Willard and Ben…friends to the end?

Time to take on the famous killer rat franchise since I finally added all three to my collection.

WILLARD (1971)

Willard is not the crazy killer rat movie you might expect or remember. It’s more a character study of how a stunted young man is pushed to snapping as his life crumbles down around him. It’s a sort of fictionalized take on some of the typical profiles of the most notorious killers in true crime history.

While the tone and style are painfully dated, featuring remnants of melodramatic 1960s horror music and an inappropriately whimsical score at times, you can overlook that if you focus on the performance of young Bruce Davison, who carries the film as Willard, a young man whose social life consists of his elderly mother and her nagging old friends. He’s also treated like shit at work by his boss, played by Ernest Borgnine.

Willard sees a rat in his yard, and before long he’s fricking breeding them in his basement. He befriends coworker Sondra Locke, who gives him a cat to keep him company. Thankfully he gives it away immediately, because we know it wouldn’t have worked out for the cat…

One thing after another pushes Willard to the edge, but sadly he only subjects a few of his enemies to rat scares until the very end of the film. Finally, Willard unleashes his rats on one of his main enemies, and it’s a pretty darn good scene. If only Bob Crachit had thought of this, he could have saved three ghosts a lot of time.

 Unfortunately, the first rat attack is also one of the last. Willard freaks out over what he’s had his rats do and tries to put a stop to it. I just hope no rats were harmed in the making of this movie, because there are a few disturbing scenes of rat abuse.

BEN (1972)

Picking up right where the first film left off, this sequel has Willard’s rat Ben run away from home to take up residence with a little kid down the block.

Before he was an 80s hottie in movies like Girls Just Want to Have Fun and The Midnight Hour, little Lee Montgomery appeared in horror flicks like Burnt Offerings, Dead of Night, and this film. His sister is played by young Meredith Baxter, and it is just about the oddest thing you’ll see when his character composes the theme song to Ben on the spot and sings it to her and their mother.

The theme song was a huge hit for Michael Jackson, solidifying his connection to horror a decade before “Thriller”!

Also in the film is the guy who appeared as a detective Dorothy falls for on an episode of The Golden Girls. Here he plays…a detective.

Not surprisingly, the rat and kill counts are higher in this sequel, yet because it’s about a lonely little kid (who gets called a sissy and accused of playing with dolls), it feels somehow like a “children’s movie”. The kid doesn’t call the shots—the rats attack of their own volition to protect him.

And to make us totally feel for the rats, an evil plan is implemented to fry them all in the sewers, which is where the movie heads for the finale. And if you wonder why “Ben” is a melancholy ballad that makes you feel sad for the rat, just wait until you see the final scene of the film.

WILLARD (2003)

The director of the Black Christmas remake scraps the slow unraveling of the main character in the original Willard to go for the jugular with the rat horror, while pretty much following the same core plot points.

With Crispin Glover in the role of Willard, the character starts off full throttle crazy, immediately befriending the rats in his basement, and battling Ben for dominance…for the entire movie.

His mother, meanwhile, isn’t just a nag in this remake…she’s scarier than the rats. She gets sick to the point of being very reminiscent of sister Zelda in the original Pet Sematary.

And just for fun, pics of his deceased father around the house are a wink wink to the original…because it’s Bruce Davison! Awesome.

The boss is played by R. Lee Ermey, the sheriff from the Texas Chainsaw remakes. And when the female friend at work gives Willard the cat this time, not surprisingly he keeps it.

The scene of the rats going for the cat was the most disturbing part of the film for me. And to make matters worse, the excessively long scene is accompanied by Michael Jackson’s original version of “Ben”.

 

And speaking of Ben, this film should have been called Willard vs. Ben since Ben plays a much bigger role than he did in the original film.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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