On the afternoon of July 1, 1981, Los Angeles police responded to a distress call on Wonderland Avenue and discovered a grisly quadruple homicide. The police investigation that followed uncovered two versions of the events leading up to the brutal murders – both involving legendary porn actor John Holmes. You’re about to experience both versions.
eyelights: Val Kilmer. its true crime plot. its structure.
eyesores: Val Kilmer. its editing choices.
“And those people at Wonderland? They’ll never laugh at me again.”
On July 1, 1981, four members of the so-called Wonderland Gang were bludgeoned to death in their townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue. The murders, which remain unsolved to this day, are said to have involved John Holmes, the ’70s porn star, then on a downward spiral of drug addiction and petty crime.
‘Wonderland’ is the story of events that lead to the murders.
Released in 2003, the picture gives different perspectives on the incident, including David Lind, the sole survivor member of the gang, and John Holmes, who was a regular visitor to their townhouse and may have been the catalyst for the vicious attack on the gang – if not been an active participant.
The structure of the picture is rather excellent, going back and forth in time to recount each person’s version of the events, and I like that it leaves things ambiguous: the reality is that there weren’t enough facts in the case to know exactly what happened – though that would change in ensuing years.
In fact, in 1982, since there was little evidence to implicated him, John Holmes was acquitted of all charges.
John Holmes is played by Val Kilmer in ‘Wonderland’. Though he looks nothing like him, Kilmer does a pretty good impersonation of the legend – at least based on the interview footage that we see in ‘Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes‘. He has that charming but disingenuous demeanour down.
The rest of the cast is also excellent – surprisingly so, given that it’s mostly a cast of B-listers. But there are so many familiar names (ex: Christina Applegate, Kate Bosworth, Carrie Fisher, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas and Dylan McDermott), industry pros, and they support the material quite well.
My main issue with the picture is in the editing. For some reason, director James Cox at times chose to fast forward bits and do quick cuts to move the story along. I’m sure it was intended to make the picture stylish, but it just didn’t work contextually given that it’s set in the early ’80s.
There were also some discrepancies along the way that took me out of the moment. For instance, at one point a characters pulls out what looks like Glock, even though they weren’t in production until 1982 – a year later. Maybe it was a different gun, but it was enough perk my ears up for a moment.
The soundtrack also left me quizzical. Though it was filled with period songs, they all sounded like covers to me. All of them. And yet, when I double-checked the credits to see who recorded these versions, they’re all listed as originals. So either I’m not familiar with them enough or the mix was weird.
I’m not sure. But it did prevent me from immersing myself.
Still, all told, I enjoyed ‘Wonderland’. I may not give a rat’s @$$ about the events, the participants, or even any of the people involved in the making of this film, but it’s compelling enough to keep me interested throughout – even after a few viewings. Perhaps it’s due to its unsolved mystery quality.
Well, whatever it is, it’s no great wonder.
Date of viewing: Nov 10, 2016