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People don't kill people. Rats kill people.
WILLARD was written and directed by Glen Morgan (first time directing; writing credits include FINAL DESTINATION, MILLENIUM [TV], X-FILES [TV]), based of course on the novel RATMAN'S NOTEBOOKS by Gilbert Ralston (writing as Stephen Gilbert). This is a remake of 1971's WILLARD.
Willard (Crispin Glover: FRIDAY THE 13th: Part IV, AT CLOSE RANGE, THE RIVER'S EDGE) is in his basement, where his sickly mother (Jackie Burroughs: BLEEDERS) has told him she heard rats. Sure enough there are rats a plenty but Willard assures his mother there are none, trying to shield her from the unpleasant news.
He goes to the local hardware store and buys a variety of rat killing supplies but the rats seem unnaturally intelligent and avoid the obvious traps. Eventually a rat is caught in a sticky trap but at the moment of truth the basically kind hearted and desperately lonely Willard can't bring himself to kill the little white rodent. Instead, he rescues "Socrates" and the two become disturbingly close.
Willard quickly discovers that he has a Dr. Doolittle-like ability when it comes to rats, and they obey his every command. He feeds them and teaches them tricks, but Socrates remains his favorite. The only other rat Willard bothers to name is Ben, who stands out because he's huge.
Willard's relationship with Ben is well choreographed. The huge black rat is clearly jealous of Socrates' special relationship with their master. And yes, in case you're wondering, the song "Ben" (by Michael Jackson) is in the mix.
Fun games with smart rats is the only source of joy in Willard's life. The rest of his time is spent taking care of his ungrateful mother and working a job he hates for a boss who hates him more.
Willard works at a company that bears his father's name - shown in pictures and a portrait as actor Bruce Davison (X-MEN, APT PUPIL), but he never actually appears in the film. We find out that Willard's father died 8 years ago and the company is now owned by the very unpleasant Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey: SE7EN, THE FRIGHTENERS, MEGIDDO: The Omega Code 2). Martin apparently promised to always have a job for Willard and he keeps his promise. But he makes it very clear he despises Willard and never misses a chance to humiliate him in front of his co-workers.
In response, the spineless Willard takes it and takes it and takes it some more. How much can he take before he calls on his four legged friends to balance the scales with a little payback?
That's all I've got to say about that. But I will tell you that Crispin Glover does a wonderful job as the steadily crazier Willard. His angular face adds to the classic horror movie look of the film and the moments where Willard can take no more and explodes with repressed emotion are fun to watch. The movie includes several great lines, but my favorite comes when a lawyer tells Willard he may have to sell his house to pay off some of his father's old debts. But not to worry, because he can use the money to start over. "Start over?!" screams Willard. "I'm almost done!"
I also must give kudos to the director for excellent use of the movie medium. The carefully crafted shots and odd angles in many scenes add to the creepy atmosphere. When Willard helps his hideously ugly mother sit up in bed and her face comes right at the camera, filling the screen, people in the theater cringed. In other scenes his mother's eyes look deliberately rat like.
The story gets a little slow in the second half but even so I give WILLARD a four on the Shriek Girl scale.
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