Willy’s Wonderland 4K Review: Weaselly Amused

When Five Nights at Freddy‘s came out last year, many reviewers compared it unfavorably to Willy’s Wonderland, which came out two years earlier and has a virtually identical plot centered on a haunted Chuck E. Cheese knockoff. Willy’s came out at the height of COVID and was mostly available on streaming, but now, via Scream Factory, it’s getting a collector’s edition 4K UHD disc set.

The timing is right, as fans disappointed in FNAF can see the more violent, scarier version that critics preferred, even as they wonder about major plot coincidences. Originally entitled Wally’s Wonderland, the movie had to have production change the title for legal reasons, possibly because The Simpsons already parodied Chuck E. Cheese with a character named Wal-E-Weasel.

Nicolas Entertainment Cheese

Ironically, the first Five Nights at Freddy’s game had a funnier premise that later got retconned. In it, animatronic animals with poorly programmed safeguards would mistake any humans they see after dark for other animatronics and “solve” the issue by stuffing them into mechanical suits, which kill them. Later games, and the movie, have them possessed by dead kids; the Willy’s creatures are also possessed, but by serial killer Satanists. In both stories, a job opening proves to be an elaborate deception to lure in fresh meat for the possessed machines, and there’s a local policewoman who’s way more involved than she initially lets on.

While FNAF puts Josh Hutcherson in the open position, Willy’s Wonderland gets Nicolas Cage. And rarely have audiences had a reason to be so grateful that Cage will do anything for a paycheck.

Cage’s nameless, backstory-less “Janitor” never speaks, but it isn’t accurate to call his performance silent, as he makes noises and grunts. Trapped in a small town by flat tires, he agrees to work off his debt to the local mechanic by spending the night cleaning the shut-down kiddie restaurant. Per instructions, he makes sure to diligently take breaks, setting his watch alarm to time them precisely. At each one, he chugs an energy drink, cleans up an old pinball machine, and plays some rounds until the alarm beeps again, he crushes the can, throws it in the trash, and gets back to it. If you have ever doubted Cage’s acting skills, take note of how he makes that generic cola (probably colored soda water on set) look like the most delicious, refreshing thing in the world.

Dust Devils

When the animatronics come to life and start attempting to eat him and steal his soul, they’re interfering with his all-important schedule. While they may have devoured every previous caretaker, this one isn’t having it, and he fights back using every cleaning tool at his disposal. The outcome is as inevitable as it is enjoyable — like Hulk Hogan dispatching evil foreigners in the ’80s, Cage rages up to the point that there’s little doubt he’ll win. It’s here that the Evil Dead influences emerge, with the carnage covering our hero in engine-oil “blood” as he performs Mortal Kombat-style spine rips, brain grabs, and even the King Kong-style dinosaur jaw-breaker. Until it’s break time again — when the alarm goes off, it’s like a boxing round just ended, no matter what the Janitor was doing at the time.

There is a human body count too, but it mostly comes — as in FNAF — courtesy of the unfortunates who try to break in and/or trash the place. When the animatronics attack, they do so with shaky cameras and fast cuts, probably all the better to make the obviously cumbersome costumes look like they can move faster than people. A few steady shots give us a better look, but the near-guerilla production, working with only one character suit for each, makes use of its limitations.

Superior Mockbuster?

This is what a proper Five Nights at Freddy’s horror movie should be — the corny-creepy Willy songs, composed by the solo-monikered Emoi, add much more to the atmosphere than FNAF’s endless loop of “Talking in Your Sleep.” Since there’s no merchandising empire in real life for Willy’s Wonderland to hurt the sales of, though, the movie can go for broke, with a gleefully gratuitous sex scene and a main character who’s not especially sympathetic.

The Janitor cares more about his pinball breaks than innocent lives; one occasionally gets the sense that if the animatronics merely left him alone but killed everyone else, he’d be fine just cleaning up and getting out of there. It’s 20 minutes shorter than FNAF and thus gets to the point more quickly and efficiently.

Needs More Toppings

Fans of Scream Factory’s usual fully loaded offerings may feel disappointed that the only extras are all ported over from the previous Screen Media Blu-ray and don’t add up to much runtime. The longest is a seven-and-a-half minute making-of featurette that reveals some nifty details, like the fact that they had to shoot the animatronics in sequence because there were no backup costumes and that Ossie the Ostrich was puppetted by people in green-screen costumes. The highlight, though, is Cage dryly synopsizing the movie’s insane plot, calling it a combination of Pale Rider and Killer Klowns From Outer Space.

Another featurette centered on the animatronics recycles some of the same content, which feels cheap. Better is a tour of the set with actor Christian Del Grosso, who reveals just how much of Willy’s is on a soundstage. In another extra less than two minutes long, the young cast members who play the angry teens introduce themselves. Then there’s a trailer and two poster galleries — one for the animatronic characters drawn cartoon style, as seen within the movie, and another of the actual teaser posters for the film, which tear those images in half to reveal the scary animatronic versions. There’s no commentary track and no new interviews — is it possible all involved were afraid to mention Chuck E. Cheese or Five Nights at Freddy’s? Regardless, Scream Factory can only work with what they’re given, but it feels a shame they weren’t given more.

One True Vision

The only new item is the one that matters most, though — a 4K transfer of the film itself. The process may be called Dolby Vision by name, but it’s the sound that gets the most improvement. Notably, the escaping of air from Cage’s car tires is a masterful mini-soundscape of driver-alarming audio. Emoi’s many songs sound as wonderfully rotten as they ought, and the fizz of those energy colas will have you reaching for the fridge. Visually, the deliberately faded colors nonetheless manifest sharp blacks and absolute clarity in a palette that might otherwise suggest grainy grindhouse celluloid. It’s all the sleazy appearance without any of the inherent focus or resolution issues.

Willy’s Wonderland is too simple to rate a perfect score, and if a film like this is going to do a gratuitous sex scene, fully clothed ain’t it. Still, Emily Tosta makes a decent impression as a Final Girl named Liv (how did nobody think of that before?), and Cage rises to the challenge of not talking while still managing to lose his shit in the way that fans of his pay for. The meager extras, especially on something called a “Collector’s Edition,” downgrade the score some, and if you already have the Blu-ray, there’s no compelling need to upgrade.

7 – Good

Per ComingSoon’s rating system, 7 is “a successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.”

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