Corbis Sygma
Josh Wolk
December 12, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

While Hollywood has recruited such ’80s music video directors as Michael Bay (“The Rock”) and David Fincher (“Seven”) to work for the big screen, most rockers from those hair-spray-and-spandex-filled days have been left behind. Now, however, two refugees from the ’80s “Hair Bands” (as MTV dubbed them) are elbowing their way onto the big screen: Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Bret Michaels of Poison. Their goal: Proving it’s as easy to operate a camera as it is to obscenely flicker your tongue at it.

Snider, the garishly made-up rocker whose band hit big with “I Wanna Rock,” wrote, produced and acted in the macabre thriller “StrangeLand” (scheduled to open in September). The Twisted Mister became interested in filmmaking while shooting his first video in 1984 and while doing a cameo in Tim Burton’s “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” “I watched that insanity,” Snider tells EW Online, “and was amazed to see you could write anything on paper, and people would do it.”

Bret Michaels, whose band wooed metalheads with such anthems as “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” didn’t have the patience to wait for the studios. After writing a script titled “A Letter From Death Row,” he was told it would take about five years to attach stars and get financing. “I decided I’d rather not take all that time,” Michaels says, “so I put up my own money and went and did it.”

After finishing the psychological thriller that he describes as “‘Dead Man Walking’ meets ‘Silence of the Lambs,'” Michaels showed it to his pal and business partner Charlie Sheen, who filmed a cameo with his dad, Martin, to insert into the film. It was bought by Millennium Films, which is planning to sell it to video or cable. The company also put up $10 million for Michaels’ latest opus, “No Code of Conduct,” a cop action/drama currently shooting in Phoenix with both Sheens.

Breaking into filmmaking is tough for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for rock stars so closely affiliated with an era that looks a bit silly in retrospect. “Sure, I’m carrying baggage,” says Snider. “I do think some people take me less seriously. But it’s a mixed blessing, because Twisted had millions of fans, and they’re everywhere.”

Even when Poison was hot, Michaels was the target of verbal abuse; now he’s used to it and doesn’t let anyone’s doubts stop him. “MTV busted our balls back in the ’80s,” he says. “For all the s–t I took, it only fueled my fire to try anything I want to. So I don’t know whether to hate ’em or thank ’em.”

Both rockers are betting that big-screen legitimacy is possible. After all, no one could have foreseen that uber-coiffed Jersey boy Jon Bon Jovi would ever be considered a serious actor. Yet he’s starring in Ed Burns’ upcoming untitled film, and he’s shooting “Homegrown” with Billy Bob Thornton. Other musicians, says Snider, may benefit from a similar career change after the lighters have stopped flickering: “You go for that life of rock ‘n’ roll, but no one reminds you that there’s still 40 years after that.”

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