You made me hate myself. Well, I like myself now. – Willard Stiles
Movie Review: Willard
Let’s talk about rats. They certainly have an interesting and varied history with humanity, and something you may not know is that they’re actually a major reason why Jaws is seen as one of the most iconic of villains to ever grace the silver screen. Yes, it’s true – Willard made its American audience hungry for more “animals attack” movies, and was so widely acclaimed that it paved the way for more films featuring the evils of our animal brethren to be released throughout the seventies. I feel safe in assuming that if not for the Iago-like scheming rat, Ben, we might never have had our Universal Studios’ famous great white shark.
In spite of that, Willard has become a (mostly) forgotten-about cult darling, having been underlooked – around the time we went from film to VHS to DVD. For the longest time, if you wanted a story about a man and his rats, you would have to watch the re-make, featuring Crispin Glover absolutely devouring the scenery amidst a sea of his rat friends. Not a bad fate (in fact, that movie was the first film my S.O. and I ever watched together alone – which somehow still managed to be romantic, in spite of the content of the movie), but anyone who’s wanted to see the truly solid and unforgettable original has been out of luck – unless they own a VHS copy and a player. Cue Shoutfactory, who only just last year released this utterly strange movie on crisp Blu-ray and DVD.
So, what is the movie about? I once heard the creators of the cult classic Tucker and Dale Versus Evil describe their movie as a romantic tale that happens to feature a bad incident involving a woodchipper, and in a similar tongue-in-cheek manner, I would describe Willard as a tale of a boy and his rats with a few minor incidents related to a seriously terrible office job.
To describe it more fully, Willard features a man who appears to have a case of Peter Pan syndrome, not aided in the least by the lead actor’s boyish features, or by his style of acting, which brings to mind more often than not a child on the verge of throwing a tantrum. It’s his attitude and obvious, childish desire to escape his responsibilities that make the character of Willard Stiles different from the escapist fantasy stories that veer towards saving a male character from his fate of emasculation at the hands of a cold social structure or overbearing female characters. We're introduced to the title character through his home life via a birthday party thrown for him in his spacious, decrepit home (with the party guests all being his mother’s friends). There we also meet his gleefully opportunistic and bullying boss, played perfectly and memorably by an eternally devious Ernest Borgnine. Not soon after, we see the rat infestation that has taken over the run-down backyard garden in the back of Willard’s home. At first deeming the infestation to be yet one more chore to further weigh the child-like man down with responsibility, Willard soon discovers that he has an affinity for the rats and that they respond well to training and affection.
What happens next I will leave to the imagination, but if kitschy seventies style and bizarro animal action is something you’re interested in, you won’t be disappointed by this strange trip of a movie.
The ACPL has multiple copies of the cult classic on Blu-Ray, and the movie is based on a book, known as Ratman’s Notebooks.
Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre. Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, and reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.