One of the most highly-anticipated horror movies of the year is Willy’s Wonderland starring Nicolas Cage. It won’t be long now until the film is released. Ahead of its arrival, I spoke with G.O. Parsons, the mastermind (and writer) behind this fun flick which I’ve been so looking forward to seeing. And boy did Parsons fill us in on some awesome details and stories from the set.
Directed by Kevin Lewis, the movie centers on a quiet drifter (Cage) who is tricked into a janitorial job at the family attraction Willy’s Wonderland. The mundane tasks suddenly become an all-out fight for survival against a bunch of demonic animatronics. Fists fly, kicks land, titans clash. Only one side will make it out alive.
Parsons is an actor turned writer and is making his feature debut after serving time as a playwright and the director of the Shark Week special Killer Sharks: The Attacks of Black December. Now, he is making one hell of an entrance into the world of horror.
HorrorFuel: “The Willy’s Wonderland trailer is so badass! I’m so excited about the movie! I have to know where did the story come from, how did it come to be?”
G.O. Parsons: “So, the story came from – every single horror movie you or I or anybody that loves horror has ever seen. It’s always the villain who gets to run amuck throughout the entire movie. Then, in the end, the hero or heroine figures out how to defeat them in like the last ten minutes. I always thought it would be really fun to do a movie where there is this uber-villain and they pick the absolutely wrong person to mess with. From the very start of the film, they pick the absolute wrong person. That was the idea. I wanted something different.”
HorrorFuel: “I think you picked the absolute right person to play the part.”
G.O. Parsons: “I couldn’t have picked a better person. Here’s a story about Nicolas Cage: When I started the movie, I never intended it to be a major motion picture. I was simply trying to get my acting career off the ground, my writing career off the ground. I was doing plays but I needed to make a movie. I started to write this thing with the intention that I would play the janitor and I would get some friends and costumes and we could shoot some kind of movie for absolutely no money on like an iPhone. I was able to shoot a scene, it’s a kind of famous scene now because it’s in the trailer where the janitor is mopping up and then Ozzy, the ostrich, comes after him and he just beats the crap out of him. I used that as a marketing tool. I just started sending it out to everyone I could. Eventually, it came to a casting director in Los Angeles who said, ‘You know what, I think if we got this to Nicolas Cage it could really be something that he would enjoy.’ She put her name on the line and she gave it to Nicolas Cage, who couldn’t have been a better choice and like somebody out of my wildest dreams. Nicolas read it on a Friday and then on Monday morning, he called to ask, ‘When am I clocking in for work?’ It was great [laughter].”
HorrorFuel: “That’s amazing! I have to say, the trailer reminds me of the nightmares I used to have after going to Chucky Cheese.”
G.O. Parsons: “Definitely! I grew up on the border of California and Nevada and they had casinos in Reno. They also had family entertainment centers because the adults would gamble and they needed a place for the kids to play. They had places that were like Willy’s Wonderland where they had animatronics, but they were never really taken care of all that well so they were more scary than cheerful. That’s where the idea of animatronics came from. We’ve seen vampires, we’ve seen zombies, we’ve seen creatures like that but we haven’t seen much about animatronics besides demonic toys and the 80s and 90s movies like Puppet Master. But nobody’s really seen them on the big screen. I thought it would just be great to be able to have a villain or villains like that.”
HorrorFuel: “I think it’s perfect. I can’t wait to see it! Plus, I’m a Nicolas Cage fan.”
G.O. Parsons: “You know what, Nicolas Cage, besides being an all-time greatest actor, is genuinely a good human being. He took that script, and I was just some guy in the crowd and he took it and he read it and then he championed it and got it made! There could have been any time where he decided not to do it. He really championed it. He stood up for me many times as far as making sure what was written made it to the screen. I will forever be grateful for that guy! He’s just such an awesome human being and a good person as well as being the best janitor for this movie. There just could not be a better hero for this movie!”
HorrorFuel: “You don’t hear things like that enough these days. I’m so happy to hear that! He’s awesome and is definitely on my dream interview list. Plus, Cage has a special brand of crazy in films that make this role so perfect for him.”
G.O. Parsons: “This movie is a special brand of crazy [laughter]. Without giving away too much, the role was an acting challenge for him that he’s never done. In a lot of Nicolas Cage movies you see him yelling, he’s doing these far-out monologues and these wild scenes. The janitor is more of a stoic individual, think like, the Mandalorian that’s on TV right now. He only talks when he needs to. A lot of times during the movie Nicolas has to get an expression across his face with just his eyes or a smirk. Oh man, he pulls it off every single time.”
HorrorFuel: “Oh, man. It sounds so awesome. It does come out February the 12th, right?”
G.O. Parsons: “It does come out the 12th. We’d love for everyone to make it a midnight madness movie at their homes. What I mean by that is that when it’s released at midnight everyone grabs their friends and head to theaters or turn their living rooms into theaters and everyone gets together and watches it as soon as it’s released at the stroke of midnight. Just have the best time in their home and then get on social media and talk about it. Do what you would in the theaters but from the comfort of your own home.”
HorrorFuel: “I plan to be one of those people!
When it came to finding the other cast members what made them stand out? Why pick them?”
G.O. Parsons: “One of the crazy stories about Willy’s Wonderland is we only had a certain amount of time in preproduction. The movie was greenlit around Halloween of 2019 and then we had to begin shooting February 1st of 2020, so we really only had three months, two of which are traditionally holiday months to get everything together. At that time we had Nicolas Cage and we needed to fill out the rest of the cast, one that could keep up with him. That’s tough to do. He’s like the best ever.
You have Beth Grant who is playing Sherrif Lund. She’s an excellent actress. She’s done well over a hundred movies and she’s spot-on in every single one of them. She is such a presence in the film. You need someone of her stature in order to carry that role. Emily Tosta plays Liv. We needed an upcoming star for that role and that’s what she is. I think this is going to be her big breakout role. She’s already successful in television but this is her first big film role and she knocks it out of the park. The kids that are all in the movie nail their parts so well. They play these stereotypical teens but they have to play it straight. Lastly, the gentleman that plays Tex, Ric Reitz, did such a great job. I couldn’t imagine a better Tex. Wow. He really is that character. His voice and the way that he carries himself as the owner of Willy’s Wonderland is amazing. He’s the one in the trailer that goes, ‘Welcome to Willy’s Wonderland.’ He’s got the perfect voice to carry it.”
HorrorFuel: “It all sounds so awesome. And I’m sure there is a plan for a line of merchandise, like little versions of the creatures.”
G.O. Parsons: “Fans are hitting me up and we’ve got to do T-shirts because they are such a big part of the movie. We’ve got them out there, they’re starting to hit peoples’ mailboxes today. There’s so much cool merchandising that can come from this movie with the animatronics, with the janitor. There are so many larger than life characters that exist in Willy’s Wonderland.”
HorrorFuel: “Right on. I’m sure everyone that’s seen the trailer wants a shirt like Cage’s. It is just so killer.”
G.O. Parsons: “Here’s what I’ll say about the trailer, a lot of the times they put in all the best stuff in the trailer and you’re like, ‘Oh, I just saw the entire movie.’ With this one, they didn’t put in all the best stuff. You only see one animatronic in it, there are eight of them! There are a lot more cool fights and scary stuff. The trailer doesn’t give the whole movie away. The best is yet to come.”
HorrorFuel: “I know exactly what you are talking about. I hate when trailers show too much. It’s nice to know yours is just a taste.”
G.O. Parsons: “Yeah, it’s just a taste. You’ll totally dig it. It’s one of those movies that you almost have to watch immediately so you don’t get on social media and get hit with spoilers. It also has to be seen to be believed. When I actually saw it all put together, I was like, ‘Wow!’ There’s no way to really explain it.”
HorrorFuel: “Now I really want to see it. I always wonder this but, did you keep anything from the movie?”
G.O. Parsons: “I have the original head of Willy Weasel and I have the original sign that I made from the short film, those are the two props that I had made on no budget. They were kind of the godfathers to the ones in the motion picture. Those two props will always be most significant to me. They are hung up on my wall. I bet half the cast and crew kept some cool stuff. The pinball machine you see in the trailer, I don’t know who has got that but they’re very lucky. ”
HorrorFuel: “I guess they are like your first children kind of.
What’s next for you?”
G.O. Parsons: “I’ve got a couple of cool things coming up, one a treasure hunt and a haunted house movie. It’s a horror movie and they are in a haunted house and trying to find treasure and it’s got these little evil creatures. That’s the next one I’m trying to get off the ground. I also wrote a book that’s called Subway Dwellers vs Barnyard Oddities. Which is bizarre, but fun. It’s in line with the kind of entertainment Willy’s Wonderland is.”
HorrorFuel: “Sweet. Is the book for sale yet?”
G.O. Parsons: “Not yet. I’ve finished the manuscript and looking for a publisher soon.”
HorrorFuel: “I like the name. It catches your attention and makes you want to know more.”
G.O. Parsons: “It is one of those things like Willy’s Wonderland is, it makes you stop and look and wonder, ‘What is this?’ The story has got so much heart and it’s so fun. It’s got adventure and it’s got scares. I think people will like it.”
HorrorFuel: “I look forward to checking it out. So how did you go from acting to writing Willy’s Wonderland?”
G.O. Parsons: “Most of my acting career I was getting turned down for stuff. It happened to me hundreds of times. In order to try to further my career, I started writing my own scenes. I would be in acting class and write my own scene and as I got positive responses from my class I started writing more and I started doing plays and showcase myself in the plays. At first, nobody came so I made it into an event. I would say like, ‘Kelli you’ve got to show up on Monday because it’s the only time I’m doing it.’ By writing them I could control my own destiny and after one of the plays, a friend came up to me and said the plays are great, but you have to be able to write a movie if you want to take the next step. The next step was Willy’s Wonderland.”
HorrorFuel: “You didn’t take a step, you took a leap and one hell of one at that.”
G.O. Parsons: “It was a giant step. I got lucky.”
HorrorFuel: “Horror fans got lucky too. Willy’s is something fresh and interesting. We don’t get that every day. I watch three or four horror movies a day, so when I see something new like Willy’s I get really excited.”
G.O. Parsons: “Exactly. You’re watching four a day and they are always kind of the same thing. Some of them are awesome and some of them are okay, but when you find a movie that stands out and is doing something completely different, you’ve got to see it.”
HorrorFuel: “Yes, exactly. Movies like that make me happy. Do you know what else makes me happy? Documentaries. You’ve got to tell me about your Shark Week documentary Attack of the Black December. I love sharks. They are amazing.”
G.O. Parsons: “So I got lucky enough to do that Shark Week episode. That was based on a real thing that happened in the 50s in South Africa. They had accidentally been chumming the waters near the beach by dragging whale carcasses past the most popular tourist beach in South Africa, so when people would go out into the water the sharks were attacking everybody. The local officials couldn’t figure out why.
I’ve got two awesome stories about it. One, we got to go to this island that belongs to the Bahamas. It was deserted. The water was so shallow that sharks would swim up literally right past you. There was a shark wrangler there on the set and he would take a fish and tie it to a rope, slap the water to bring in the sharks, and he would drag the sharks in like you play tug of war with a dog, and you could touch them. I spent a week in the Bahamas doing that. It was amazing just from a scientific standpoint. The other crazy story about it is that in the movie, there’s a scene where the locals are shooting at the sharks. We had these prop guns that we needed to bring from Ft. Lauderdale. There was a guy in charge of shipping them. He didn’t go through the right procedure. He just put them in a bag and because I was part of the crew, he put the bag under my name. I was in the airport and all of a sudden all these alarms started going off and they called me over the speaker. I walked to the area and there is the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, local police, security. The main guy from Homeland walks up to me and is like, “Okay son, what is with the guns and the grenades?’ I spent like three hours in a detention room while they sorted the whole thing out. It was wild!”
HorrorFuel: “Oh, man. That guy would have gotten hurt for that. You’re lucky you didn’t get arrested.”
G.O. Parsons: “I know, right?”
Horror Fuel: “Thank you so much for sharing your stories with us. I can’t tell you how much I love hearing a filmmaker being truly excited about their projects. It makes me want to see Willy’s Wonderland even more! Luckily, I don’t, we don’t, have to wait much longer.”
G.O. Parsons: “Thank you. I am excited. I can’t wait to hear what viewers think.”
Follow G.O. Parsons on Twitter and on Instagram for all kinds of cool content and updates about Willy’s Wonderland which lands in theaters and on Digital and On Demand February 12, 2021.