If you know me, you know that weed is a huge part of my life. I love being able to kick back while smoking a joint as I immerse myself into whatever world is on my TV/computer screen. Recently, had the chance to check out the absurd, over-the-top horror/comedy WILLY’S WONDERLAND, from writer/creator G.O. Parsons. In the film, 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 “The Janitor” is about to discover. He soon finds himself trapped inside Willy’s and locked in an epic battle with the possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls. To survive, he must fight his way through each of them.
Let me tell you, out of all the movies I have watched while high as a kite, I’ve NEVER had a reaction as extreme as I did with WILLY’S WONDERLAND. I went on a JOURNEY as I tried to hide from the killer animatronics and I had a blast doing so. Recently, I was lucky enough to chat with writer/creator G.O. Parsons (who laughingly and maybe jokingly informed me that stoners were the targeted demographic for this movie) where we discussed the genesis of the project, how Nicolas Cage came on-board, and Parsons’ favorite Willy’s Wonderland animatronic.
As much as I would love to talk about the journey I went on while watching this stoned, I figured the best way to kick things off would be for you to explain the genesis of the project. I’m assuming as a kid you went to Chuck E Cheese’s or played Five Nights at Freddy’s?
G.O. Parsons: I was doing plays and the plays weren’t going anywhere, so I was told that I needed to make a horror movie because everybody loves horror movies and people would watch that. And so I was like, okay, I’m going to make a horror movie but I’m going to put a little twist on it. I’m going to have the villains mess with the wrong person. That would be my twist.
I grew up in Lake Tahoe and it’s on the border of Nevada which has a family fun center just outside of Reno called BoomTown. I used to go there and it was all these like action and adventure things, so it was just like Willy’s Wonderland, practically. So, that’s kind of where I got that idea of the evil, haunted place because I needed to keep it to one location. So, that was the idea behind it. I wanted the good guy to beat the bad guy and the bad guy couldn’t be zombies and it couldn’t be vampires, because we’ve seen that stuff a lot. It also had to be something funny. It’s funny to watch The Janitor rip the spine out of an ostrich or curb stomp a gorilla.
When you were writing the script did you envision Nicolas Cage in the role of The Janitor and what was the reasoning behind keeping that character silent?
G.O. Parsons: When I was writing it, I was just doing it for myself to try and give myself a break, so Nicolas Cage was in a stratosphere a billion galaxies away. It didn’t occur to me to have anybody in it cause I thought it was just going to be me and some of the bros with a Handycam shooting this thing. This gets to part two of your question: why doesn’t [The Janitor] say much? I thought I was going to have to be like running around with the camera and shooting it all myself and I didn’t want to have a lot of dialogue. That is the most honest truth.
Once I had the script written out, I gave it to a casting director friend who said to me, “Hey, you can shoot this thing and it could be okay. Or we could give it to a screen legend and he may take a look at it.” It’s hard, you know, you need that, you have to have a key in order to get into the castle. She had that key and she was able to get in front of Nic. He got it on a Friday, read it over the weekend, called back, and said, “When am I clocking into work?” I had envisioned myself doing it, she suggested giving it to like the greatest of all time, we give him the script, he’s in, all of a sudden this thing’s on another level.
And, as far as the dialogue thing goes, that drew him to the project. He’s done all these movies where he does monologues and he these fantastic dialogues, but this one he had to put all of his energy and his talent into a smirk, a smile, or just throwing a punch, and he saw that as a fantastic challenge.
When you were writing the script, was there a scene that really excited you that you couldn’t wait to see come alive on screen?
G.O. Parsons: I got really lucky because the scene that I kind of almost wrote first, or the first thing that came into my mind is now this iconic Ozzie the Ostrich scene, where [The Janitor] takes the broom and he snaps it in two and just crushes him. That was like the scene that I always saw in my head because it was the turning point of all horror movies. You got Freddy. You got Jason. You got Mike Myers. You got all these bad guys and they always win. They always just dominate. I wanted one where you thought this thing was really bad and then all of a sudden it just gets smoked. It kind of sets the tone for the whole entire thing. It’s like creepy, creepy, and you’d get this release of it just getting absolutely demolished. In that scene, I got so lucky that they put it in the trailer and it’s like one of those things that everybody’s talking about when they mention the movie, Nic Cage beats up [this] ostrich.
What type of horror movies do you typically enjoy? And do you have a fear of animatronics?
G.O. Parsons: I have a fear of those people that dress up in those scary Easter Bunny costumes. That was like another inspiration. The people taking those photos and posing with those kids think their rabbits look good. They think, “Hey, we’re going to have this forever” but they don’t realize man, that’s super scary (laughs). As far as the movies that I like, I love B-horror movies. Like this whole thing was concocted as like a love letter to all the great B-horror movies since the beginning of time. When I was like 10, 11, 12 years old, I would always go to the Blockbusters and the VHS stores and get Jack Frost, Puppet Master, Demonic Toys – that’s a big influence. Like all of those were like the ones I wanted to emulate with this script.
My last question for you is if you had to pick, like you had no choice, which animatronic would be your favorite and why?
G.O. Parsons: Ozzy the Ostrich. It was the first thing that I came up with. He, to me, with his long neck and his broken beak always was the creepiest one. However, let me throw in two other things – in every great movie there has to be a great hero and a great villain: Batman/Joker, Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker, Janitor/Willy. So Willy had to be eight feet tall, 300 pounds, you know, had to be the baddest of the baddest. I will say, the fight in the bathroom with Gus the Gorilla being curbed stomped almost makes me love Gus the most. So those are my favorites.
WILLY’S WONDERLAND is now available to rent on Prime Video. For more on the film, check out our review here.