In the morning of July 1st, in the sweltering summer of 1981, in the Laurel Canyons of Los Angeles, California; at the residence of 8763 Wonderland Avenue, 5 bloody bodies lie. 4 of them brutally bludgeoned to death in a bloody mess. The victims: Billy DeVerell, Joy Miller, Ron Launius, and Barbara Richardson. The 5th victim, Susan Launius, the wife of Ron Launius, was the only sole survivor who miraculously lived through that horrifying attack. At the center of this heinous crime is a drug addicted ex-pornstar named John Holmes. Seems like an outrageous story, too wild to be true, right? Well you would be sorely mistaken! The story is all true!

 

This film is lead by a stellar ensemble cast, with the likes of: Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Josh Lucas, Ted Levine, Frankie G, Tim Blake Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Christina Applegate, Lisa Kudrow, Eric Bogosian, Faizon Love, and yes even Carrie Fisher! And each and every one of them, no matter how big or how small their roles were, gave 110% to their performances. It was clear from the get-go that no one was half-assing anything!

 

Right from the first moment Val Kilmer arrives on screen, his charisma explodes like a nuclear bomb. It makes you take notice! Up until that moment, the editing and pacing of the movie was fairly basic. But after that moment he appears before us like a Titan, taking on the larger than life personality of the once great adult film star John Holmes; the pacing, the editing, and even the energy of the film you're watching skyrockets. Making you feel like you just drank several cups of coffee, several Mountain Dews, and snorted cocaine. And more so, it doesn't let up for the rest of the picture.

 

Director James Cox delivers such a renegade sensibility to how he filmed the movie, how he wanted it to look and feel and sound. The sequence of the murders were so haunting to me that it honestly terrified me! Part of it was the idea of someone coming into the place where people lived in the middle of the night while they sleep, and then beating them to death with pipes. Another part of it was how it was filmed and acted out, and of course the sound.

 

The sound mix during that sequence included real pipes,  Oil Derricks and Oil Drums, a stuck pig, junkyard dogs, and actual pipe on bone hits. Director James Cox made it clear they wanted to do that to make it more psychological, visceral, and unnerving. And they certainly achieved it, hands down! One of the main things James said about the film that seems to encapsulate what his intentions were - "Many critics who only saw the first 30 minutes of the movie say that this film glamorizes drugs. And it does! Only to lead you down this primrose path so we can bash your living head in."

 

Between the performances by its phenomenal cast, the stranger-than-fiction, complex story that also happens to be true (and just how well it was written, dialogue and all), the nostalgic soundtrack with an amalgamation of music from the time period of late 70's/early 80's, the director who made a wild film and broke rules to tell this story in a completely different light - All of the factors contribute to give birth to a biographical crime-drama that, to this day, still resonates with me. Do see this movie!

 

Wonderland Movie Review

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by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

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