Studio: Lions Gate
Film Length: 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Spanish, English
Retail Price: $26.95
On July 1, 1981, L.A. police respond to a distress call on Woodland Ave. The police arrive at the house and discover four dead bodies and describe the scene as something more violent and bloody than the Sharon Tate murders. Four bodies are lying around with their heads split open but thankfully one person has survived. Within hours the media has the story on every station and this is where ex-con David Lind (Dylan McDermott) hears the news.
Lind rushes to the police where he says he wants to make a confession. Instead of confessing to the murders, Lind says he was at the house shortly before they happened and that he knows who the killer was. Out of nowhere Lind says that it was the legendary John Holmes (Val Kilmer) who killed his friends due to revenge after being cheated in a score. Lind claims that Holmes offered his drug buddies a house to rob but what they didn’t know is that this house was the home of Eddie Nash, one of the biggest men in L.A. After the robbery, Holmes is left out of the cut and comes back for revenge. The police eventually pick up Holmes who is willing to make a deal with them however his story of the events are a lot different than that of Lind.
I must admit that I’ve never seen a Holmes film nor have I ever heard anything on his life story. Outside of knowing his profession I knew nothing else about the man and hadn’t even heard of this murder case until this screener arrived at my door. I’m not sure how true the film presents the facts and I’m not sure what’s made up. What I am sure of however is that Wonderland is an extremely interesting film that somehow didn’t find that much of an audience. Perhaps, like me, not too many knew of the case or perhaps the name John Holmes scared people off the film. Hopefully with this DVD release the film will gain the attention that it deserves.
The two sides of the story are told through various flashbacks and we also get all sorts of scenes from different people’s point of view. Not only do the two witnesses give stories but even the police chime in with their ideas of what really happened. With all these flashbacks it would be very easy to just lose interest or for things to become confusing but that never happens here thanks to the wonderful direction by James Cox. The testimony to the police is so well mixed with the flashback scenes that within the first word the viewing is thrown into this crazy story, which is nothing more than lies and backstabbing.
Like the police, not for a single second do we know who’s telling the truth and we don’t even know who was killed or who survived the attack. The director goes to great trouble showing us every possible character and how they played a role in these murders. The directing and acting are so incredibly tight that we are drawn into the story, which is full of hated characters. The film never tries to show anyone as an angel nor does it try to make a hero out of Holmes. Instead, we get an ugly picture full of ugly people who we can’t stand but on the other hand, the story is so riveting that we can’t help but go along with the ride. Once the director grabs you he certainly holds on to the closing credits.
There have been countless threads on various message boards asking what happened to Val Kilmer’s career and I’d personally like to know that answer as well. I always enjoyed him as an actor and he returns here with a wonderful performance. We’ve seen coke heads in various films yet Kilmer adds a new angle to the story. He has many breakdown scenes, which are all very convincing and helps add to the suspense. Kate Bosworth has the typical girlfriend role but shines in what scenes she does have. Lisa Kudrow gives her typical lifeless performance, although fans of Friends might enjoy seeing her in a film of this type. Dylan McDermott steals the show however as the seedy drug dealer. McDermott brings such power to his performance that I really think he should have gotten an Oscar nomination. Ted Levine also turns in more fine supporting work.
I’m not sure how those who already know this story will react but not knowing anything certainly helped me enjoy the film. There are a few minor problems including a scene at the end where Holmes is taking a bath and it appears the director is teasing us by hinting at showing his penis. Why this camera movement was there is beyond me so this could have been cut. The first ten to fifteen minutes are also pretty typical but once the police get involve and the case starts, hold on because there’s a pretty fun ride ahead. The suspense is heavy and the mystery is truly fascinating. Wonderland is an ugly picture about ugly people and it’s very rare today for a director to show everything as being ugly without painting a happy ending.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Overall the picture quality is very good, although there’s a few scenes that appear a bit too soft. The first spot I noticed this in was the opening when the girlfriend is sitting in the dark at a motel. The black level here is a bit too soft. Another problem is that towards the end of the film there are a few speckles, which certainly shouldn’t be on a film this new. Other than that everything else looks fine with wonderful colors and a natural looking flesh tone.
AUDIO---The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and is pretty good for what it is. The Surrounds are used perfectly for all the party scenes and especially the ending, which shows how brutal the murders were. Every punch and kick pack a nice punch with your speakers and the dialogue is upfront and perfectly clear as well. The big highlight to this track is the wonderful music score, which helps being the film to life.
EXTRAS---First we get an audio commentary with director James Cox and co-writer Captain Mauzner, which is certainly worth the listen. The two are constantly talking and sharing stories of the cast, behind the scenes shooting as well as the real story. A lot of information is shared and so much in fact that you almost need two tracks. Up next is a group of interviews, which are pretty useless considering they only last a minute or two each. Most of the interviews appear to have been shot on various sets. Kilmer, Josh Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson and Eric Bogosian are those interviewed. “Court TV: Hollywood At Large” is a five minute promotional piece, which aired on Court TV. This here is rather interesting and shows some more interviews with the cast. Next are seven deleted scenes, all of which on their own aren’t too bad but I think it was best that each were cut out of the final film. A photo gallery is also included and here we get various behind the scenes shots of the cast.
The next feature is bound to stir up some controversy and certainly shouldn’t be viewed by everyone. The actual LA Crime Video is shown totally uncut, running at nearly twenty-five minutes. The video starts off outside the house and eventually works itself inside and shows off the house being wrecked but even worse are all the close-ups of the four dead people. There’s blood all over the place and you can clearly see that the heads are split open so if you don’t like this stuff you should certainly stay away. I really don’t know why this thing was included but here it is for you to see.
On the Limited Edition release, there’s a second disc, which features the 1998 documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John Holmes, which is pretty good, although the film drags on a bit too long. Everything from Holmes life is discussed including the infamous murder as well as him dying of AIDS. The documentary features all sorts of interviews from those who worked with Holmes so it’s rather interesting hearing all the stories. According to the IMDB, this was released in an NC-17 version as well as an R-rated version. The R-rated version lists the running time of 105 minutes, which is what we’ve got here. I’m not sure if the IMDB is correct on the running times or not but there isn’t any hardcore footage shown here so perhaps that was cut out. The film is shown full frame and doesn’t look too bad, although some of the film clips are in rough shape. Chapter sections are included as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
OVERALL---I wasn’t too interested in seeing this film but I’m very thankful that I got the screener. I found the film to be truly captivating and brilliantly directed so I hope more people check it out. Again, I didn’t know anything about the actual case so this was all new to me. Those who know the case and are fans of Holmes might see this differently than a newbie. Lions Gate offers a very nice transfer along with a kicking 5.1 track, which makes this worth owning.
As for the documentary, on the front of the case there’s a sticker that reads “2-Disc Limited Edition w/Wadd Documentary”. The press release didn’t mention how many copies are available nor did the back of the case mention this as an extra so I’m going to guess the only way to find out if your copy has the documentary is by the sticker on front.
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2004