Review: ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ (murderous delighted surprise)

No words; just energy drinks.

Barreling down the back roads of Nowhere, USA, a lone driver (Nic Cage) finds his souped-up black Camaro with four shredded tires, courtesy of police-issue stop sticks questionably discarded across the highway. Towed into the nearest crappy small town, the mechanic extorts the driver for new tires and dubious repairs, and the bill is cash-only. With no ready funds and no other options, the driver is presented an opportunity by local business owner Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz). If the driver spends the night cleaning up a themed family restaurant staffed with creepy-looking animatronic entertainers, the repair bill will be paid in full. Meanwhile, local townie Liv (Emily Tosta) is determined to burn Willy’s Wonderland to the ground, but first she’ll have to convince the new janitor of the mortal danger he’s actually in.

Nicolas Cage has enjoyed a recent renaissance of sorts, spoofing not only his own body of film work but proudly wallowing in the over-the-top characters he’s been associated with. Between voice-over work in animated features like Into the Spiderverse and The Croods plus adding more crazy characters in ridiculous situations such as Mandy and Color Out of Space, the Vampire’s Kiss actor may indeed be ageless and/or secretly immortal. All kidding aside, could there be a more perfect part for Cage than the mysterious loner vs. a building chock-full of unsuspecting costumed animatronics possessed by murderous spirits?

Grab a mop and cue the music, because this Wonderland serves up exactly the premise the trailers promised. Never uttering a single word and dealing with situations as they come at him, Cage’s “Janitor” works hard and plays hard, swigging energy drinks and never backing down. The safest place at Willy’s is right behind Cage, and the quicker stock characters figure that out, the longer they live. Needlessly gory and imaginatively graphic, the just-under ninety-minute feature burns on all cylinders, not just using common horror tropes but gleefully abusing them; no sin goes unpunished as The Janitor cleans Willy’s house.

While Cage’s reputation is beyond contestation, his silent-but-deadly demeanor relinquishes the spoken word to Emily Tosta as the town’s unheard “voice of reason,” saying what everyone else should but won’t. Liv holds her own and is determined beyond her capability, and Cage’s character seems to sense this even in silence. As is demanded, the rest of the characters are disposable the moment they become useless and/or boring. Bits of flashbacks fill in the blanks with more backstory than these types of films usually provide, but all of it is tongue and cheek. With mostly practical effects and cringe-worthy character songs used to the best demented effect, Willy’s Wonderland is drive-in and cult-classic ready.

In line with horror comedies such as Tucker and Dale vs Evil and Uncle Peckerhead that walk a fine line between fierce and farce, this is malice in wonderland. With the exception of a late model Camaro, Willy’s is borderline timeless, like it could have stepped out of the eighties genre that spawned it. It’s not only awesome to watch for B-movie fans but ripe for an entire franchise — and hey, when you even earn praise from the bad guy, you’re probably doing it right. Does anyone else have cursed murder house or diabolical business in need of a thorough clensing? Call The Janitor for all your supernatural elimination and sanitation needs!

Willy’s Wonderland probably should be rated R for language, bloody horror violence, and blowing an appropriate amount of their budget licensing a perfect use for a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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