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Willard Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/14/2003

I’ve never seen the original Willard, but I’ve heard it was a twisted movie that was followed by a weak sequel called Ben.  With only the knowledge that they were remaking an abnormal movie from 1971 and casting one of the kings of weird, Crispin Glover, I got excited.  What I saw wasn’t totally what I was thinking it was going to be, but it was as fun as I thought it was going to be.


Willard Stiles (Glover), a 30-year-old man who lives with his decrepit mother, Henrietta (Jackie Burroughs) and works as an office clerk at the company of his dead father (Bruce Davison, only seen in a portrait), feels lonely and trapped.  The only things going on his life are taking care of his mother in their huge house and working at Martin-Stiles Manufacturing for Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey), his father’s business partner.  Willard only has a job because his late father made it a condition of his partnership with Martin.  Martin hates Willard because he is slow and incompetent, but can’t fire him until Henrietta dies.  Willard has no girlfriend, or friends period, until he sees a white rat one night in his basement.  After trapping it, he forms a close bond with the rat, which he names Socrates.  He sees other rats down in the basement as well, and discovers that he has the ability to control them.  With simple commands, the rats, of which there are hundreds, will do whatever he tells them to do.  Aside from himself, the leader of the rats seems to be Ben, a huge rat about four times larger than any other rat.  Meanwhile, back at work, Mr. Martin has hired an office temp, Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring), to cover for Willard’s incompetence.  She takes pity on Willard and seems to want to help him with his problems (she gives him a cat at one point to help cure his loneliness.)  Her help doesn’t seem to work, but the help of the rats does by assisting Willard with his building rage.  They help him take revenge on Martin by vandalizing his precious new car and other more twisted feats of evil.  All is not perfect in rat paradise though.  Willard soon realizes that he is in a power struggle with Ben, but he can’t find it in himself to take the cat-sized rat out.  He finds himself doing things inexplicable for the misguided love of Socrates and the other rats.


This movie is the type of horror movie that used to be common forty years ago.  The lonely weirdo-type movies usually directed by Roger Corman is what came to mind when I saw this film.  They usually starred Vincent Price and involved his evil twisted plan to just be…evil.  A Danny Elfmanesque score composed by Shirley Walker highlighted this movie throughout which just served to give it that old feeling.


It also has many fun references.  There was the ode to Alfred Hitchcock with the Psycho-like house lived in by a Norman Bates-like Willard and his “mother,” surrounded by Birds-like rats.  It also pays tribute to the original film by including the portrait of Davison, who played the original title character, and a scene where the rats go after a cat with Michael Jackson’s 1972 hit “Ben” playing in the background (it was originally the love theme to the failed sequel.)

Willard might not appeal to everyone.  This film might disturb people who are squeamish about rats or love kitties.  Like I said, this is the type of movie that just isn’t made anymore, and at first it might even seem like it is going to be a Tim Burton-like campy thriller (if it was, would that be so bad?)  If none of that is a problem for you, check this film out.  Glen Morgan, one of TV producer Chris Carter’s main writers, has made a stylish directorial debut, after being a scribe on many episodes of Carter’s “X-Files, “Millennium,” and “The Lone Gunmen.”  Now I wonder…if this movie is a hit, are they going to remake Ben?

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