Dee SniderDee Snider greets horror with a grin
By Naughty Mickie

It was a bigger honor than I imagined when I received the opportunity to speak with Dee Snider. The man has his hands in numerous areas of the entertainment industry and seems to be successful at whatever he attempts. Part of this can be attributed to the projects he selects, but much of it is due to experience and business savvy.

Snider's current "hot" projects are Van Helsing's Curse and their release, "Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale" (Koch Records) and a re-recorded and expanded version of Twisted Sister's "Still Hungry" effort (Spitfire Records). But before looking to today, I wanted to learn about Snider's roots so I could better understand his creative drive.

Snider grew up in Long Island, New York.

"I can remember the day I decided to be a rock star," Snider recalls. "That was the day after the Beatles appeared on the 'Ed Sullivan Show' and my father had banned TV in our house at that time so I didn't see it, but I remember going to the bus stop, everybody was buzzing. It was '64, so I was nine, I guess fourth grade. Everybody was buzzing and I said, What's going on?' They said, 'Did you see it? The Beatles last night?' I said, 'What's that?' 'It's a rock band.' I said, 'Oh, yeah?' 'Yeah, everybody was screamin'.' 'Everybody was screaming?' I said, 'That's what I want to be.' They were like, 'What?' I said, 'I want to be a Beatle.' I didn't even know what that was. I knew what rock music was. From that point on I decided I wanted to be a performer and, not obviously going to be a Beatle, but I wanted to be a rock star. Every day I was, 'I want to be a rock star, I want to be a rock star, I want to be a rock star.'"

Snider has sung all his life, he was in the choir in church and is a classically trained counter-tenor.

"My mom sang in the church choir, my ancestors did, so that part was in my blood." Snider says, "In the early days I used to play a little guitar, but my singing was better than my guitar playing by far. I could be in a lot better band if I would just put the guitar down, so I stopped playing the guitar."

Snider attended one year of college, as his  parents wanted him to have a safety net in case music didn't work out.

"I dropped out because if you have a safety net, you'll use it. The only way is up and if you have to survive, you have a better chance at living, so I went for it," Snider states.

Snider has worked since he was 12. He did the usual-- paper routes, mowing lawns, but his worse job was cleaning bathrooms at seaside resorts for two summers.

"It makes you hate the beach," Snider chuckles.

Currently Snider lives and broadcasts his radio shows in Long Island, New York. I comment that he has returned back home.

"Yeah, sort of like a kid who can't escape. It's fun to be away, but it's good to be back with your family and friends. It's an area you know, there's a comfort factor. I gripe about it a lot, but it's a love-hate relationship," Snider replies.

He tells me that he doesn't like California because it's so nice all the time and then Snider doesn't want to be in the studio, he wants to get out and play hooky. On the other hand, in New York, the weather is bad enough to make it easier to stay in and work and then play on an occasional nice day.

Snider has been married to his wife, Suzette for 28 years. She is a makeup artist and costume designer and has lent her talents to Van Helsing's Curse, as well as Snider's film, "Strangeland" and his band Twisted Sister.

"She's been very much the woman behind the man. She's been my partner in crime," Snider says.

The couple has four children, the oldest Jesse, 22, was an MTV VJ and is now hosting a HBO pilot, as well as being involved in music.

I ask Snider about his free time.

"I've got a really bad habit, I tend to make my hobbies my job," Snider admits. "I continually do that. I get a new hobby and then I try to figure out how to make it my living."

Lately Snider has been enjoying motorcycle riding (on an Indian V-Twin Chief and a custom chopper from Bourget in Phoenix, Arizona) which has evolved into doing charity work for the March of Dimes and VH1 Classic's show "All Roads Lead to Sturgis." A possible Ozzfest type tour with motorcycle rallies leading to Sturgis is in the works for next year.

I begin steering Snider back toward our main reason for speaking by getting his thoughts on the music scene.

"I'm a big fan of contemporary rock," Snider says. "I like heavy stuff. I've always liked heavy music. If it's got screaming guitars, the vocalist is going for it, the drums are down, I'm there."

He likes groups like Limp Biskit, Godsmack and Disturbed, anything heavy with attitude.

Of course I have to ask, "What do you think of the Internet?"

"Well, it's a great place to pick up chicks," Snider laughs. "I wrote 'Strangeland' and before it was produced, I remember the original screenplay, the Internet was just starting out, but it was really in the early days."

The film "Strangeland" relates the tale of a sociopath who uses the Internet to lure people to his home where he tortures them.

"I remember when I wrote my first draft I had a 2300 bit rate on the modem, now your average home thing is 56,000 and there's cable modems. It was so slow," Snider goes on. "When I first got online, with my devious mind, I said, wow, you can just find people that fit who you're looking for and reach out and talk to them? This could really be used for evil purposes. So I started researching and I had the idea what if my guy used this to find his victims, can I do that?

"So I went online and did exactly what Captain Howdy did." Snider continues, "I found a profile that fit my profile that I liked, a girl, and then created a profile of myself that matched their profile and then found out when they were in a chat room, went in knowing who they were, knowing what they were into and came into the room and said, 'Hey, any Nine Inch Nails fans here?' 'Oh yeah, blah, blah.' We'd chat and then I'd say, 'Want to come to a party?' ,Yeah, yeah, yeah.' Then I'd pull the plug out and sit very nervous in my room saying, 'OK this is kind of fucked up. I didn't want them to come over, but they were going to come over. I'm a 40 year old guy."

Snider tells me that he's very hands-on with his own children. He keeps the computer in his office and they know that he knows how to check their history. He pays attention to what they're doing.

"You can't completely isolated them." Snider explains, "I don't want to be oppressive. Sometimes it's tough when you spy on them a little bit and find out things you don't really want to know, but it doesn't fall into the realm of doing anything wrong, it falls into the realm of 'oh, this boy thinks they're a father.' I hope their mother doesn't find out. At the same time, you have to watch them."

So how did Snider's interest in horror start?

"As a kid I was terrified of horror," Snider admits. "I think it's what scares you, you're drawn to it. I got over my fear and became entranced by it, so maybe it was sort of like a challenge, overcome your fear and it's like dare me, dare me go, make it more, make it worse, make it creepier, scarier, more violent."

So when Snider wrote "Strangeland," his goal was to create something that was scary to him.

"When I wrote it the first person I gave it to was my wife, Suzette, she'd been my sounding board for years," Snider relates. "She went upstairs and she read it and she came down the stairs and had it hanging by her side, I remember very clearly, she was looking down at the ground. I said, 'So?' She goes, 'Do you have something you want to tell me?' I go, 'What?' She goes, 'What the fuck is this? What sick shit--' She was a horror fan too, but this was like a new level. I said, 'Honey, it's my fears, not my dreams.' She said, 'OK.'"

Snider says he was so bored with horror films because they were all the same thin-- fear of being chased and fear of dying.

"What else is more scary than dying? What's scarier is to be helpless and to suffer," Snider answers himself. "Death can be a relief. When you're running there's always a possibility you can get away, but if you start out with you're helpless and you're not going to die that to me is scarier. I built 'Strangeland' from there up."

"I told my wife that with my script I basically thought of the idea of Internet crime, that type of Internet crime," Snider continues. "A few years later, some Columbia University guy was the first person who lured someone in and was holding her captive and torturing her. I said, 'Hon, did you see the paper? He stole my idea.' My script had not been produced yet. My wife said, 'Honey, do you really want to be known as the guy who invented that form of Internet crime? Then they would name it after you, "today another Snider was performed"?' I said, 'Yeah, you're probably right.'"

"Strangeland " fans, like myself, will be please to learn that after five years on hold, Snider just got the OK to go ahead with "Strangeland 2." He had just received that news the day before we spoke! His next step will be to make a deal with a studio and go into production, hopefully by the end of this year. Some of the characters from the first movie will return.

"I like the basic building block that reality is scarier than fantasy. You can say, oh that couldn't happen and allow the mind to escape the situation. But if it can happen, it makes it creepier, it makes it more disturbing, if the possibility is that it could really happen to you," Snider says.

The "hero," Captain Howdy, will return in the next film and Snide has tried to make his resurrection believable.

"What happens next?" Snider tells me, "In our society, the name of the movie 'Strangeland 2'is 'The Cult of Personality,' with the media attention now, the people, villains, serial killers, murderers are put upon and become anti-heroes and larger than life. I said what would happen to these people? They would get so much media attention, there would be a spotlight on all these people. A high profile case like this, the world would know about it."

The second film will pick up a year after the first one on the anniversary of the day Howdy was arrested the second time and follow him, the daughter, the police officer and Robert Englund's character, Jackson Roth, and find out where are they now, emotionally and physically, and what's happening.

There's been talk of Snider hosting a horror-based cable channel, but I needed his help in sorting out the facts. What happened was that the Horror Channel approached Snider to act as their host and then the company split into Scream Network and Horror Channel. Both companies wanted him, but the split had affected the channels and resulted them in going different directions, yet not getting ahead. A year later, nothing had come to fruition. Then Scream TV announced it was going to launch high definition and has approached Snider for a project. One of the first projects was to broadcast the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, New York this past October.

Snider recalls a Halloween parade he saw in Santa Monica, California, "We were filming a Twisted Sister video, part of it, in a storefront on Santa Monica Halloween night. We were in the storefront working and there was a whole parade going past. So I spent a lot of time sitting in a van outside watching. I had the doors on the side of the van open, I was watching, but people didn't really see us. We were huge, we were famous at that time, so we were very identifiable. I'm enjoying it and people were walking by and most of them didn't look into the van. This drag queen walks by and sees me. He turns and goes, 'I'm going to burn in hell.' He starts singing a freaked out version of 'Burn in Hell' for me," Snider laughs. "It was a very funny memory. But I'm glad that the gay community enjoys my music, it's for everybody."

Finally back around to Van Helsing's Curse, Snider tells me that he wants to clarify that the "Van Helsing" movie is not related to his project. In fact, the filmmakers were worried because they didn't have a trademark -- Snider owns it. They threatened him, but he had had it for a long time and still, Snider told them to go ahead and make the film. He was glad because the movie at least set the tone of who the character is and that it's related to horror.

"The film was disappointing," Snider says of "Van Helsing." "It wasn't that bad, but it could have been more. When the movie came out people went, Eh.' That's not the reaction you want, that's the worst possible reaction. I'd rather hear, 'I hated it,' like when 'Strangeland' first came out. The reviews were brutal. They were personal attacks. Instead of talking about the movie, they talked about how maybe that I should be forced to have a lobotomy and all kinds of thoughts that way. Could we talk about the movie at least? Not me personally-- 'his parents should never have had him.' (My film company) said, 'What should we do?' I said, 'Put that on the poster.' They said, 'What?' I go, 'Are you kidding? If the mainstream press likes my movie I'm dead. If they say "Oh, it's a great horror film," that's gotta blow. But as a horror fan, if I read in the mainstream press that the writers should be forced to have a lobotomy, I want to see that movie.' Then you've got my attention."

"The reaction that you could be permanently damaged, emotionally and mentally damaged, by seeing the film. I was really mortified," Snider says and then tells me that he originally wanted to do an NC-17 version, but learned that it would be hard to get it screened, so he made it R.

The rating people wanted him to tone it down. They felt the man in the penis piercing scene was suffering too much. There was no blood, you didn't see the actual event.

"It was so disturbing as if they saw it. They never saw a thing. Then they tell me that, but they didn't see a thing, what? Am I showing too much? I pared the movie down even further, but they couldn't even handle, the subject matter was too disturbing for them," Snider recalls.

When "Strangeland" was released, the usual R rating warning was changed to include "scenes of torture."

"It's still brutal. It's the best stuff, let the mind go," Snider sums up.

Van Helsing's Curse's effort, "Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale," is unusual as it is primarily a musical work with the few lyrics sung in Latin. Snider narrates each chapter of the story and then the music tells the tale. The selections range from classical to rock and are quite intriguing, for example "Moonlight Sonata," a piece not usually associated with horror, is used on the album.

"When you hear it, 'Moonlight Sonata' is not usually in that context, but it's very haunting and that was our requirements, either creepy or spooky or haunting," Snider explains. "Haunting works too and when we kick into that, it's one of my favorite moments in the thing, it's unexpected and it really works."

Snider's production team for the project includes Joe Franco and Al Pitrelli. The trio make up Widow-Maker Productions and worked together on all of the effort's details-- "Moonlight Sonata" was Pitrelli's idea, while Snider suggested "Black Sabbath."

"It was the oddest creative process I've ever experienced in the most positive way," Snider comments.

The idea came to Snider when he saw the Transatlantic Siberian Orchestra at Christmas a couple of years ago and wanted to do something similar. He looked for the next biggest holiday, which is Halloween, and knew there was little music for it. He then called up his old Widow Maker band buddies and told them about the idea and they wanted in.

"I want to tell a story and I want the music to represent that story," Snider told his associates. "I want classical music with rock and some original pieces. I said 'No vocals, no lead vocals.' They're like, 'No lead vocals?' I said, 'No, I want a choir, Latin only.' I had a very clear vision.

"They said, 'So what's the story?' I said, 'I'll be right back.' I had no idea," Snider chuckles. "So I went and I wrote 'Patience,' the opening soliloquy and I brought it in. They're like, 'This is great.' We started throwing around some ideas, what would fit the mode of what we wanted to do and we came up with the 'Tubular Hell' section. We finished and we're like that's great, awesome. They all turned to me and said, 'What's next? What happens next?' And I'm like, 'I'll be right back.' Because I didn't know, I didn't have the story in my head until I wrote the story. I was just going around corners and opening doors and never knowing the end game. Of course I wanted good to win out over evil, at least temporarily."

Snider wrote each piece as they went along, but when the album was finished, he realized a piece of the story was missing. Snider told his team, wait, and ran into the next room and returned with the part where the entity realizes he's losing, he's feeling emotion, especially pain. and then the piece continues.

Snider shares a interesting story about the use of Latin in the work, "We wanted to get a Latin translation to the lyrics so we found a Web site run by the Catholic Church. Joe Franco, the producer, found the site and he sent them the lyrics to 'Black Sabbath.' They translated them and they sent them back and wrote a little note, it said, 'It seems that we're on the same side' or 'We're fighting for the same cause,' something like that. One thing people don't know about Black Sabbath, or most people don't know, is they're not satanic, lyrically they were very much the other way. The way I wrote about evil, it's more from the side of good as a cautionary. The people who said oh, they're devil worshippers, but Geezer Butler wrote the whole lyrics for 'Black Sabbath' and he didn't write evil lyrics, he wrote very positive religious lyrics. And it was funny that they wrote that we come from the same place."

So who is Snider hoping will want to listen to this work?

"I'm not aiming at five-year-olds, we wanted it to be a little more adult, more like a PG-13 kind of tone, but 11 to 70, that works for me. I like the mass appeal of the music and I'm hoping that it has a much broader appeal. It's not just for fans of Twisted Sister by any means, it's far removed from that. It has a much broader appeal," Snider says.

"I have really long range plans for this project, my end game is for this to be a musical part of people's expanded Halloween experience," Snider continues. "Halloween is now more than trick or treating, it's a haunted house, it's a scary movie, it's a Halloween party, it's going to an amusement park for a fright fest or whatever they have and we want this to become people's musical element to it."

Snider is already talking to Six Flags and Universal about Van Helsing's Curse and is even looking at Las Vegas.

"We want to be everywhere, we want to invade Halloween," Snider states, adding that it will probably take 5-10 years for this to happen. He also has plans for a play, books and other merchandise.

"That said, it all starts with a foundation," Snider reveals his wisdom. "Above all else, it's a musical project and if the music isn't good, it's a house of cards, you can't build anything on it's foundation. Every effort went into making the greatest record we could and if the other things work they did because first and foremost this is a great record to put on. Put it on just to listen to it, put it on during trick or treating, put it on at Halloween party, put it on in the background. It works. It's a good record so we felt we've done our job."

I ask Snider for some advice for aspiring artists.

"I always have two bits of advice," replies Snider. "One is the phrase I have tattooed on my arm, it's Latin, it means 'never let the bastards wear you down.' There are so many people out there who are ready to say no and so few who are ready to say yes. Then there's some that are not allowed to say yes, but they can reject things. You just can't let yourself be defeated by negative thinking close-minded individuals. You've got to believe in yourself, have faith and be honest with yourself. If you've got something to offer and you believe you've got something, stick to your guns and don't let them wear you down. The other advice I give is once you have success, parlay. That's our word for the day, children, parlay. Don't expect that it's going to go on forever." Snider continues, "We all think that we're going to be in that elite group of the Ozzys, the Eric Claptons, the Billy Joels, have careers of a lifetime and have lifetime success. For most of us it's a three to five year block and nowadays, it's only one to three and you've got to be ready to say that's what I'm doing now, that's what's succeeding now, how can I parlay this into my next thing. What am I going to do next?"

"We wake up and we're 30 years old, we have 50 more years to live and the million we made just ain't gonna last. We have no training for anything else and we have no idea of what we're going to do," Snider goes on. "It's shocking. It's a rude awakening. It's better to be aware of the reality of the business and say OK, this is my first part, my first step, my first chapter, and I've succeeded, where am I going next? How can I take what I've already done and bring it somewhere else?"

Snider's success is proof in the pudding so to speak, as with Van Helsing's Curse, many of his experiences, from classical training, rock, writing, voice-over work and more has gone into the album to make it work.

Snider's future is busy. Twisted Sister has reunited for selected shows and re-released "Still Hungry" with added songs. They have remade the album the way they wanted it done and it has been self-produced. Snider has also filmed a pilot for VH1's reality show "Meet the Family," is hosting VH1 Classic's biography show "For the Record," working on his film "Strangeland 2: Cult of Personality" and hosts the "House of Hair" radio show which is syndicated nationally on 170 plus stations. If that's not enough, he has just started nights on a new radio program in Philadelphia, which will go into syndication as well.

"So, I'm not doing much. I'm just sitting around on my laurels," Snider laughs. "There was a time after the demise of Twisted and the bottom fell out of the heavy metal rock scene that I was flat busted and I thought what the hell am I going to do? I have three kids and a wife and I think I need to reinvent myself. Thank God I was able to."

Enlightened and impressed, I bid Snider adieu, but not without this final warning.

"Accept Van Helsing's Curse now or later, the choice is yours," Snider firmly states. For more information on Dee Snider and his myriad of projects, visit www.twistedsister.com, www.vanhelsingscurse.com, www.deesnider.com and www.kochrecords.com

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