John Holmes was a legend of the porn industry and revered in circles as a stud. But in 1981, years after his successful career and star fading, Holmes was a desperate man with his own internal demons to live up to. He's estranged from his wife, holding onto a relationship with his teenage mistress, and living as a junkie in search of his next fix. But one fateful night left four people dead and John as a key suspect in one of the most grisly murders in Los Angeles. Was he partly responsible for what happened at Wonderland Avenue?Written by
During the production Val Kilmer became so immersed in the making of the film that he began a photography project which has blossomed into a behind-the-scenes pictorial book which he chose not to release. See more »
In the beginning of the movie an over voice says that the Wonderland murders were the worst in L.A. since the 1968 Sharon Tate murder. The Tate murders actually happened in August of 1969. See more »
The closest dramatisation of the Wonderland Avenue massacre
WONDERLAND is the story of classic "jazz film" star Johnny "The Wadd" Holmes and his involvement in the Wonderland Avenue massacre in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon in 1981.
The film starts with Holmes career already on the down slope that ended with his descent into drug addiction. When he was washed-up, Holmes befriended a cadre of iffy characters to help support his habit. His glory in the porn industry had long passed and he reached a stage where he was willing to abuse, double-cross, exploit and betray absolutely anyone to feed his addiction.
WONDERLAND tells its story from this point of his life from several viewpoints; Holmes the man; the victims; and their killers. What marks WONDERLAND as standing above the standard film biopic is its refusal to adhere to the usual "Romance of Redemption" spin that biopic films tend to follow. This could easily have been a ham-fisted, tragic-hero story but instead in WONDERLAND we have a film that pulls no punches and isn't afraid to tell it as truthfully as possible given the available information.
I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable on Holmes' career – after all, what man hasn't watched "those" sort of films and I'm also pretty sure most middle-age guys have heard of John Holmes and what man wouldn't want to be as "equipped" as well as "The Wadd" (minus the arsehole factor)? Having read a whole bunch of stuff about the Wonderland Avenue murders, the movie rings very true to the dismal tale it tells – a rare situation for dramatic biopics that are famous for adding fictional elements for no good reason.
WONDERLAND is no morality play and Holmes is presented in anything but the romanticised light that many people were expecting and hoped for. We have two sides of the same story; one from Holmes himself, the other from David Lind, a survivor of the slayings. As expected, both accounts paint very different pictures of each other and how it went down, as well as their mutual enemy, drug-lord Eddie Nash. Cox uses multiple versions of the crime as a clever film device but it's not central to the meaning of the movie, which is nice for a change one RASHOMON was plenty, thanks, and Cox showboats a tremendous flair rarely seen from directors on their sophomore features.
The LAPD labelled the Wonderland slayings as the most gruesome crime scene since the Tate/Labianca slaughter, and here's a spot of trivia for y'all – the sordid and gore-soaked Wonderland house was the first crime scene to be filmed by a video camera (brand new technology back then) by police as a means to collect visual evidence. Incredibly, this uncensored crime scene video appears as an extra on the DVD! After watching it, I was torn between wondering if what I had sat through was in incredibly poor taste or if it's the best damn extra I've ever seen on any DVD.
MARRIED WITH CHILDREN's Christina Applegate grew up a couple of blocks from the murders and remembers the blood-soaked mattresses dumped in the streets – a memory that influenced her decision to agree in taking the small role of Susan Launius.
The filmmakers tracked down Holmes' teenage girlfriend, Dawn Schiller and his wife Sharon, both of whom served as consultants on the movie, sharing their insights of Holmes' character and the era. Seeing her past relived proved to be a very interesting experience for Schiller and she stated how impressed she was with the boner-load research the filmmakers made and stated, " I really felt that it was going to be an honest portrayal and that the truth was finally going to be told." To the best of my knowledge, she stands by that statement.
I had reservations about the choice of casting Val Kilmer in the role of Holmes (Matt Dillon was originally slated for the role but dropped out to direct CITY OF GHOSTS). How wrong I was; Kilmer's performance is spot-on, pitch-perfect and impeccably nails Holmes' physical mannerisms and personality so accurately, I almost forgot I wasn't watching the 13½ inch original portraying himself. In spite of being notoriously "difficult" an actor, Kilmer delivers the goods and I hope that one day he'll get full recognition for what he "pulled off" here (wink).
Initially, Kilmer was totally disinterested in playing the character of Holmes – even pleas from his agent and Cox to read the script were met with point blank refusal but his agent eventually tricked him into reading the script by asking him to consider the grittier role of Eddie Nash. Once Kilmer started reading it was a done deal. He changed his mind, signed on for the lead and ended up getting so into research for the role, he spent the night at the Wonderland Avenue crime scene during an anniversary of the horrific killings.
On its release, WONDERLAND was harshly dismissed by critics and totally overlooked come Oscar-time. In my opinion and that of the growing audience discovering it, WONDERLAND is easily one of the most underrated films of its decade.
There's no doubting Holmes was a scumbag. To quote Rodger Jacobs, co-writer and co-producer of WADD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN C. HOLMES, "John Holmes was the epitome of a sociopath, and an antisocial personality in the most broad and extreme definition of the word. He saw other people as 'things' to be manipulated to further his own needs, nothing less, nothing more." Quite an indictment, eh. No matter how you feel about him, Holmes is a true pop culture icon and at last here's a film that tells it as accurately as anyone could ever hope to and I'm pretty sure no one's going to be remaking this one in a hurry, in spite of the fact several Holmes' biopics were in the pipeline thankfully Cox's mini-masterpiece beat them to it.
A classic in the making!
10 of 10 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this