The Screen Scene Double Fright Feature: Willy’s Wonderland and Wrong Turn

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

Before I post my fifth, and final, segment from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I decided to take a look at a couple of films that recently hit streaming platforms.  One is a reimagining of a long-running horror franchise.  The other is a gonzo thriller starring Nicolas Cage, the king of gonzo thrillers.

Wrong Turn starring Charlotte Vega and Matthew Modine is a reboot of the Wrong Turn franchise that churned out six films from 2003 to 2014.  In that series, a variety of characters managed to run afoul of a family of hillbilly cannibals and gory slasher violence ensued.  The later films suffered from sequel fatigue, but Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007) from director Joe Lynch still holds a special place in my horror-loving heart.  In that film, a group of reality show contestants led by Henry Rollins takes the fight to the cannibals.  It’s a clever story filled with great practical special effects.

In this latest film (which is simply being referred to as Wrong Turn 2021), the hillbilly cannibal schtick has been abandoned for better or worse.  A group of 20-somethings are hiking the Appalachian Trail and inadvertently trespass on the land of a community called The Foundation who have lived in the mountains away from society for hundreds of years.  After a series of misunderstandings, the young hikers find themselves in a battle for their lives.

Wrong Turn 2021 feels like a mash-up of Deliverance (1972), The Wicker Man (1973), The Village (2004), and Midsommar (2019).  Unfortunately, all of those films are vastly superior to Wrong Turn 2021.  Yes, even The Village.  One question kept bouncing around in my brain as I watched the film:  Why are you abandoning the tried-and-true formula of this series only to base your reboot on another formula that has been explored for years by dozens of other films?           

So, is Wrong Turn 2021 a terrible film?  Not at all.  Some of the sequences work quite well.  The first half of the film is entertaining, but when the overall mythology of the film is revealed, it bogs down and sinks under the weight of being too ambitious for its own good.  Still, horror fans will find enough to enjoy here to make it worth their time.  Just go in with reasonable expectations.

Wrong Turn 2021 is now available on all major digital rental platforms. 

In recent years, Nic Cage has become known as a paycheck actor.  If the price is right, he’ll show up to the set and give the director what he or she asks for.  People routinely accuse Cage of phoning in most of his recent performances.  I think he simply rises to the level of the project at hand.  With Mandy (2018) and Color Out of Space (2019), he proved that with the right director and the right screenplay he can still deliver a great performance that anchors a solid film.

Willy’s Wonderland is a vicious funny little horror film that allows Cage to chew the scenery, collect his paycheck and entertain the audience all at once.  Cage plays a drifter with no name who finds himself stranded in a small town after an accident on the highway.  He has no way to pay for the car repairs, so he agrees to work as a custodian at Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese-type establishment.   However, he has no idea that Willy’s Wonderland has a dark past, and the animatronic mascots who once entertained small children at birthday parties have developed a taste for human blood.

If you’re a fan of gonzo, over-the-top Nic Cage, then you don’t want to miss Willy’s Wonderland.  Cage’s janitor never utters a single line of dialogue.  He grimaces.  He gives us that patented Elvis snarl.  He binge drinks grape soda and sets the alarm on his watch to take breaks to play the pinball machine.  Watching Cage dancing to an 80’s song while he plays pinball will undoubtedly be one of my favorite film scenes of 2021.

There’s an entire subplot involving a group of teens who have their own grudges against the creatures in Willy’s Wonderland.  Simple horror movie math lets you know where that plotline is headed.  Teens plus horror film equals victims for the animatronic bad guys.  The violence is over-the-top graphic, but it plays more like a cartoon.  Think Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, and you’ll have a good feel for the tone of the violence.

I had a blast with Willy’s Wonderland.  If you love the eccentric gonzo side of Nic Cage, you’ll love it, too.  It’s currently available on Premium VOD.  If $20 is too much to pay for a Nicolas Cage fix, wait a few weeks and the price will come down to six or seven dollars.

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