An enigmatic stranger (Nicolas Cage) is driving through Texas when he gets a blow-out on all four tires, courtesy of a conveniently placed police stinger.
He is towed into town but finds himself unable to pay for repairs. That’s when he is offered a deal that seems too good to be true. If he spends the night cleaning the long-abandoned ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ restaurant on the outskirts of town, in preparation for its grand reopening, not only will he get his car fixed, but also earn himself a thousand dollars for his trouble.
Of course, what no-one bothers to mention is that the restaurant was formerly owned by paedophilic devil worshipers and was closed down following a massacre and subsequent police shoot out. Since then the good towns folk, led by the corrupt Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant – Donnie Darko, 2001) have been secretly sacrificing trouble makers and wayward strangers to the demonically possessed animatronic puppets that still inhabit the abandoned restaurant.
If all this sounds strangely familiar, it’s because the plot of the film follows that of the ‘Five Night’s at Freddy’s’ game franchise (a film adaptation of which is currently in development) so closely that it is a miracle that no lawsuits were filed.
Back to the action and the films body count is increased courtesy of the Sheriff’s willful daughter, Liv (Emily Tosta – Party of Five, 2020), who talks her friends into staging an ill-conceived rescue attempt in order to prevent further meaningless deaths.
Naturally, what none of the major players have counted on, is that this particular stranger, armed with a carrier bag full of energy drinks and a bad attitude, isn’t about to let some killer cuddly toys get in the way of his getting the job done.
Whenever I hear the words ‘Nicolas Cage’ and ‘Horror Film’ used in the same sentence, I am filled with an emotion that is equal parts dread and anticipation. His previous work in the genre is patchy, to say the least. Mention scenery chewing turkeys such as Drive Angry (2011), or even worse The Wicker Man (2006) and you are likely to set the teeth of any horror fan on edge.
However, more recent efforts such as Mandy (2018) and The Color out of Space (2019), have been met with much more positive reviews.
It was with all this in mind, and with little to no expectations, that I sat down to watch Willy’s Wonderland. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be something of an understatement.
Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast as the un-named stranger; effortlessly flipping from passive caretaker to psychotic killing machine and back in the blink of an eye. The rest of the cast, whilst clearly only present to increase the onscreen carnage, do a surprisingly good job of fleshing out their one-dimensional cliche characters. There is very little plot to speak of, but if you can get past that and just go with it, this is a fun ride that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
This film will appeal to fans of 80’s horror or no-brainer splatter fests. Those who demand more from their horror films, like character development or plot twists had best avoid.