Wonderland is a very underrated thriller based on real events surrounding horrific multiple murders in LA in the early eighties. It features an excellent cast led by Val Kilmer and Dylan McDermott and one hell of a story. First of all, although the main character is a porn star John Holmes this movie has nothing to do with porn. For that, you will have to check out the nineties classic Boogie Nights. Wonderland is a movie focusing its attention on a single event and everything surrounding it. What we’re talking about here are the infamous Wonderland murders.
As always, I urge you to not read up on the real events only after the movie. That way, you’ll avoid any possible spoilers. The story is told from several different perspectives and it powerfully illustrates the true nature of that setting. I’m talking about the seedy criminal underbelly of the city of Angels, Los Angeles, during the early eighties. The movie doesn’t shy away from showing all the fucked up things that come with drugs, crime, and power. But mostly drugs, as the central figure in all this mess is a former porn star and now a raging addict, John Holmes.
What makes Wonderland different from other, similar movies like Spun, is that it’s fucking true. This raises the stakes and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where everything feels out of control. When you’re making a “regular” movie that’s not based on true events, you have full control of the narrative. Here, that’s not so much the case as you have to follow the real events. The opening ten minutes of Wonderland were a bit bumpy, so just stick with it and things will get better in no time. There are almost no likable characters here.
The people we’re going to meet are tough, unpredictable, and above all realistic. Most of them are members of the brutal Wonderland Gang that operated from Wonderland Avenue in the late seventies and early eighties. However, if you don’t want to dig deeper into this whole mess, you don’t have to. Wonderland works just fine as a classic thriller apart from the storytelling. We will be going back and forth in time, showing different perspectives and trying to piece the puzzle of what really happened.
Since I’ve seen the movie and read up on the real events, I have to say that after all this time this is still a fascinating case. A single crime illuminates not just the criminal underworld but also the legal system in the US. And it does all of that in under 100 minutes and with fast pacing. Sure, the different timelines were a bit confusing but I still was able to get what was going on.
As the credits started rolling, explaining what happened with all the different characters and court cases, I had a feeling that Wonderland could’ve gone on for at least an hour and still not explained everything. Time literally flew with this one and I started watching it quite late unsure if I’m going to finish it. Val Kilmer gave a stunning performance as the smooth-talking ex-porn star addicted to all kinds of drugs. He was able to show us the intense mood switches and this insatiable drive for the next fix. Drive that has to be satisfied no matter what.
To quote what the great American poet Al Jourgensen said in an intro for his poem Just One Fix, never trust a junkie. Josh Lucas showed the other side of that coin, a completely unhinged unguided missile that is Ron Launius, one of the leaders of the Wonderland Gang. The world-building is excellent and you can fully immerse yourself in this filth. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Wonderland check out The Salton Sea and Trainspotting.
Director: James Cox
Writers: James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz
Cast: Val Kilmer, Dylan McDermott, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Blake Nelson, Eric Bogosian
Fun Facts: The legend says that John Holmes, also know as Johnny Wadds had a 14 inch (35 cm) penis. However, the truth is that the length was more closer to 10 or 12 inches (25 – 30 cm).