“Business isn’t what it used to be.”Willy’s Wonderland
We need more movies where a silent Nicholas Cage fights satanic serial killers who have possessed giant animatronic animals, is not a statement I felt like I would ever make. However, here we are, spending the night at Willy’s Wonderland as Nicholas Cage fulfils his promise to clean the joint so that he can get his car back. That’s it, that is the central conceit. What Cage doesn’t realize is that the Willy’s Wonderland has been haunted by the former owners who now inhabit the titular giant furry robots. A group of teenage townies who are keenly aware of the satanic presence in the building act as both fodder for the robots and sidekicks for the silent Cage. Speaking of, did I mention that Cage
goes thirty minutes without speaking remains silent throughout the entire feature. Not a word. It only makes his performance more fun, but also VERY WEIRD.
Willy’s Wonderland is the Opposite of a Slow Burn
I feel like I spent all of 2020 yelling into the ether that I was ready for something that wasn’t a slow burn. Something that was fast, slick, and that didn’t take itself too serious. Here is the answer. Willy’s Wonderland is a fast burn. First time screenwriter G.O. Parsons created a minimalist horror feature that manages to be both wild and incredibly focused. What if the monsters of our nightmares just picked on the wrong guy? That is this film. In a year where it feels that our baddies are at least moderately getting their comeuppance this movie feels right at home.
The pacing of the movie is sharp and never leaves us waiting for the next animatronic to come alive. Rather the film is broken up by a series of soda breaks that ‘The Janitor’ (Nicholas Cage’s official character name) uses to drink soda and play a Willy’s Wonderland pinball machine. It is during one of these breaks that we get what I affectionately called Nicholas Cage’s weird dancing and pinball montage (2021 is going to be a VERY strange year).
The Fear is Real
Perhaps one of the best decisions that director Kevin Lewis made while shooting the film was to treat the minions of Willy’s Wonderland as actually scary monsters. It would be easy to allow Cage’s performance to overshadow even the creepiest of puppets. However, the film works hard to present the monsters of the playland as genuine threats. They are dirty, grungy terrifying creatures that sing happy birthday one moment and tell you that they are going to “feast on your face and then your soul” the next. They are the next evolution of the scary clowns of my youth. Each scared the hell out of me in a way that only Helen Henny could.
Production designer Molly Coffee deserves the credit for designing the creatures who look disturbingly familiar. Childlike and menacing each animatronic harkens back to the days of Chucky Cheese. Each character offers its own version of evil. Rest assured that no robots were actually hurt in the filming of the feature. Rather stunt men and women donned the Willy’s Wonderland character suits where the talented bunch brought the herky-jerky nature of the automatons to life.
Have Fun at Willy’s Wonderland
I had fun. That is it. Full stop. Sometimes that is all a movie needs to be. It is an escape. It scared me. Nicholas Cage drives a rad car. There was a lot of blood. Some of it black some of it red. It is simple movie and in a complicated world sometimes you just need an evil robot ostrich to get decapitated (sorry not sorry Ozzie the Ostrich).
The movie feels geared towards a younger crowd. Perhaps the xennial crowd whose parents staunchly refused to take them to Chucky Cheese growing up (wait maybe that is just me and my own children). If a slightly edgy version of Scooby Doo investigated a broke down kid’s restaurant I would expect it to look and feel similar. That is a compliment. I happily found an escape in the world of Willy’s Wonderland waiting for Sara the Siren to catch her next victim. The only thing missing was the warm beer and the crappy pizza from my younger days at Show Biz Pizza. The movie is out today on VOD.
Willy’s Wonderland Official Details
A quiet loner (Nicolas Cage) finds himself stranded in a remote town when his car breaks down. Unable to pay for the repairs he needs, he agrees to spend the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned family fun center. But this wonderland has a dark secret that this “Janitor” is about to discover. He soon finds himself locked in an epic battle with possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls. To survive, he must fight his way through each of them.
Release Date: February 12th, 2021 THATS TODAY!!! You can watch it here.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.