Before there was the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ movie, there was ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ starring Nicolas Cage!
Movies truly are a magical medium, one that allows for constant boundary pushing exploration of both story and art, merging together to create a larger narrative that speaks to an audience. And sometimes that narrative is the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie.
On October 27th, the new Five Nights at Freddy’s film finally dropped—after spending several years in what one might affectionately call “development hell”—to uproarious fan accolades despite little support from critics, many calling it a masterpiece of camp and I can’t say I disagree. However, once upon a time, I convinced my friends to watch a different movie that also happened to be about an adult man fighting murderous animatronics: Willy’s Wonderland.
Caution! Spoilers ahead!
A Brief (Non-Spoilery) Plot Summary
This Nic Cage fronted movie is, lovingly, completely bonkers and I need everyone and their mothers to watch it. Willy’s Wonderland is a film following an entirely silent protagonist only credited as “The Janitor” in the film after his car breaks down in the middle of a small town. The man who owns the haunted children’s restaurant in this movie, Tex Macadoo (the greatest name I’ve ever heard), offers to fix The Janitor’s vehicle in exchange for one night of service at Willy’s. However, what he doesn’t know is that he has been locked inside the restaurant and local teens have been attempting to burn the place down for years.
Got all that? Great. Here are some other things I love about it if that isn’t enough to convince you.
Nic Cage Beating Animatronics to a Metallic Pulp
The moment you realize this movie isn’t really going to be your stock standard “evil children’s stuff trying to kill you” movie is the moment when Nic Cage’s character literally curb-stomps the gorilla animatronic in the men’s bathroom. This movie is nearly an hour and a half exactly and they do not waste a single moment of that time.
Every fight is over the top and ridiculous in the best way and throughout the movie, you see the teens who have been trying to break into the place and save him realize that he is not locked in with the animatronics, they are locked in there with him.
Are you ever just so grateful something so insane is real? That’s how I feel about this scene. This is an entire running gag in the movie, in which The Janitor frequently takes breaks between smashing animatronic skulls to play pinball in the kitchen and slamming back fictional sodas by the pack and I think about it constantly.
It leads to far more questions than answers to try and deconstruct it for any logic. Why is there a pinball machine in the kitchen? Wouldn’t that be a health code issue? How is it still operational if it hasn’t been used in decades? Has he always been a pinball guy or was he just overcome by pinball fever? Is pinball his true passion? All of the questions and absolutely 0 answers. Truly incredible work.
He Does His Actual Job (Janitoring)
I know that feels like it should be obvious, but when have you ever actually seen someone in a horror film do the job they say they have? Basically never. But he doesn’t just do the job, he does it well. Despite the fact most people would’ve given up after animatronic one splattered oil all over the urinals, he still cleans up after every. Single. Fight. And the film always includes a scene of him doing said cleanup.
There is absolutely no need for the writers to be so thorough in reminding us that Nic Cage was meant to be an actual janitor in this movie, I think we all would’ve been forgiving if he got a little busy after realizing he’d been set up. But no, he is persistent. To the point that he literally cleans the place top to bottom after the final fight and then just goes home. Watching this movie makes me feel like I’m losing my mind, but in a way I can only describe as a good time.
When watching most movies, it would bother me that the plot isn’t able to follow through on itself and the other characters are clearly kinda just there as filler, but not with Willy’s Wonderland. Once you understand that it’s a beast all its own, that does not apply to the rules of standard filmmaking, its purpose becomes clear. It is, in fact, so incredibly camp.
Much in the way the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie is camp, as the audience goes in with the understanding that they’re not there to watch Killers of the Flower Moon or something else Oscarworthy with a complex story to share, that is where Willy’s Wonderland lives. Or, fresher in people’s memories, movies like M3GAN.
These are not movies that are meant to be prodded at too hard, trying to find a core message or value that the creators are trying to share because that clearly wasn’t the intention. These are modern B horror movies, enjoying the act of just having the budget to make a weird and fun concept real. There is an understanding that the value of these films does not come from any message reflecting the state of the world or a deeply held conviction of the writer, but rather from the experience they create. They are movies created for the love of movies and that is something I can deeply appreciate. And also because I think everyone deserves to see Nic Cage curb-stomp an animatronic gorilla then go crush a round of pinball.
You can find Willy’s Wonderland on Hulu or for free on Tubi.