Sometimes, there’s a man. The kind of man who stands out for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the way they dress, the car they drive, or the look in their eye. Whatever the case, this man just doesn’t quite match his surroundings. And that makes him all the more powerful for it. Yeah, in this case, the man in question is Nicolas Cage. And the movie is Willy’s Wonderland.
A man’s (Nicolas Cage) sport’s car gets four flat tires on a lonely stretch of road outside the town of Hayesville. A tow-truck picks him up, but if he wants his vehicle fixed he’s going to have to work for it. The job? Clean up the pride of the town, Willy’s Wonderland; a now dilapidated children’s entertainment center and party palace. The Man is now The Janitor and he is dead set on doing a damn fine job. Even if he has to bash the unholy animatronic mascots inside into scrap metal with his bare goddamn hands! All while, the local teenagers led by the rebellious Liv Hawthorne (Emily Tosta, Party of Five) attempt to put an end to the madness of Willy’s Wonderland on their own terms…
Now, that’s the basic set-up, but I think I can sum up the appeal in a few choice words: Nicolas Cage fights evil mascot monsters! Brutally! Of course, there have been some comparisons to the Five Nights At Freddy’s video game series, but could you curbstomp one of those animal critters’ heads into junk in a bathroom stall? I don’t think so. This is an over the top horror-comedy brawl and it’s pretty damn fun.
As I built up earlier, one of the most entertaining parts of Willy’s Wonderland is just how out of place Nicolas Cage is in this movie. Not in a bad way, though. It’s just like Nicolas Cage drove from Mandy into this creature feature with the same character and sensibilities and went all out. The Janitor is a man of few to no words and no name. And much like Clint Eastwood’s iconic role, he blows into town to outclass the villains who aren’t used to someone of his temperament. And the scenes of Cage going into no holds barred evil animatronic combat are memorable, to say the least.
The Character line-up
Willy and his pals are the right balance of goofy yet uncanny creepy. It’s a gang of eight unholy felt abominations including Ozzie The Ostrich, Gus The Gorilla, Knighty Knight, Arty The Alligator, Tito The Turtle, Cammy The Chameleon, and Siren Sara. Each featuring an insatiable bloodlust, twisted sense of humor, and special ability.
I won’t go too deep into their origins, but it’s a delightful and bloody throwback to the horror comedies of the ’80s like Ghoulies or Child’s Play. Even utilizing some pretty sharp practical and prosthetic FX for a similar style and old school feeling. This is where the other portion of the movie comes in.
The sections involving Liv and her friends just screams slasher movie. Unfortunately, their sections of the story were often the weaker ones. Both in comparison to Cage’s silent rage and fights with Willy and his cohorts, and the teenagers just not being as interesting characters — with the exception of Liv; Emily Tosta does a great job as the vengeance-seeking girl who wants to make Willy pay for those he’s hurt. But the rest of her friends are pretty much fodder for the body count. Including two of them sneaking off for one of the most ill-advised sex scenes in a horror movie since Slaughter High.
Willy’s Wonderland is about as bare-bones and distilled as a monster horror comedy can get, and yet it mostly works to its advantage. People want to see a movie where Nicolas Cage fights demonic Chucky E. Cheese knock-off robots to the death, you get what you expect and not much more.
But dammit if he doesn’t make it work without uttering a word! And when the comedy hits, it hits hard. I laughed particularly hard about a bit involving The Janitor’s mandatory breaks. While it isn’t reinventing the wheel, Willy’s Wonderland is a pretty entertaining wacko horror-comedy only elevated by Cage’s characterization and fight scenes.
And if Willy’s Wonderland pinball ever becomes a real thing, I will be first in line to play!
Willy’s Wonderland is available On Demand, Friday, February 12, 2021.