Pinball, Puppets, and Nicholas Cage take the Stage in a live-action Beat ’em Up.
Most of my favorite movies in the ’80s and ’90s were B movies. This attraction started when my grandparents gave me a copy of Attack of the killer tomatoes on VHS. I watched this movie repeatedly in the hours after my parents went to bed during the summers of my youth. I was obsessed with this film. My father used to comment that the very moment he would drift into sleep he was awakened by the iconic theme song booming through the house from our television set. I later discovered other low-budget classics like The Toxic Avenger, I married a Vampire, and of course the beloved Redneck Zombies.
As the years have gone by it seems that this generation of impressively low budget pictures just don’t hit the same tone with me. The camera work is all wrong, the humor is too over the top and the bad acting just doesn’t hold the same charm that it used to. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not talking about films like Hereditary or Goodnight Mommy. That is another category altogether. I’m talking about the type of movies that were made out of the love for the artform with a very minimal amount of money. The beauty of this type of film is the creativity to do more with less.
Willy’s Wonderland lands a punch that other films of its contemporary cannot seem to muster. The flick takes place in a generic Chuck E Cheese-like establishment equipped with an arcade, a super happy fun room and a stage of animatronic puppets that dance, speak and kill. Nicholas Cage portrays a quiet drifter who has car trouble passing through this town and is cut a deal by the owner of the abandoned Family Fun Center. Our hero takes on the challenge of performing an overnight cleaning shift at Willy Wonderland in order to get his car fixed and delivered to him in the morning. The film takes a turn that is seemingly influenced by “beat ’em up” video games as he finds himself challenged by a series of battles with satanic puppet bosses. In between cleaning tasks and battles he grants himself timed breaks in which he plays pinball and drinks a can of his treasured beverage punch pop.
Nicholas Cage doesn’t deliver any speech in this picture other than a few grunts here and there during fight scenes. The words are not really missed as this character is summed up by actions and postures. He aces this role with grace like a silent Bruce Campbell taking on the Evil Dead. He is not only the star of this film but he is also listed as a producer. Although Willy’s Wonderland will not be remembered for its epic battles in the way that Mandy will be, it certainly adds a comical chapter to Cage’s legacy of unique action horror stories.
There is certainly something to be said for those old campy horror films. I know a lot of movie enthusiasts that just don’t care to check out anything new. I understand the temptation of living in the past and relying on the comfort of art that has already proven itself. However, it’s important to continue the search and appreciate the art of the time that you are living in. Willy’s Wonderland was full of laugh-out-loud moments and should gain cult status for its brilliance and simplicity.
About Nathan Conrad:
He’s best known as the Nashville-based Hip Hop/Indie Pop emcee Spoken Nerd, but this isn’t your typical rap project. He rhymes playfully at times, while sometimes playfully singing and/or rapping, he juxtaposes his style with real-life situations and subject matter. With six full-length albums into his career, the rapper has built a healthy catalog of music, which doesn’t include the number of EPs and singles released.