Review: Willy’s Wonderland

STUDIO: Screen Media | DIRECTOR: Kevin Lewis | CAST: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner
RELEASE DATE: Feb. 12, 2021
SPECS: NR | 98 min. | Action horror comedy

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie

When it comes to weird genre movies, Nicolas Cage has become a national treasure. It doesn’t seem like a month or two goes by when you turn on your TV set and see one of Cage’s latest direct-to-cable movies popping up on a streaming platform somewhere. Occasionally, back before the pandemic, Cage films like Mandy or Color Out of Space would make it into theaters, maybe even draw a cult following.

The latest Cage match—and there are two more starring the Academy Award-winning actor due on your TV screen any day now—is Willy’s Wonderland. No, it’s not a family movie by any means—in fact, it’s an outrageously out-there anti-family movie that delivers the exploitation goods and then some.

Cage, speaking nary a word throughout the entire affair, plays a character known only as “The Janitor.” While driving through an isolated Southern town, his souped-up Chevy’s tires blow, putting him at the mercy of one of the local rednecks who offers to repair the damage if he agrees to clean up a filthy kiddie emporium called Willy’s Wonderland overnight. Cage has little option–there are no ATMs in the town–than to agree to the deal, and he’s soon locked into the joint until the next morning.

Once inside, Cage begins scrubbing away, but soon discovers that Willy’s is populated by demented, seemingly possessed animatronic children’s characters with violent urges. A group of local trouble-making twenty-somethings make their way into the place as well, and, they, along with Cage, encounter these grotesque creatures that are armed with swords, axes and other weapons. Cage doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the slaughter of the young adults going on around him until he’s threatened by the freaky monsters—he’s rather complete his cleaning chores, play pinball and periodically gulp down cans of his favorite energy drink.

If this premise sounds weird, well, you’re right. When the town kids start getting murdered, heads roll and blood spews forth in a steady stream. The title locale is obviously a sick satiric salute to Chuck E Cheese, which is already a nightmare in s many parents’ minds. Adding gore to the setting and this story sends the idea way over-the-top into Re-Animator or Evil Dead 2 territory. Director Kevin Lewis and screenwriter G.O. Parsons craftily turn the proceedings into a sort of schlock cinematic heaven, but it is a heaven of sorts, nonetheless.

As for Cage, well, what can you say? Not a thing.  Just like his character over the course of an entire movie.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.