Nicolas Cage has finally found his niche. In recent hallucinogenic horrors Mandy and Color Out of Space, his volcanic ambience harmonises with their mind-contorting narratives and cinematography. Cage, in essence, is ‘in context’ with his surroundings. It’s marvellous to watch. And Willy’s Wonderland, it seems, is striving to capture the same black magic with its fantastically ludicrous premise.
When an unnamed traveller (Cage) breaks down in the desolate dust bowls of Nevada, a stranger offers to fix his car on one condition: he spends the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, a derelict children’s play centre. There is, of course, one catch: the animatronic puppets inside are possessed by evil spirits, famished for human flesh and suffering. Armed with little more than dishcloths and disinfectant, our protagonist is forced to battle for survival. It doesn’t take long for the bedlam to erupt, and Nicolas Cage is swinging in the eye of the tempest.
Cage has zero lines (perhaps an emulation of Steve Buscemi’s absent dialogue in The Big Lebowski), allowing his character to flourish through brute force and impeccable comic timing. From the way he nonchalantly curb-stomps and decapitates his animatronic foes in a torrent of engine oil, to the way he takes breaks from the carnage and cleaning to chug energy drinks and gyrate a pinball machine, Cage soars in his role.
This, however, is the issue. Cage, in his fearlessly weird performance, simply outshines the cast and plot. Whether it’s the foolhardy teenagers attempting to save the protagonist and burn down Willy’s Wonderland, or the small-town cops uncovering its dark past, these elements feel like scaffolding for the lead role. Ultimately, the supporting characters fade in the periphery (with the exception of Beth Grant), becoming the carrion necessary to fulfil the demands of a bloodthirsty genre. But this is OK. Claret and violence, after all, is what the audience is here for.
Willy’s Wonderland might not stand up to keystones like Puppet Master and Demonic Toys (or even Krampus and Small Soldiers), but it’s still a trippy ride that will satisfy ardent fans of carefree horrors and, of course, Cage himself. It’s unapologetically ridiculous. And, yes, it does include a customary Nicolas Cage Meltdown.
G. O. Parsons
DVD & BLU-RAY
19 Apr 2021