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Starring Crispin Glover; R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring
Written and Directed by Glen Morgan
based on a screenplay by Gilbert Ralston
based upon Ratman Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert

IN SHORT: Slice 'n' dice free horror doesn't get much better than this. [Rated PG-13 for Terror/Violence, Some Sexual Content and Language. 100 minutes]

Ah, to be fourteen again. To wait on line on opening day to see rats gobble up humans in the original Willard. To be absolutely bored out of our minds by the flick that promised everything it couldn't deliver. There was no CGI in 1971. Now there is. Now we get to see the movie we were craving thirty years ago. Yee hah for us.

For those of you who have grown up in the decades since John Carpenter unleashed Halloween, however, you'll walk out of the 2003 Willard muttering the same word 98% of our too-young-to-know-who-Hitchcock-was muttering: "terrible." That, folks, is a terrible shame. This Willard is just about everything "classic" horror is supposed to be. All of its power is in the setup, building anticipation for the big effect, in this case an army of rats against a helpless human. More important than what you think of the blood, or lack thereof, is the performance of the man at the center of it all. Crispin Glover is utterly, phenomenally perfect. He also becomes the very first name we put on our Best Performances List that we hide until December.

And, lest you plant not having read the following warning, WARNING: Willard is funny. Comedically funny. Absolutely giggle-iciously funny. Until you get to the rats in Act Two.

We're not quite exactly sure what the Martin-Stiles Manufacturing Company makes, but meek-as-a-mouse Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) lugs his briefcase to the office every day, to be yelled at and generally abused by his boss, Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey). Willard's father died back in 1995 and Martin made a promise that his partner's son would have a place at the company, at least as long as Willard's bedridden mother (Jackie Burroughs) is alive. Mom is, to be kind, a real piece of work. Willard, to be kinder, is a psychological textbook case of repressed anger. He's never spent any quality time in the harsh light of day. He has no friends, has never dated, in fact has never even touched a girl in any way at all. There's a new girl at work named Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring) who almost seems interested, but Willard is too ignorant of social interaction to realize it. So she makes the first move and brings the boy a present. We did warn you that Willard is a comedy,at first, didn't we? See the present. See the present run. Run present run. See the rats swarm. Comedy becomes horrific. Yee hah!

But we're ahead of the story. When mom hears rats in the basement of the house, Willard is told to deal with the problem. Yes, he will set traps. No, he will not be able to terminate the first rat captured, a small white rat who he names Socrates. Socrates, smart enough to almost avoid the traps, becomes Willard's pet and best friend. But five times larger, meaner and grayer is the real star of our film, a big rat appropriately named Ben. And all of the rats come out for free eats, especially when Willard discovers that he can train them to things like, tear other things up. Pretty soon, Willard's friends are hitching rides in his briefcase and going everywhere he goes. Heh heh heh.

Mean Boss. Overbearing mom. Hordes of rats. Some blood will spill. But, no, there is no innocent young nubile thing running half naked down a street with vicious rats hanging by their teeth off parts of her body. Walk in with those expectations and you'll be as disappointed as we were thirty years ago. As far as Willard v.2003 goes, well, swarming rat technology has improved impressively in the intervening decades. There are some incredible visuals including one shot in which rats come pouring out of an elevator like pent up water bursting through a dam. Once the "waves" part, in their midst is Willard. It is a spectacular shot. No longer funny, Willard lulls you into complacency just before unleashing the power of your imagination. You want slice 'n' dice? Go elsewhere. You recognize nods to Psycho and The Birds? You get the point of this film and should have a good time.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Willard, he would have paid . . .


Only an epilogue disappoints.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.