They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think the same could be said of horror. Or terror. Or the creeps, heebie jeebies, or whatever else you want to call that sensation that makes you want to turn on the lights or run out of a dark basement as quickly as possible. In other words, we all have our own version of scary.
Willard (starring the ageless Crispin Glover as the title character) isn't really scary; it's not a horror film nor was the 1971 original intended to be. Although not taken very seriously by critics back in 1971, the original became a big enough cult hit to generate the sequel "Ben" in 1972. That film bombed, and is best known for the title theme song - sung by a very young Michael Jackson when he still looked like Michael Jackson. (However, this love song to a giant rat was one of the first hints that Jackson was a little strange.)
If anything, the film Willard is a bittersweet dark comedy. Willard is a young man who has a wholly lonesome existence. He spends his evenings in a giant, once-glorious house that is blanketed in layers of dust and years of sadness since the death of his father. He is taking care of his mother and trying to stay sane while she pecks away at him. During the day, Willard works at his father's old company, now under the rule of a callous, abusive boss (played by character actor R. Lee Ermey, best known as the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket) who wants nothing more than for Willard's mother to die so he can fire Willard and buy his house. Willard's entire life is based around his mother and keeping the house his family once felt joy in. And that's when the rats show up.
After some failed attempts at pest control, Willard befriends a white rat he names "Socrates", and learns that he and the rat share a special bond. Soon, Willard is knee-deep in rats, all following his every command. Tired of the abuse they have equally endured, Willard and the rats form a symbiotic alliance with one goal in mind: revenge. One rat in particular, a really big rat Willard calls "Ben" begins to stand out and vie for Willard's attention and we soon learn that, even in this rat race, there is competition.
Unless you get the willies from rats, Willard wonıt really scare you. It is stylish, well-paced, and dark. But itıs also a little sad, and more about being misunderstood than being mean. Crispin Glover is perfectly cast, with his ghost-like face, deep-set eyes, and gothic appearance that gives the sense that heıs simply out of place in this century. In the end, however, I was rooting for the rats.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
3 out of 5 Willard is dark, quirky fun. Itıs not as scary as the marketing would have you believe, but it's worth checking out, at least as a rental
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