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  Willy's Wonderland The Toughest Janitor Around
Year: 2021
Director: Kevin Lewis
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, Caylee Cowan, Terayle Hill, Grant Cramer, David Sheftell, Mark Gagliardi, Chris Schmidt Jr, Taylor Towery, Rick Reitz, Jessica Graves Davis, Christian Delgrosso, Jiri Stanek, Jonathan Mercedes
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This man (Nicolas Cage) is a drifter, driving his muscle car along the highways of the Deep South when he hits a mishap in rural Texas as his tyres blow out and he is forced to stop. He is rescued by a garage owner who takes the car back to his premises and tells him this will cost a pretty penny, money the drifter does not have - he seems to have spent most of his cash on energy drinks. Therefore to make recompense, he silently agrees to work a small job, simply spend the night cleaning up a local family restaurant that has not been used for a while, and he can get the vehicle back.

But what he doesn't know, and a group of plucky teens do, is this building houses unspeakable evil. That and some cartoonish animatronic singers. When The Banana Splits Movie was released, heck, when it was trailered, gamers across the internet pointed out the similarity between its premise and the computer game Five Nights at Freddy's, which too featured people pitted against rampaging puppet robots akin to the Chuck E Cheese franchise of family restaurants - except their robots didn't kill folks. "What if they did?" was apparently a cry that went up from kids with overactive imaginations and it was their adult selves this would appear to be aimed towards.

Screenwriter G.O. Parsons did not necessarily intend his script to be adapted for a Freddy's movie, but it did come across as a pitch for that task which somewhere along the way transmogrified into a "Ha ha it's Nic Cage" effort. Mr Cage was, he said, happy to take on the project because there was no dialogue, since he liked silent horror flicks and he could serve up a silent horror movie performance. He didn't mention the script might have been easier to carry out if he didn't have any lines to learn, but on watching it, though you may feel bereft not to hear a Cageian zinger or ten, a scene where he shares a Sergio Leone-style stare down with a cartoon sign of a weasel would speak a thousand words.

An indication of things to come. This was not a sensible movie, yet neither was it an out an out spoof: it was too invested in what is called world building, with the action cutting off so characters could spout reams of exposition to fill us in on stuff that didn't really matter when the reason you were here was to experience Cage laying into men in comedy rubber suits and ripping their heads off in a welter of incongruous gore. One example of why this was kind of strange, but not unpleasing, was that the drifter turned janitor for a night had to break off from the mayhem at regular intervals, as he lives by the countdown on his digital watch as if his time off could not wait and he just had to swig down those multiple caffeine drinks and play pinball.

It's never really explained, just as his lack of lines isn't, but added to the skew-whiff, pixilated atmosphere which mechanically set its pins up and knocked them down with a curious sense of satisfaction. If you've ever felt the need to punch a teddy bear to channel your frustrations, you would understand how weirdly cathartic it was to witness Cage tear ridiculous cartoon characters limb from limb - again, no explanation why he succeeds when others have failed other than he's Nicolas Goddam Cage, so why not? The only other famous face here belonged to Beth Grant as the local sheriff who needs a sacrifice at Willy's for the sake of her community, though the actresses playing the teens - Emily Tosta and Caylee Cowan - were certainly capable of moving onto bigger things. But it was Nic you'd be here for, and in his accustomed screen madness he did not let you down. Music by Emoi (who additionally provides the voice of Willy).

[Signature Entertainment Presents Willy's Wonderland Home Premiere on Digital Platforms 12th February.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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