Friday, October 24, 2014


Being familiar with the song, “Ben,” by Michael Jackson, I never associated it with a horror movie, only thinking it was a song by a kid who was singing about his friend.  Looking back, it may have seemed a bit weird for a teenaged boy to be singing about another boy, but that thought never crossed my mind.  I just never knew the song was about a rat and that the nice melancholy tune was from a horror movie.  It wasn’t until 2003, when a new horror film called Willard was released that I’d figured all that out.

Willard, as it turns out, is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name, starring Crispin Glover as the title character.  Not until the end of the movie did I start putting things together, especially after hearing Glover’s rendition of the tune during the end credits.  After watching this new version, I decided to hit the internet and look up some info on the earlier films, finding out about the original film and that it actually spawned a sequel titledBen.  Subsequently, I found out through that sequel’s bio that that’s where the song, “Ben,” came from, as the theme for that film.

All that aside, when this movie was announced, as well as getting some trailers and television spots on it, I became very interested.  I’ve always liked Crispin Glover, from his part in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapterto his role as George McFly in Back to the Future.  Understanding his eccentricities, I understood why he ducked out of the spotlight, only taking on bit parts or starring in obscure films.  However, it didn’t help much when he made the news with his chosen appearance in public, not to mention his actions on “Late Night with David Letterman” back in 1987.  And I don’t think I ever saw any of the movies he starred in since that year until seeing him in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels—that was a treat for me and I was glad to see him in a more prominent role.

I was stoked about this movie, particularly after seeing some of the scenes in the trailers that had some obvious CGI’d rats that looked really well done.  So when this film had its opening day on March 14th of 2003, I took a trip over to the local theater and sat down to see it.

The film is about Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover), a socially awkward employee of a company his
father started, who is berated and embarrassed in front of his coworkers, daily, by his boss, Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey).  Tending to his fragile ailing mother (Jackie Burroughs), he finds his basement is overrun by rats and sets out traps for them.  After catching a large white rat on a glue trap, Willard notices that it’s tame and has some intelligence, so he decides to keep it as a pet, naming it Socrates.  However, a bigger rat—who Willard names Ben—constantly misbehaves and acts up to get Willard’s attention.  Both rats—as well as the colony that lives within the basement walls—begin to listen to and obey Willard, doing what he asks and following his commands.  When the relentless haranguing from Mr. Martin comes to a head, Willard decides to get his revenge.

Willard is directed by Glen Morgan, who has only directed two films in his career.  Most of his profession was spent writing and producing, in such films as 2000’s Final Destination and the Black Christmasremake in 2006.  Being that the latter was his last directorial duty, I can understand why he hasn’t gone back to that part of the movie business.  But with Willard, he was able to capture some nice moments between Glover’s character and the rats that weren’t digitally created.  Morgan was able to achieve a creepy and harsh world, yet grounded in reality with the supporting cast.

Crispin Glover was perfect for this part, even more so than his predecessor, Bruce Davison, who had played the title character in the 1971 version.  Glover already has an awkward way about him, so I imagine it wasn’t difficult for him to step into this role.  I understand the filmmakers even played to his facial features by subtly making up his face to darken around his eyes and to make his nose more protuberant, causing him to appear more rat-like.  If that’s the case, it worked, because there’s something about him in this film that just tells you he doesn’t fit in with normal people.

Any film that features R. Lee Ermey going ballistic is a film that entertains.  I love Ermey in this film and felt that, although it was over the top, his performance was well done and captured the perfect antagonist for the character of Willard.  While you have Glover playing a very quiet and introverted person, you have Ermey being positively loud and boisterous.  I loved it.

One opinion I have of this film is that it reminds me a lot of Tim Burton’s productions.  From the dark and gothic feel of Willard’s home to the cartoonish feel of his workplace, if you were to ask me who directed the film I would’ve guessed it was Burton.  Even though this film is considered a horror film—and there is some horror aspects in the film—the story is pretty mild and more entertaining than anything else, which makes me form the Tim Burton opinion. 

Since I’d never seen the original movie, I really didn’t think about comparing this one to its 1971 version.  But I liked what I saw in this one, especially the special effects they’d used to show the rats in a lot of the scenes.  One particular shot shows Willard getting out of the elevator at work, showing what looks to be hundreds of rats spilling out as the door opens.  I’m sure a lot of the shots included trained rats performing certain tricks, but there are other obvious scenes where they had to insert them via CGI.  To this day, the effects look good and believable, making one squirm if they don’t care for the furry little critters.

Perhaps this movie could’ve been scarier or thrilling if they decided to make it into an R-rated film instead of PG13.  I’ve had many dissertations in this blog regarding the decision by filmmakers to go with PG13 instead of R, so I’ll leave it at that.  But regardless of the more family-friendly rating, this movie still delivers and will keep you rooted in your seat.

As a little trivia for you, Bruce Davison actually makes a little cameo in the film as you see his portrait on the mantel of Willard’s house.

So, without further ado, my final “bit” on Willard?

With a role tailored specifically for his quirkiness, Crispin Glover brings his talent into this film.  One
scene that tells you that is his crying fit he has at the funeral home, as he sobs uncontrollably, even having snot bubble out of his nose at one point.  He knows how to make himself appear as if he’s full of self-loathing and it goes well with R. Lee Ermey’s portrayal of a total prick.  The film is a great addition to your Halloween watching, so set up a rental and enjoy it with the family.

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween!

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