Willard

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:PG-13 for Violence, Sexuality, and Rat Testicles
Starring: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring
Directed By:Glen Morgan

Final Grade:

In 1971, Gilbert Ralston adapted Willard, his own novel, for the big screen, and an unsuspected hit occurred. Directed by Daniel Mann (Our Man Flint), and starring a young Bruce Davison (X-Men…If you X-Men fans wondered why his portrait appears in this remake, now you know), the film grossed over 19 million and spawned a sequel, Ben, which is more famous for its theme song by Michael Jackson (also featured in the remake). If it were available in the nether regions of this country (aka Ames, Iowa), I could tell you more about the original. But I can’t.

Over 30 years later, Willard has been remade for the modern audiences. Crispin Glover stars as Willard Stiles, and it’s clear from his strangely similar appearance and penchance for rodents that he is somehow related to Julia Stiles, whom is a chipmunk. But that’s not the point. The point is that Willard has a bit of a connection with rats, and that they will do his bidding as long as he gives commands as simple as “In”, “Out”, or “Tear it up.” How does he acquire this power? He feeds them some Numm Nuts brand (I’m not making this up!) snacks. It’s an interesting hobby to take up his evenings.

In the daytime, Willard works for a tyrannical boss, Frank Martin (played by R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), who looks nothing like Dean Martin or Billy Martin). Ermey plays his normal “shouting obscenities character”, and does it with perfect bastardness. This of course makes Willard a bit perturbed, and he employs his rodent friends to help him release his angst.

Willard is a simple film, it does what it wants to through easy methods. It’s not the best horror film you’ll ever find, but it is better than most. The characters are well drawn (except for Laura Harring of Mulholland Drive as the caring co-worker), and it takes a lot of pride in telling its story first and giving scares second. Pop culture audiences might be surprised at the lack of gore or cheap shocks, but the film slowly works its way to a psychologically frightening conclusion. Unfortunately it overdoses late in the film, and almost slips into a state of extreme silliness.

Glover is creepily well cast, and really is the life of this film. He’s perfectly dark and succinctly strange, coming off as the kind of character we’re never sure whether to love or hate. From an actor whose biggest break came over 15 years ago and has since resided in the “Where are They Now?” bin, it’s definitely a surprising performance.
I know I’m making Willard sound a lot better than it is. The supporting characters outside of Ermey are all cardboard caricatures, and the rat scenes push the envelope of reality at times. It’s not a really good film, but you will probably be entertained. In a time when so few horror films pack a punch, Willard is a solid strike. It won’t knock you out, but you’ll remember its name.

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