The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Welcome to Willits (2016)

This was one of the myriad Dolph films that came out while I was on hiatus between 2015 and 2019. I caught it on Netflix around the time I started the blog again, and planned to review it, but Netflix dumped it before I could get any images for it. I put it aside and reviewed some other Dolph films in the meantime, and finally, almost two years later, Prime picked it up, so I figured I'd grab some images and get the review in before they dumped it too.

Welcome to Willits is about a couple (Bill Sage and Sabina Gadeki) who grow pot out in the woods of California. They're either being visited by aliens who do gruesome experiments on people, or the drugs they're doing make them think they are. On top of that, the husband thinks the character Dolph Lundgren plays on a cop show is talking to him through the TV and giving him advice on how to deal them. Enter their visiting cousin Courtney (Anastasia Baranova) and a group of campers who stumble upon their weed garden, and you have what we in the biz call a collision course to wackiness. Will Courtney discover in time that her relatives believe they're seeing aliens? What about our adventurous camping crew?


This was a lot of fun. All the right combinations of scary, gory, and humorous, which is not an easy combination to pull off. Either the humor is too goofy, the gore too over the top, or the scares too out of place to fit in with the humor; but this one made it all work. A big part of that was the performance by Bill Sage. He made the goofy plenty goofy, yet could turn around and make the scary just as scary. And then his wife, played by Sabina Gadeki, does the same thing, only not as much as Sage, which adds intrigue, because we wonder if she's going to be sympathetic or keep following Sage. Then we tie the thing together with Anastasia Baranova, who's thrust into this "final girl" role where her character is as much trying to make sense of the situation as she's trying to survive it, which puts the whole comedy/horror tone that the film is going for in its proper perspective. Everything, from a writing, directing, and cast standpoint, the whole thing works. 

We're at number 59 for Dolph, one away from him entering the 60 Club all by himself. This isn't so much a starring role for him, but the parts he's in were fantastic. I'll be honest, if I wasn't a Dolph completist, I probably wouldn't have watched this movie, considering all the films I need to cover on here, and considering how much I liked this, that would have been too bad. It does show though how much having a name like his on the cover can help sell a film: but from there, what do the filmmakers do with it? This didn't feel like a bait-and-switch, it felt like a movie that had a lot going for it that was lucky enough to have someone of Dolph's level play the part he did. When I look at Dolph's 2016, we have this, Female Fight Squad, Don't Kill It, and Kindergarten Cop 2 (also a blink and you'll miss it uncredited part in Hail, Caesar!), and of those, this and Female Fight Squad have him in smaller parts, while Don't Kill It and Kindergarten Cop 2 have him in the lead. I wasn't as huge a fan of Kindergarten Cop 2, but I think the other three weren't bad, so 2016 was a pretty good year for him. Next time we see Dolph here, he'll be the inaugural member the 60 Club.


As I mentioned above, Bill Sage was the real star of this, and his performance anchors the entire vibe the film was going for. We've seen him one other time here at the DTVC, in the film We Are What We Are, which was another unique horror film, but not anything like this one. In terms of Sage, one difference in that film was he had veteran character actor Michael Parks to co-anchor the film with him, while here it was really on him: if Sage doesn't play his part as well as he does, the whole thing doesn't work, no matter how great everyone else involved was. For him not only to pull it off, but pull it off as well as he did, was great to see. Maybe I should be picking out more films that have his name on the tin the way I do ones with Dolph's.

From there, there were a lot of other great performances--including Rory Culkin as the creepy drifter the gang of campers pick up along the way--but as I mentioned above, Sabina Gadeki and Anastasia Baranova were the two other standouts for me. With Gadeki, we don't know if she wants to break away from Sage, or if she's just as bad off as he is, which adds a level of suspense to the proceedings that I think we needed without knowing we needed it. And then Baranova is this character who's almost coming from another movie, and is thrust into this Final Girl construct, and there's a feeling that her character is as much trying to make sense of it as she is trying to survive it. I don't know if that was the intent from how the character was written, or just how Baranova played it, but it was an element that helped take the film further beyond the standard horror film.


Finally, as I mentioned above, I was delayed in getting this reviewed due to Netflix dumping it and having to wait for it to come up on another streaming service to get images. In some cases, I make do by grabbing the images from the trailer, but that's not easy considering how quickly they're edited, and how limiting it is as far as what I can choose from in the film. Another Dolph flick from 2016, Kindergarten Cop 2, is one I've missed twice: I saw it on Netflix, never got the images before it was dumped, then recently it was added to Peacock, and I didn't get around to getting them on there before they dumped it too. I'm not sure why these streaming sites dump films so often. I get in some cases they lose the rights or lose a deal with the company distributing the film--like we saw in the early days of Netflix Instant with Stars Play ending their deal with them and me having to scramble to watch 11 movies that were about to be taken down, forever immortalized on the site with the tag "Stars Play 11"--but often it just feels like they add things and take them down at will. Netflix might be the greatest offender, but I go into my Prime queue to see a bunch of films no longer available, and now with a new player like Peacock doing it so soon, I think that's a bad sign for them. Either way, us in the movie blogging world--and movie fans in general--feel like we're dealing with a guy playing a shell game on the Broad Street line here in Philadelphia: where's the movie? Is it under that shell? Nope, you lose, we dumped it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can stream this on Prime. It's worth streaming and giving an indie film like this your support. Considering it's already been dumped by Netflix, better to catch it sooner rather than later. And the next time we see Dolph on here, it'll be the big 60 for him.

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