WILLARD is the 2003 remake, of the 1971 film of the same name, from writer/director Glen Morgan, about a man and his unusual, sociopathic relationship with a slew of pet rats. The film stars Crispin Glover (The Wizard of Gore), R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), and Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive).
For years, Willard Stiles (Cripsin Glover) has been trapped in a dead-end job with no friends and no future. Willard’s life seems hopeless until he makes an eerie discovery: he shares a powerful bond with the rats that dwell in the basement. Now a guy who has been trampled in the rat race his entire life is suddenly ready to tear up the competition…beginning with his boss.
First and foremost, we need to talk about the opening credit sequence to this film. Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never seen WILLARD, but I found myself mesmerized by the opening credits which were done beautifully with each one uniquely different from the next. Once past that, we meet Willard, a quiet, lonely man who lives with his overly demanding mother who he both loves and hates. One day, at the incessant cries of his mother, he is sent to the basement to kill a rat, and upon finding the creature, develops sympathy towards it and decides to spare its life. He names the rat Socrates and begins to teach it, and the other rats, tricks. Having formed a connection with these rodents, with Socrates as the leader, he decides to visit his verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive boss and wreck havoc on his Mercedes. It’s at this point that Willard’s whole demeanor changes and a happiness overcomes him in a way that he has never experienced. However, as his power over the rats grows, he comes to realize that one of the rats, aptly named Big Ben, may have more control than Williard could have ever imagined.
What I really enjoyed about this film, other than Crispin Glover (which, I mean, how can you not love him?) was how there is a much deeper story at play. On the surface, this is a quirky horror film, but deeper beneath it’s a study on the complexities of being accepted, loved, and appreciated. Willard’s actions aren’t justified, but they are easy to understand, especially if you are someone who has experienced bullying or harassment. Once he learns that the rats will do his bidding, he uses them to exact revenge on those who have hurt him. Even when he realizes that things are beginning to spiral out of his control and that the rats have taken over, he can’t bring himself to part with them. He is just as much a part of them as they are to him, even if one of them has begun to turn on him. There’s a moment from the film that really sticks out to me and it’s of Willard wanting to destroy himself by taking his own life. The only thing that truly stops him is when Socrates scurries up to him and you can see the unbreakable bond between the two. As silly as it sounds, it’s actually a really powerful moment and one that showcases a lot of strong emotions.
As far as the horror element goes, it’s not scary, at least to me, as I found it to be along the lines of a comedy as opposed to straight-up horror. However, with that said, there were moments that made me uncomfortable. For example, Willard’s mom, played by Jackie Burroughs, was terrifying as a sickly patient who demeans Willard at every chance she gets. Whether it was her cracked fingernails or her yellowed, grotesque teeth, she managed to send chills down my spine every time she was on screen. Furthermore, when the rats do end up indulging on human flesh, the practical effects and gore are spectacular. Though the film itself doesn’t scare, I do applaud it for its use of creepy undertones and disturbing imagery (don’t think I forgot about that one scene with the puppy that almost made me shut the whole movie off!).
WILLARD is now available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory and includes a 2K scan of the original film elements. Along with the movie, this new release is filled to the brim with bonus features to sink your teeth into. If you are a fan of commentaries, you’ll enjoy listening to Glen Morgan discuss the film as well as animal trainers Mark Harden and David Allsberry of Animals for Hollywood. There is also a documentary on the making of WILLARD along with behind-the-scenes footage of the rats being trained, deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary and a rat documentary titled Rat People: Friends or Foes? You will not want to miss out on owning this underrated gem so pick up WILLARD today at ShoutFactory.com.