When we first heard about the announcement of Willy’s Wonderland, we already knew what it was going to be. “What would Five Nights At Freddy’s be like if they were going up against a batshit crazy Nicolas Cage?” And, well, now that the movie’s actually here, we can confirm that’s pretty much what you get. But that’s not the worst thing.
Directed by Kevin Lewis, this low-budget horror/comedy has more going for it than you might expect. But the thing that helps here is that you set said expectations low. If you’re wondering if Willy’s Wonderland is on the same level as the insanely nuts Mandy, well, it’s not. Not even close. But if you accept the premise and came to see Cage go nuts on a horde of animatronic terrors, then you’ve come to the right place.
Cage portrays “The Janitor,” a guy who waltzes into town looking all bad ass. He runs into the town of Hayesville just as his black Chevy runs into car trouble. It turns out to be rather costly, and he doesn’t have an overwhelming bank account to take care of the damage.
It’s here that the owner of a local establishment called Willy’s Wonderland strikes a deal with the Janitor. If he can clean up the place, he’ll have his car fixed and ready to roll in the morning. If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because, well, it is.
We soon learn that Willy’s Wonderland was a children’s party establishment with animatronic creatures to entertain them, a la Chuck E. Cheese in a way. But there are some dark secrets that forced its closure, and the Janitor is about to meet them head-on. And he’s not alone, as some typical teen characters pop in, just to give Willy and his buddies some targets in which to pile up the body count.
The owner doesn’t quite fill in all the details to Cage’s character about his true purpose, but he finds out soon enough – and that’s when the carnage kicks in. See, The Janitor is a good clean-up man, but in more ways than you might expect. A sequence where he makes short work of an ostrich that threatens to eat his face gives you an idea of what you’re in for.
Plot-wise, Willy’s Wonderland isn’t the strongest. The teenagers are typically written and literally asking for death at one point; and there are some holes in the tale when it comes to why the place ended up the way it did. And there are some gaps of logic, especially closer to the end.
But there’s also a whole lot of merit here. The carnage, as we mentioned, is a thing of beauty, as Cage and company get covered in all sorts of oil and other fluids trying to take apart these interesting terrors. And the animatronic creatures themselves are a hoot, from the trash-talking ostrich to a knight with a Muppet-like face to Willy himself, who could honestly give Freddy a run for his money.
There’s also an interesting kinship between Cage and Liv (Emily Tosta), a teenager that really gets to see how he works. It’s fun to see them both work together to survive the night – if they can – while the others, well, lack heavily in character.
Willy’s Wonderland isn’t the smoothest filmmaking experience, between its jagged story and occasional pulpy filmmaking style. But it’s good fun – and a majority of that lies with Cage. He’s eating this role up like it’s a New York pizza covered in pepperoni and sausage, even jiving out with something as simple as a break with a pinball machine or guzzling down a drink. And, yeah, it’s cool to see him take down most of the animatronic threats like a crazy bad-ass would.
Again, it really comes down to expectations. If you walk into this expecting the legendary work of Nicolas Cage, well, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a fun horror fest where he goes nuts a majority of the time – even without muttering much in terms of dialogue – then you’ll have a field day in this Wonderland.
RATING: 7.5 (out of 10)
Not the greatest of Cage’s work, but Willy’s Wonderland is a sight to behold for fans of schlocky horror comedy.