WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)
When a tough loner (Nicolas Cage) gets his tires suspiciously blown out in the rural town of Hayesville, he’s coerced into paying off the repairs by spending the night cleaning up WIlly’s Wonderland, a shut down family restaurant looking to reopen. Once inside, the animatronic characters become lethally animated and “The Janitor” must fight for his life. He’s joined by a group of tough teens, led by the strong-willed Liv (Emily Tosta), who are looking to destroy the place once and for all. They inform him he has been tricked into being a human sacrifice to this now evil establishment founded by a Satan worshipping serial killer (Grant Cramer). Will any of them get out alive?
Flick is directed by Kevin Lewis from a script by G. O. Parsons and both script and director play this amusing premise straight and let the material provide the fun. It is a good time to see Cage as the silent loner…literally, he has no dialogue…who seems to be quite a match for the demonic animatronics. Our teens arrive to up the body count, though Liv is there to give exposition on how this place came to be a sacrificial killing ground and the town’s dark little secret. Emily Tosta actually makes a solid heroine as Liv and she keeps up with Cage quite nicely. It’s too bad she gets left out of the action in the last act, but it is Cage’s show. As for the veteran actor, he never goes too far over the top and the ambiguousness of his character works in the film’s favor. The flick makes no apologies, or excuses, for what it is…Nicolas Cage and a young hottie battling serial killer possessed animatronic puppets. It moves quickly at only 90 minutes and its fun and delightfully gory. It could have been a little more energetic, but is far better than the disappointing Banana Splits movie which was similar in story and tone. Also stars Beth Grant as the town’s sheriff and Ric Reitz as Willy’s current owner, Tex.
NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
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New Year’s Evil is yet another Halloween inspired early 80s slasher that’s only points of interest…if they can be called that…are that it stars Happy Days’ ‘Pinky Tuscadero’ Roz Kelly, Killer Klowns’ Grant Cramer and Galaxy Of Terror’s Taaffe O’Connell. The uninspired story has rock personality and TV hostess Diane ‘Blaze’ Sullivan (Roz Kelly) harassed during a televised New Year’s Eve concert over the phone by a strange man with a grudge. This demented individual threatens to murder someone at each midnight in the four time zones with ‘Blaze’ being his final victim. Who is this mysterious killer and why has he targeted the popular TV personality?
This formulaic and forgettable slasher is directed by Emmett Alston (who?) and co-written by Alston and Leonard Neubauer. The film has no real suspense or tension and thanks to making it’s lead character, Blaze, a stereotypical self-centered and self-absorbed TV star, we have absolutely no sympathy for her or the killer’s generic victim’s for that matter. The killer (Kip Niven) is also completely uninspired and the fact that we see his face from the first moment, robs him of a more mysterious persona despite his penchant for unconvincing disguises. He’s just some average guy and the big reveal of his identity really doesn’t seem all that surprising since we are given few suspects to choose from. The cast are all fairly wooden, the kills are routine and dull and there is very little cinematic about the look and feel of this slow-paced flick. The only reason this might be worth watching, familiar faces in the cast aside, is the heavy 80s nostalgia especially from the music played during Blaze’s show and the classic 80s Hollywood stereotype of punk rockers, which had them wearing more make-up than showgirls.
This is another holiday set slasher that has very little to recommend and isn’t worth talking about much. It’s dull and forgettable and gives us no suspense, scares or even blood and gore to entertain the horror lover in us. A very formula slasher that has only some 80s nostalgia to lure us into tuning in. No surprise it comes from schlockmeisters Cannon Films, who made a career of unremarkable exploitation flicks.
2 champagne toasts.
KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)
Sometimes you have to lighten things up a bit during the Halloween season and what better way than with this cult classic horror/comedy!… and one I actually saw in a 42nd Street grind house just before the big ‘clean-up’ ended an era. My only time in one of those theaters and I’m glad I had the expeience.
The story is simple and echoes one of those alien invasion flicks from the 50s with a small California college town being set-upon by a race of aliens, who resemble clowns, with plans of taking over the town and harvesting it’s citizens for food. It’s up to local guy Mike (Grant Kramer) and his girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) to somehow convince the stubborn sheriff (John Allen Nelson)… who is also Debbie’s ex-boyfriend… that this is no college prank and the townsfolk are in the midst of a cotton candy covered nightmare. Can Mike save his town from the Bozo-like invaders or will they all find themselves taken to the aliens’ big top shaped mothership to be used as clown food!
Cult classic is a deviously fun romp written, produced and directed by the Chiodo brothers. Every clown cliche in the book is utilized in amusingly gruesome manner from people sealed in cotton candy cocoons, ferocious shadow puppets and popcorn that evolves into jack-in-the-box like creatures, to combating the invaders by shooting them in their big red noses. As shot by Alfred Taylor, the film is as candy colored as it’s villainous clowns and their lethal toys and the production design echoes the nightmare circus it’s supposed to be. Every prop and set has an appropriately circus-esque look but, with a sinister edge that really helps enhance the atmosphere of a sinister big top that director Stephen Chiodo gives this ghoulish delight. And the director does succeed in giving this flick both a sense of dread and a sense of fun as the alien clowns are quite amused by the carnage they create and so are we. We are almost ashamed at how much delight we take in watching a killer clown luring in a little girl while holding a giant mallet behind it’s back or a tiny clown bullied by a biker who gets his block knocked off by the little guy, literally. The Chiodos stuff more clown cliche’s than can fit into a clown car into their midnight movie thriller and all with a sinister edge and the creature effects portraying the villains are very well done, as the rest of the visual FX are charmingly old fashioned. The film can be both spooky and side-splittingly funny and more often than not, at the same time and it works perfectly. Add in John Massari’s spooky circus music imbued score and you’ve got yourself a cult classic midnight movie that accomplishes pretty much everything it set out to do!
The cast all play it fairly straight too, just like in those old 1950’s sci-fi flicks but, you can tell they are having a good time and there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments. John Vernon’s mean old cop Mooney chews up the scenery a bit but, it fits his character. Other than that Grant Cramer, John Allen Nelson and Suzanne Snyder all take things serious enough to make it work with the film’s tone of a semi-straight 50s style alien invasion flick… with the invaders being scary clowns with diabolical senses of humor instead of little green men.
A deviously fun cult classic and an almost perfect flick to lighten up your Halloween movie schedule when you need a break from the more intense stuff. Watch it on a night with Night Of The Creeps and The Monster Squad and you’ll have a fun film festival that will still keep the Halloween spirit ghoulishly well.
3 and 1/2 killer klowns!