“It’s your birthday,” the animatronic Five Night’s at Freddy’s lookalikes menacingly sing in Kevin Lewis’ WILLY’S WONDERLAND. It’s all of our birthdays during this 90-minute B-movie delight.
Any kid growing up in the ‘80s or ‘90s forced to spend a birthday or two at ShowBiz Pizza Place or Chuck E. Cheese was scarred for life at the assaulting visuals of animatronic character mascots. So it’s no surprise that they make for perfect, campy horror fodder— throw in a near-Mandy level (yet completely dialogue-less) Nicolas Cage, and you get exactly what’s presented on the box: a good time.
When a leather jacket-wearing, quiet drifter credited as “The Janitor” (Cage) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, he’s coerced by the local townsfolk to clean the abandoned family fun center, Willy’s Wonderland, in exchange for car repair cash. As a man of his word (or lack thereof), he proceeds to clean every nook and cranny of the dire building, despite “Kid Killers” and “Gateway to Hell” being plastered in graffiti all over the walls. And those graffiti-d words are there for good reason: as The Janitor scrubs away, eight possessed animatronics creep up behind him and thirst for his blood. Little do they know, however, they’re in for a rude awakening, as The Janitor annihilates their attempts one-by-one. Don’t they know they’re in a Nic Cage movie?
Written by G.O. Parsons, WILLY’S WONDERLAND knows what kind of movie it is and never takes itself seriously— abundant with dark humor and zingers like “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” “You as hot as a pancake on a griddle and just as yummy,” and an animatronic ostrich telling Cage it wants to “feast” on his “face.” Parsons even provides a sufficient-enough backstory for WW’s origins, including a surprising touch of satanic cult rituals and a Jonestown “drink the Kool-Aid” reference that doesn’t add to its hokey-ness as much as one would think. Lewis’ visuals are littered with hilarity too, as blood splatters across children’s birthday cakes and are smeared on mirrors with menacing threats directed at Cage. As viewers would hope, the carnage after a silent (but expectedly growly) Cage gets done with each mascot that dares to get in his way does not disappoint— particularly sequences of him breaking a mop in half and beating them to a bloody pulp or “handling” them in the bathroom.
And neither do the kills. Some fun, creative slasher-esque death blows are done both to and by the animatronics, as a teenager (Emily Tosta) and her group of friends are determined to burn the whole cursed building down and end up in the crosshairs of the vicious pixie, gorilla, ostrich, and the titular Willy the weasel, among others— whenever The Janitor isn’t around to salvage them, of course. Playing up further slasher tropes, the teen victims aren’t nearly as dumb, unlikable, (or terribly acted) as per usual, but they do manage to make questionable decisions, including sex in the deadly family center playroom as one of the animatronics lurks in the darkness. But it only adds to the fun.
Low budget only shows within some of the mascots’ appearances, as some of the scare factor is cut in half by (slightly) wonky-looking CGI or sequences of real-actors-in-costumes like the Barneys that your parents would hire to come to your house during your childhood birthday parties. Otherwise, the set design is filled with multi-colored lights that would rival a classic Christmas movie.
Viewers’ patience may start to wane as a good chunk of the film is simply watching Cage clean, kill, play pinball, drink soda, rinse, repeat repeatedly (and dance!) but the inclusion of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and one final kill is *chef’s kiss* perfection. A bloodied Nic Cage is never a bad time, and neither is WILLY’S WONDERLAND.
WILLY’S WONDERLAND is now available to rent on Prime Video.