Lectures For Lifelong Learners!

“Leap of Faith” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Willy’s Wonderland

Nicolas Cage doesn’t talk in “Willy’s Wonderland.” That’s not to say he never makes a sound. We do hear the occasional grunt come from him. However, he speaks no words. This is fine. He doesn’t have to talk. Cage is such a vibrant and expressive actor—a requirement for the role of “The Janitor”—that he doesn’t need to speak. His facial expressions and badass demeanor do all the talking. Even more amazing is that without uttering a syllable, we get all three Nicolas Cage specialties: tough, cool, and crazy.

Less silent is Liv (Emily Tosta). She had a very bad experience at the titular establishment–a Chuck E. Cheese-type place–when she was a kid at a birthday party there. As she explains midway through “Willy’s Wonderland” with all earnestness and the straightest face she can muster, the place was once run by a group of Satanists who killed themselves and transferred their spirits into the animatronic creatures that are part of the décor. These creatures need blood sacrifices, so the sheriff (Beth Grant) and the new owner Tex (Ric Reitz) made an agreement with the evil spirits that they will keep them fully supplied as long as the spirits don’t harm any townspeople. To secure their prey, a plan is worked out with local tow truck driver Jed (Chris Warner) to sabotage vehicles passing through the town, lock the driver and passengers in Willy’s Wonderland overnight, and appease the spirits by giving them someone for their blood sacrifice.

This is where Cage’s character comes in. Since he never talks and we don’t see any I.D., he’s just known as The Janitor. The ploy is that after he runs over tire spikes “accidentally” left in the road and blows out all 4 tires, the tow truck picks him up and charges him a hefty sum. Unable to pay, he’s taken to Tex and told that he can work it off by cleaning up the dirty and disheveled interior of Willy’s Wonderland overnight. He’s shown the closet with the cleaning supplies, given a t-shirt to wear, and told to get to it.

The Janitor is a hard worker who cares about doing his job well. The only other aspects of his character we see are that he loves pinball, consumes nothing except for energy drinks, and takes his scheduled break times very, very seriously. He is also an incredible hand to hand combat fighter (the dog tags hanging from the rearview mirror hint at a military background) capable of working himself into a fiery rage and dishing out some of the most satisfying and cathartic beatdowns of all time.

The fight scenes with the possessed animatronics are equal parts frightening and fierce. This is a movie that could have gone for cheek or camp, but decided to take its premise seriously. Director Kevin Lewis made a wise move with this tone. There are some funny moments, but they’re intentionally funny comic relief. The action is played fairly straight, with some innovative shot choices and camera work.

The best part of “Willy’s Wonderland” is the absolute rush it is to watch as The Janitor takes the attacking animatronics down one by one. These are creepy, intimidating creatures. It’s established through flashback that for years people came face to face with their worst nightmare when they encountered these robots. Now the robots have encountered their worst nightmare with The Janitor. Or, as Liv so deftly puts it, he’s not locked in there with the robots. It’s they who are locked in there with him. Buy it.

More New Releases

“Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist,” a cinematic essay on The Exorcist, exploring the depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.