There will be sniggering once word gets out about this ridiculous horror film featuring a former kids’ birthday venue/game arcade occupied by evil, life-size animatronic puppets. However, to its credit, the film doesn’t take itself in the slightest bit seriously, because with a premise like that, really how could it? Especially when it has Nicolas Cage, uncharacteristically silent in a dialogue-free role, starring as a bad-ass drifter tricked into spending a night cleaning the haunted premises but proving to be a worthy opponent of the malevolent mechanical creatures.
A posse of pesky, academically challenged kids are on hand to be picked off one by one by the bestiary of broken toys, whose leader takes the shape of a sinister weasel named Willy. The great character actor Beth Grant (Mrs Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion in Donnie Darko) plays the local sheriff who gets to give the big explication monologue about the building’s history, real estate deals and satanic possession.
Casting a deep intertextual shadow over proceedings is the spirit of Chuck E Cheese, the string of franchised restaurants featuring oversized mechanical puppets founded in the US in the early 80s that scarred the psyches of people such as Willy’s Wonderland director Kevin Lewis.
The parody versions of the songs here are pretty funny, as is Cage’s solemn devotion to his job, down to his insistence that he takes a pinball game break at intervals throughout the film. There’s also something weirdly satisfying about watching him clean the grime off the restaurant, like one of those reality-TV shows in which middle-aged ladies with rubber gloves scrub the homes of hoarders, but with added demons.