Willard DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by New Line
Directed by Glen Morgan
Written by Glen Morgan based on Gilbert Ralston's book and 1971 screenplay
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 100 minutes, Rated PG-13
Crispin Glover as Willard
R. Lee Ermey as Mr. Martin
Laura Harring as Cathryn
Jackie Burroughs as Mrs. Stiles
"Willard! There are rats in the basement!"
Willard's mom (Jackie Burroughs —Bleeders, A Guy Thing) is neurotic. More so than Willard. Willard is in his mid-30s and still lives at home with his mother under the guise he is taking care of her — Mrs. Stiles is, after all, a sick, sick woman. She's sick all right. She's nosy, miserable, lonely and melodramatic and is constantly hounding Willard to see what he is up to.
If things weren't bad enough at home, Willard's boss is as bad as his mother. Willard gets belittled by Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey - The Frighteners, Full Metal Jacket) on a daily basis. Apparently, Willard is Martin's favorite whipping boy and Martin takes full advantage of Willard's spineless personality at every opportunity. Seeing how Willard spends 50 percent of his time at work and the remainder at home, with all the abuse, something is bound to snap.
Willard (Crispin Glover — Charlie's Angels, The River's Edge) is a lonely man. With no friends to speak of, an overbearing mother, a browbeating boss and an overall depressing life, Willard has a multitude of issues. Now, there are rats in the house to deal with. And deal with, he does. First, Willard attempts to use rat traps to solve the problem, but while the traps are sprung, nary a rat's neck is snapped.
Willard then buys those nifty little glue traps and lays them out in the basement. Those seem to do the trick because he manages to snag one of the rodents. Just as he's about to put the tailless squirrel out of its misery, Willard has a moment of sympathy and chooses not only to not crush Mickey's head, but to save him from a certain slow death. Using cooking oil, Willard removes the rat from the glue trap and, sensing the rat is intelligent, promptly names him Socrates. At last, Willard has a friend.
Since Socrates is so smart and Willard has a lot of free time to spend with his new play pal, Willard begins teaching Socrates such important tricks such as "chew" and "tear." Mind you, that's not "tear" as in shed one, that's "tear" as in rip apart with your teeth. Socrates, in turn, teaches the other rats in the basement, now numbering the hundreds, the same. Now "chew" and "tear" might not seem as cool as "fetch" and "play dead,” but these are the tricks Willard has the most use for. It's pretty hard to get even with those who have wronged you by teaching your pet rat to "sit.” "Chew" and "tear,” however, lead to some pretty interesting results.
Things finally start to get better in Willard's life now that he has a best friend, but no good movie is without conflict. Ben is the conflict here.
Ben, short for Big Ben, is the biggest rat of the colony. He is double the size of the next biggest rat and he has about as many issues as Willard. Ben does not like the fact that Socrates gets to go to work and sleep with Willard. Ben only wants the love Socrates receives, but Willard will have none of the big guy's insecurities. Basically, Ben is just one insecure rat bastard.
Now, Willard not only has to deal with a domineering boss and a miserable mother, he has to deal with a rat that acts like one of my crazy ex-girlfriends. Can Willard handle Ben the way he handles—or had handled—Mr. Martin, or does Ben handle Willard like the little bitch he is? You know the drill fellow horror fans, watch the movie and find out.
Having never seen the original Willard, I had no idea what to expect from this version. The only two things I knew were: the movie starred Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey, two actors whose performances never fail to entertain me; and the main character could somehow lead or control rats, one of which was named Ben.
The first thing I noticed about Willard happened during the opening credits. The movie was produced by James Wong and directed by Glen Morgan. Having been a huge fan of the first five seasons of "The X-Files,” I immediately got excited. Wong and Morgan were not only responsible for some of the best "X-Files" episodes; they teamed up for The One with Jet Li and Final Destination, two movies I really enjoyed. While Wong and Morgan have not quite reached the popularity of Bruckheimer/Bay or the Farrelly or Coen brothers, Willard is another step toward higher recognition.
The directing is very, very good. Morgan creates a very drab looking movie with muted colors and creepy locations. The house in which Willard and his mother live, while huge, is very neglected and gloomy. The use of shadows makes Willard's world as one of misery and infinite sadness. Add to that the fantastic performances of Glover, Ermey and the rest of the cast, you get one hell of a feeling of hopelessness.
The performances in Willard were outstanding. Glover is absolutely amazing. He played a wimp in Back to the Future and a neurotic in The River's Edge, and brilliantly combines the two roles into one for Willard. Glover always comes through as a talented actor and here he turns in his finest performance. A popular character actor, Glover does a dazzling job as the main star and his onscreen presence demands you watch him. Originally, the role of Willard was written for Doug Hutchison—whom "X-Files" fans will recognize as Eugene Tooms in two of Wong and Morgan's classic episodes, "Squeeze" and "Tooms." But when Hutchison proved unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, Glover's name came up. It’s amazing Glover almost missed this role, as I cannot imagine anyone else as Willard.
Also, R. Lee Ermey as Mr. Martin, was brilliant. Ermey plays the boss as such a bully, I was having flashbacks of the district managers from my retail drug store days. What made Ermey's performance so wonderful is he did not always yell (as his characters are notorious for), he worked himself up to it. Ermey's dialog would generally start off calm and collected and work up to a frenzy of yelling and screaming. The calm-to-madness performance actually added depth to the character. Instead of being the one-dimensional, demeaning manager, you are left with the impression that this Martin guy is not just a prick, but a crazy and neurotic prick.
The rest of the cast, from Willard's mother to his office mates, did such a superb job, there is not a bad, or even mediocre, performance in the movie. Everyone is rock solid.
Another interesting aspect of Willard is its Hitchcockian feel. From the score, which is haunting and absolutely beautiful, to the relationship between Willard and his mother, it is apparent there is a strong Hitchcock influence. Willard and his mother are very reminiscent of Norman Bates and his mother. Both of the sons are more than a little kooky, a little odd, a little depressed and a lot crazy. Both mothers are overbearing and irrational. Both families live in huge gothic dwellings in which much more goes on on the inside than the outside would show.
The only problem I had with the movie was the ending. The ending is typical Hollywood: Treat the audience like idiots and set up for a sequel. On the plus side, the original ending is on the disc in the special features and Morgan explains why it was changed. The knowledge of the change does not make the ending any better, but at least it's understood.
Video and Audio:
Willard gives the option of 2.35:1 anamorphic wide screen or pan and scan. The picture is very good considering the amount of shadow in the movie and I did not see any artifacts. The absence of artifacts was impressive considering the movie’s dark palette. This is a great looking movie.
You have your choice of English 5.1 surround, English Stereo Surround and English or Spanish subtitles. From the score to the sound effects of rat traps popping, the movie sounds terrific. No distortions at all and the dialog was never overtaken. A great sounding movie to complement a great looking movie.
- 12 Deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary
- Filmmaker Commentary — Director Glen Morgan, Producer James Wong, Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey
- "The Year of the Rat" — Documentary on the making of Willard
- "Rat People: Friends or Foes?" — Featurette
- Ben (performed by Crispin Glover) — Music video with optional commentary
- Trailer and TV spots
The commentary was interesting and informative. While it consisted of Ermey, Wong, Glover and Morgan, the director did most of the talking. I wish Ermey — who appeared to be recorded separately — and Glover had more to say, but it was an entertaining commentary nonetheless.
"Rat People: Friends or Foes?" is a very enjoyable look into the world of people who keep rats as pets. It was a blast to watch and is very reminiscent of Trekkies, the documentary about Star Trek fans. Looking into the world of "Rat People" is a surreal experience because you cannot believe these people exist. The featurette runs about 20 minutes.
"The Year of the Rat" is a very well done behind-the-scenes documentary. Clocking in at just over an hour, the feature goes from the casting process to the movie's premier and all the problems in between. The documentary is very frank and surprisingly good. Watching the changes Morgan had to make to the final film is somewhat depressing, because it could have been even better without them — starting with an "R" rating. However, I applaud New Line for allowing the documentary to go into the special features uncut because the studio is not portrayed very well in parts.
The music video is a must watch. Directed and performed by Glover, it is entertaining and gives you a brief glimpse into his mind. The commentary on the other hand, is horrible. Give it a listen to hear how insane it truly is.
Although Willard's director admits its slow pace failed to reach its target audience, what it really does is build suspense for a frantic ending.