I’ll be totally honest with you dear reader, I’d never seen the 1971 horror film Willard until I received my review copy of this Blu-ray. Sure, I knew it was about rats. Yes, I guessed the rats committed some violent acts. That was it.
After watching, I admit it’s not the movie I thought it was. I imagined it being a dark, gruesome horror film from top to bottom. It isn’t. It’s an oddball drama about a socially awkward man named Willard who doesn’t have many friends. His home has become infested with rats, but instead of obeying his mother’s orders to kill them, he saves them. In fact, he shares some of his birthday cake with them! Then, the rats become his friends. He gives them names, talks to them and even brings them to work. Eventually, they become the only friends he can trust. This friendship Willard has with his rats doesn’t extend to some of the other people in his life, namely Willard’s cavalier boss, Mr. Martin. Like me, you can assume how the film ends, but it is truly spectacular and worth the lean 95 minute runtime.
The title character of Willard is played by Bruce Davison, an actor who’s been in everything – no really, he has 244 acting roles listed on his IMDB. Davison solidly walks a tight rope between Willard’s macabre loneliness and momentary charm. Sondra Locke, Elsa Lancaster and Ernest Borgnine fill in the other major roles and each performance is planted firmly within their reality. Even with the camp factor, the all star ensemble plays it up just enough to keep the movie grounded, but quirky.
Equally as interesting as the film is its history, which you can learn all about thanks to the wonderful release Scream Factory has put together. The audio commentary with star Davison is full of facts and anecdotes, and he shares a real passion for this movie. Davison explains that this release is a big milestone in Willard because it was a box office hit when it came out, yet due to legal issues, fans had a hard time finding many home releases and certainly nothing in HD. Until now!
I don’t know how the transfer compares to any of the limited previous releases, but knowing Scream Factory I would imagine they found the best version available. For my money, it looked and sounded great. And Scream Factory has also released Ben, the sequel. If rats are your thing, then they’ve got you covered.
Friends, Patrick was kind enough to let me chime in on his article. When he submitted his latest review I kind of freaked out. As I have been wanting a proper release of Willard for quite some time. In fact the only way I have been able to watch this cult classic besides the occasional television airing is thanks to my VHS copy. If you will pardon the pun I would point out that its certainly become rather ratty.
I would add that the equally awesome 1972 sequel Ben also provided the late Michael Jackson an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song! – Vic