In 1971 there wasn’t much for animal themed horror fans to latch their grubby paws on, but things changed when Willard was released in theatres. A surprise hit for most people, Willard featured Bruce Davison as an introverted man, who after being put down over and over again, either by his mother or his boss, befriends a bunch of rats and learns how to control them.
Now, one would think the film will be featuring a ton of rat feasting mayhem, but you be disappointed if you go in expecting that, as Willard is light on the feasting but high on slow burn story development.
The general gist of Willard, as I’ve already mentioned above, is about our titular character Willard being put down over and over. His job sucks, his boss, played wonderfully by Ernest Borgnine, is a real asshole and his mother wants him to serve her needs and do nothing else. The problem for Willard is after being put down so much, he becomes isolated and alone, having to befriend furry little rats to get him through the hard stuff. Everything would be all right and dandy for Willard, but after something tragic happens in Willard’s life, he goes over the edge and turns his army of rats on the people that have put him down.
Unfortunately for those horror loving fans out there, Willard is very light on the violence. Without spoiling anything, there is not much murder happening in the film, and a lot of the scenarios play out for laughs. It also doesn’t help that even during dramatic scenes, the music by Alex North is an upbeat, jaunty tune; it zaps any tension from the scene.
Nevertheless, what makes Willard enjoyable is the performances and the development of characters. You grow to hate Ernest Borgnine’s character, and you start to feel for Willard, which makes most of the later scenes hit home a lot better. However, the real star of the show is Ben the rat. This small little creature manages to steal every scene he’s in. There are moments where the camera shows Ben up close, and I swear, the rat is planning things, evil things. It’s all in the eyes, and this rat knows how to emote. No wonder they made a sequel titled Ben.
As for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of Willard, we are offered a serviceable audio/4K video transfer. The film’s age shows through in some scenes, but more often than not, the quality of the Blu is rather nicely done. The same goes for the original Mono audio option, which serves us clean dialogue and that jaunty music sounds even more out of place.
The special features for the Blu-ray give us a brand new 12-minute interview with Bruce Davison, who fondly remembers filming Willard and dealing with the rats. Like a lonely old woman and her dog, a lot of peanut butter was involved. Rounding out the features are trailers and a still gallery.
Willard wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, as I expected a lot more rat mayhem, but nevertheless, I still ended up enjoying the flick. The main characters are well developed, and there are plenty of enjoyable moments. The ending is rather bleak but ends the film on a high horror note. The Blu-ray from Scream Factory is light on the features but has a nice 4K video transfer. If the price is right, the Blu is worth checking out.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
NEW 4K Scan Of The Original camera Negative
NEW Audio Commentary With Actor Bruce Davison
NEW Interview With Actor Bruce Davison
Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison, Insidious: Chapter 4) is a young man with a big problem. He lives alone in a crumbling house with his ailing mother (Elsa Lanchester, Arnold, Bride of Frankenstein). His boss, Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine, Escape from New York) is a vulgar, cruel man who stole his business from Willard’s father and is now working Willard to death at his factory job.
Lonely, depressed and isolated, Willard is on the verge of a breakdown when he makes a new friend: Ben, one of the many rats who inhabit his dilapidated home. Not only can Willard communicate with the rodent, but he can actually command him to do his bidding. Using Ben and his furry friends as instruments of retaliation, Willard commands his pets to carry out his vengeance…