Written by Dee Snider and directed by John Pieplow, this has been one of my favorite horror/thriller films for a long time. It delves deep into the depravity of a tormented human psyche and is truly one of the only movies that has ever REALLY creeped me out.
What we have is Hollywood foreshadowing what would later become one of the easiest ways for predators to initiate contact with their victims. A story so real it could actually happen and being a true crime buff, I can assure you that there have been many similar cases throughout the country for decades.
This story takes place on the cusp of the birth of the internet. (Quick history lesson for those who have never lived without the internet: The internet wasn’t fully commercialized and made available to the public until 1995. Back then we pretty much only had AOL and there wasn’t much in the way of “searching the web”. The big craze at the beginning was chat rooms and the famous “You’ve got mail” message when you got an email. Keep in mind that this was all very brand new. Most adults in the 90s didn’t really understand the internet and the kids had no concept of predators in chat rooms. For instance, in 1998 when this movie came out, it was NOT standard procedural information to include an email address on personal information forms. That’s how new it all was. Most businesses didn’t even have websites yet. We were still getting used to the idea of everyone having cell phones and people were still using pagers in the late 90s.)
But, before I go any further, let me tell you the story.
Two girls, Genevieve and Tiana, are hanging out one night at Tiana’s house. Gen is online in a chat room, the hot thing to do to socialize while stuck in the house at the time. Gen is chatting with a screenname CaptHowdy. After a couple of messages are exchanged, he invites them to a party. They look at his profile and see that he’s a teenager, like them, he goes to a different school and he’s telling them his parents are gone for the weekend. So, they get his address and go to the party.
The next day, they don’t come home and parents get worried. Gen’s father, Mike Gage, is a local detective on the police department. He begins to investigate the girls’ disappearance.
Through the investigation Gage is alerted to Tiana’s car being found in a lake. Classic Investigation 101, check the trunk. Tiana is inside, nude, her mouth sewn shut, tortured and dead. They also find a septum spike (nose piercing spike) that is absolutely huge. The owner of this piercing can put a finger through the piercing hole for this spike, that’s how big it is. Coupling that with the kind of torture that Tiana was subjected to, they surmise that their suspect is into body art.
Furthermore, Gage’s niece enlightens him on how the girls how been using chat rooms as of late to meet guys. Now, he has his first lead. They contact the internet service provider and get account information for who his daughter was last chatting with in the chat room before she logged out. That’s when they get the name CaptHowdy and the niece looks up his member profile. Using that information, they pose as a teen, draw him out and he invites them to a party. They use this as an opportunity for sting operation but, they bust in on the wrong house. Gage, horribly dejected, sleeps in his car outside of the raid locale.
When he wakes up he gets online again to see where Howdy is. (He is able to do this by plugging his phone into his computer and using his phone line and minutes to connect to the internet. This was not widely available, if at all, at the time this movie was made. I know because even a few years later a top electronics store had nothing in stock that did such a thing and they had no idea what I was talking about.) He ends up having a conversation with CaptHowdy and through some sly deduction, finds his house.
He enters the house and finds Howdy (Dee Snider), his own daughter, who is bound in a stand-up cage with her own mouth sewn shut and multiple other teens in similar condition, all having been tortured with various body piercings and needles and such. Howdy and Gage have a brief scuffle before Howdy is handcuffed and the rescue is complete. During this arrest and rescue, Howdy rambles on and on about how he has never been afraid of anything ever because he wishes he was dead and a bunch of other ridiculous stuff. Also, during the movie up to this point, we HAVE seen Howdy and what he’s doing to these kids. He talks about a right of passage and badges of honor and spiritual awakenings all due to experiencing pain at massive levels.
After his apprehension, CaptHowdy is found to be Carlton Hendricks…and not guilty by reason by insanity. He spends about a year in a mental hospital during which time he gets treatment and put on medication. Then he is released.
There’s an entire mob that is extremely displeased about this. Two of the main people in the mob are Sunny, an overzealous religious nut and Jackson (played by Robert Englund AKA Freddy Krueger), a drunk misogynist. They all decide to break into his house and seek their own justice, even though he seems to have completely changed.
They grab Hendricks as he is watching tv and having his dinner. They throw him into the back of a car and as they do so, his medication falls out of his pocket onto the ground and they run over it as they leave, smashing Hendricks’ face into the window. Detective Gage, who is keeping his own eye on Hendricks’ after his release, see all of this and does nothing. He and Hendricks even make eye contact, still he does nothing. He lets his emotion as a father override his duty as a police officer.
The mob drives Hendricks out to a remote area, string him up by his neck from a tree branch and watch him struggle until he passes out. They leave him to hang there and die as a rainstorm begins.
But, the hanging branch isn’t strong enough and with his weight and the storm, it breaks, letting Carlton crash to the ground. He regains consciousness as his unmedicated Howdy personality and you can see vengeance burning in his eyes.
Howdy goes on a bender, kidnapping various people and torturing them. Among them are Sunny, Jackson and unfortunately, Gage’s daughter Genevieve again. This time it doesn’t take long for Gage to find Howdy. Another fight ensues as the rescue of the victims takes place. Gage finally loses control and getting the upper hand on Howdy and is able to kill him, in revenge for what he did to Genevieve. Gage, having killed Howdy and leaving him in a burning building, goes to the hospital to check on his daughter.
So, one of the reasons I love this movie is because I find it to be something that could seriously really happen in real life. There are internet predators out there and they do target vulnerable teenagers. There are also some really sick individuals that kick quite a thrill out of inflicting pain on other people. Couple these things together, which is not unheard of already, and you have Captain Howdy.
The thing is that these girls are talking to a person and they have no idea who that person really is…and it doesn’t really sink in to everyone that who they say they are in their profile may not be who they are in real life.
So, you’ve got a demented soul torturing other people and a father who happens to be a cop now has to make the decision to either follow his badge and the law or follow his heart.
While there is no real GORE in this movie, there is a lot of explicit content and you will see needles and such piercing through skin. If that is something that you just cannot stomach (as some of my good friends cannot), then this may not be a movie you can handle. There is a definite gross factor to the up close and personal view we get with some of the stuff but, to me, it’s really nothing.
Also, I love Dee Snider. I love Twisted Sister. And Snider is awesomely spooky in this film. He embodies that impetuous “I don’t care, I don’t feel, I don’t hurt” attitude yet, you can see how damaged Howdy really is. This is also more a story about Hendricks/Howdy than his crimes. But, we also see how such crimes can affect all of those involved.
This is truly an unusual movie that any horror fan must see.