31 Days of Halloween — Day 13: Willard (2003) — by Jody Horror Guy

willard-posterEditor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. This year we’ve asked several of our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This, the first such review, was submitted by listener and friend of the show Jody Branham… You can follow Jody on Twitter @JodyHorrorGuy

“From small things comes great power”

The tagline for the horror remake Willard – but whether that power can be controlled is the issue that this film explores.

Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) plays the title character of Willard who is an introverted pushover, bullied by his dying mother (Jackie Burroughs) and his boss Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey).

He has no friends until he encounters a white rat in his basement named “Socrates”, and soon he befriends and controls a whole army of rats (led by a giant rat named “Ben”). The rats do Willard’s bidding starting with harmless vandalism, but the pranks soon escalate into homicide.

Written and Directed by Glen Morgan (TV’s The X-Files), Willard follows the same pattern of self-reference, a trope of its time in the post-Scream era.  Some of the character names, and songs in the film are inside jokes both from The X-Files and the 1971 Willard.

As a gag, Crispin Glover sings the song “Ben” (a song originally sang by a very young Michael Jackson) during the end credits. Obviously, this is a film marketed towards teenagers (who more than likely have not seen the 32 year-old original), so the jokes fall flat.

Having said that, Willard is a very creepy film – not violent or scary, but creepy all the same. Glover and Ermey’s performances make the film enjoyable to watch, but the real stars of the film are the 300+ live rats. Hats off to the filmmakers for using real rats, for if they had used computer generated rats, the film would have been a disaster.

R. Lee Ermey in an interview with myself comments on the rats. “The rats were raised from birth and handfed baby food and peanut butter. They were bathed every day, so they were very clean and docile, but all that food only had once place to go – out. After a few takes the smell was unbearable.” No one on the set suffered any injuries, and by the end of the first day Laura Elena Harring (who plays Willard’s potential love interest in the film), originally terrified by the rats, was holding and petting them.

Willard was the first in a series of remakes (that also included the Texas Chainsaw remake and prequel – which also featured Ermey) by New Line Cinema, that were financed by the enormous profits of The Lord of the Rings franchise.

Despite its box office failure, Willard has the potential for cult status, but with its lack of appeal to younger audiences and general unawareness of the film, that’s probably not going to happen.

Score: 7/10


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4 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 13: Willard (2003) — by Jody Horror Guy

  1. For anyone who likes weird Crispin Glover movies … I can’t recommend his directorial films, per se, but you could try out the films that he did with filmmaker Trent Harris: Rubin and Ed (1991) and The Beaver Trilogy (2000). They aren’t horror and they are bizarre, but a lot of fun. To make The Beaver Trilogy a little more palatable, I’d first highly-recommend the documentary about it called Beaver Trilogy Part IV to any film fan. That one is directed by Brad Besser and you can find it for a $3.99 digital rental on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and GooglePlay.

    If you like the doc, you’ll be dying to check out Rubin & Ed (which was the Napoleon Dynamite of my highschool years) and The Beaver Trilogy (a crazy film experiment somewhat akin to Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions). You may even be tempted to check out the absolutely insane It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine! and What Is It?, both difficult watches directed by Glover.

  2. Excellent review, Jody. This is a movie that I’ve always been intrigued by, but have never seen. My intrigue is mostly due to creepy Crispin Glover, but your review has definitely rekindled my interest. I’m adding it to my list… and blaming you later if I don’t like it!

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