Could Willy’s Wonderland be a sequel for a different Nicolas Cage movie? Well—okay, we know it’s not supposed to be. But it could be, and that’s what counts.
It’s been almost a year since Willy’s Wonderland finally hit screens in February last year. Despite humble beginnings and an ongoing pandemic, it quickly became one of the cult horror movies of the year. If you haven’t seen it, the easiest way to describe it is this: Nic Cage, unhinged, inside a haunted Chucky Cheese. Or, ya know, Five Nights at Freddy’s. Check out the trailer for the general vibe. (Forewarning: this is an unrated horror movie.)
Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
Naturally, as soon as I saw this trailer, I knew that I had to see it. And simple as the concept seems, there were actually a few surprises that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. So this is your warning—spoilers ahead.
You could probably guess that there’s something supernatural afoot at Willy’s Wonderland; the explanation is similar to the Chucky movies. Willy’s Wonderland was established by a notorious serial killer and his crew, and they used to business to target, torture, and murder various families and children. When they were caught, they made a deal with the devil rather than go to prison. Now their souls live on in the animatronics, demanding human sacrifice in return for staying in the building and…you know, not killing everyone in town.
Enter Nicolas Cage, the aforementioned human sacrifice. After getting a flat on the road, he agrees to spend a night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland in return for the town mechanic fixing his car. At least, he goes along with the idea. The first odd thing about his character is that he never speaks—not a single line in the entirety of the movie. He gets no name, no dialogue, no backstory. Just a cool car, a bunch of energy drinks, and a lot of insane fighting skills.
Naturally, fans have been obsessively speculating about the character—credited as “The Janitor.” What kind of person shows up to a town in the middle of nowhere and swiftly defeats half a dozen monsters that have been killing people for well over a decade?
One of the more popular theories is that Nic Cage himself is playing the Devil. The killers’ deal is up and he’s come to collect their souls. While he’s there, he also gets to collect the souls of a few other sinners; namely, the town folk who’ve willingly been providing human sacrifices. This explains his total lack of surprise at the haunting, the raw power of his attacks, and his ability to sustain multiple injuries without consequence.
I’m also a fan of the idea that he’s not the Devil, but a demon. One of The Janitor’s funniest quirks is his strict break schedule on the job. He could be on the precipice of a huge fight, but the moment his watch goes off, he heads to the break room for a soda and some pinball. And really, if you were an employee sent on a routine errand to collect some souls, wouldn’t you be making sure you got your company-mandated PTO? Hold onto that though; we’ll get back to it in a bit.
But the concept of Willy’s Wonderland got me thinking. This isn’t the first Nicolas Cage movie to deal with satanic rituals and gory action sequences. One of my favorite Nic Cage movies is the supernatural action flick Drive Angry. (Additional forewarning: this is an R-rated action movie.)
Drive Angry (2011)
Let me get this bit out of the way: Drive Angry is a guilty pleasure movie for me. It isn’t good, but I love watching it every dang time. As the DVD case describes, it is a “high-octane, action-adventure” movie that is “jaw-droppingly excessive.” The point is, it has the same sort of wacky logic and over-the-top gags that Willy’s Wonderland does. To enjoy these movies, you have to put expectations and standards aside.
In Drive Angry, Nic Cage plays a man named Milton, who has escaped Hell to avenge the death of his daughter. He died when she was just a teen, and had to watch from the afterlife as she grew up, was misled into joining a cult, was abused, and then murdered. With the help of a new friend, an old friend, and an unlikely ally from Hell, he hunts down the cult members, their leader, and stop him from sacrificing his infant granddaughter to Satan.
Right off the bat, there are some similarities: satanic rituals, human sacrifices, revenge, and of course, Nic Cage kicking ass and taking names. But if we take a closer look, you might even say they’re in the same universe.
Milton Becomes The Janitor
I imagine that the first thing you’re gonna say is, “Well, Milton talks. The Janitor doesn’t.” I know, but hold tight and let me spin you a story.
Milton and The Janitor have a far bit in common, even outside of their music taste, sunglasses, and fighting skills. For one, they both favor the same kind of car. The very first thing we learn about The Janitor is that he drives a Chevrolet Camaro SS, one he likes pushing to the limit as he speeds down the highway. While Milton drives a few different cars in Drive Angry, we learn a little later that the car he’s always favored is a Chevrolet Chevelle SS—this one cherry red, but driven just as recklessly.
Both Milton and The Janitor also show a soft spot for spunky girls in distress: Piper in Drive Angry, and Liv in Willy’s Wonderland. While the girls are years apart, they’re both cut from the same stereotypical cloth. Both of them are pretty, with boys fawning over them. Both have a tragic past: Piper an abusive boyfriend and Liv two dead parents. Both can hold their own in a fight despite having no supernatural powers, but behind their tough girl exterior, have a strong set of morals. Piper goes out of her way to protect kids, and while Liv knows that going into Willy’s Wonderland means certain death, she refuses to leave The Janitor to fend for himself.
This could very well be marked down to Hollywood’s tendency to write the same female characters over and over again. But this isn’t a blog post about that. This is a blog about Milton. Through that lens, we know that he has a strong paternal instinct to protect young women, especially when they prove that they’re strong enough to hold their own. At the end of Willy’s Wonderland, The Janitor even takes Liv with him as they drive off into the sunset, a new power team. His new adopted daughter-figure? A new demonic recruit? Who’s to say?
The Janitor and The Accountant
In Drive Angry, additional subplot to the satanic cult is a man called The Accountant. He’s described as the Devil’s right-hand man, an employee sent from Hell to recollect Milton and bring him back home. As his name suggests, he keeps track of the numbers in Hell: how many souls there are, who goes where, and when everyone will be arriving. He has some pretty incredible powers, too. He tracks Milton by scent, brainwashes people, can cast illusions, and that’s all on top of increased strength and agility. He relentlessly tracks Milton down for most of the film, until he learns the details of his agenda. Then he seems to have a change of heart, and while he insists it’s merely for convenience, he helps Milton get his revenge on the cult.
At the end of the movie, Milton agrees to go back to Hell, but warns The Accountant that he plans to get out again. He won’t be locked in that hole forever. The Accountant grins and assures him that he’s looking forward to seeing that. Then the two of them get in a car together and drive off into the sunset, a new power team.
…hey wait, a second…
So here’s the vision: The Accountant brings Milton back to Hell, where he does need to be punished for his escape, but also has earned a good deal of respect. What’s a demon to do but recruit him? Milton gets to return to the surface from time to time, while also serving time as an employee. And thus, Milton gets promoted to The Janitor: a captured soul who cleans up messes for the Devil and retrieves souls when things get out of hand.
As for not speaking anymore, anyone who’s worked in retail knows that a grueling life in customer service will chip away at your ability to be a people person.