Willard is a movie based on a novel presented as a fictional diary called Ratman’s Notebooks where an unnamed protagonist recorded his relationship with two remarkably intelligent rats: the sleek friendly white rat Socrates, and the large sinister Ben.
The movie takes few liberties with the book, but while the book is unsettling and weird, the movie is just rather dull. In spite of a cast headed by Bruce Davison, Sondra Locke, Elsa Lanchester, and Ernest Borgnine the film feels like a TV movie and not in a good way. It’s a woefully underwhelming movie that only looks better when put up next to its underdeveloped and ill-advised sequel, Ben.
The remake of Willard is a truly special movie. Crispin Glover is a difficult actor to get to work in any given movie but when the right role and the right movie come along he’s electrifying and this is possibly his best role.
Crispin nails the miserable sad sack turned power-mad psychopath quality of Willard Stiles, perfectly threading the needle between being sinister and garnering sympathy. There’s also a great turn by R. Lee Ermey as Willard’s over-bearing boss.
The special effects are excellent, the film is perfectly paced, and the rats perform beautifully made to look malefic by simple tricks of shadows and camera angles. The movie changes the ending a bit, which is a shame because that’s one of the best bits of the book and the original movie, but it still works extremely well.
Is it a good remake?
Willard is the best-case scenario for remakes. It takes something that under-performed, shores up its weak spots and polishes its strengths and then comes in hot absolutely nailing the look and feel that the story needed in the first place. It’s a shame more remakes can’t pull off this trick.
Does it stand on its own?
Aside from a needledrop of Michael Jackson’s Ben - the song written to accompany the sequel to the original of the same name - and a picture of a contemporary Bruce Davison as Willard’s father there are no winks or nods to the original film. In many ways it’s just a re-adapatation of the story and as such it doesn’t really bring any baggage with it
Watch, Toss, or Buy?
Thankfully word of mouth has already made this movie a minor cult hit but it could always use more love. Buy it!