does this mean piercings are terrifying now? Well, as much as I’ve never been one to reach for the fainting couch the second I see someone with a lip ring, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t feel my pants get a little heavier if I happened to see this guy running down the alley towards me at full speed. (That said, I’ve also known enough people who are heavily modified to know that a lot of them would be running down that alley to tell you that you left your coat behind or you dropped a glove. Sure, there’s assholes in every crowd but there’s a lot of people in that crowd who are pretty damn nice. Just saying.) So if you’re looking for a weird trip through the world of forgotten films, take a tour through Strangeland and enjoy the spectacle. Trust me, there’s plenty to see.
Thank you for joining me again for another Friday Nightmare! Remember that you can catch these reviews every Friday and, if you are so inclined, you can also enjoy the tales of the online Horror Host Dead Eye Dolly and her monster friends every Monday. Until next week, here’s wishing you restless nights and pleasant Nightmares!