As the crowd filed out of the theatre after watching Willard,
I couldn’t help but notice some distinctly feminine voices
complaining about how “stupid” and “gross” the film had been.
So I think it’s safe to say of that among the many things
Willard is, it is not a date movie.
That’s not to say that Willard won’t find an audience.
Just as the 1971 version of Gilbert Ralston’s book
about a shy, mama’s boy who befriends a horde of rats who
help him wreak revenge on his tormentors, struck a chord with
audiences in the 1970s, I can imagine a generation of pasty,
misfits for whom this Willard may seem a rare treat.
But who knows? I found it interesting enough for a while.
First-time director Glen Morgan has made a stylish debut,
with plenty of twisted humor that at times is reminiscent
of some of Tim Burton’s darkly playful fairytales,
an effect that is complemented by a very Elfmanesque
The casting is superlative. Willard’s bitterly condescending
mother, (Burroughs) personifies decrepitude, and Ermey
does a fine job Al Martin, the boss who delights in humiliating
Willard every chance he gets. Funny and abrasive, he seems
as though he might have crawled out of a Tex Avery
The real casting coup here is Crispin Glover as Willard.
Glover, probably still best known for playing the George McFly
character in the Back To The Future movies, has a lot
of experience playing freaks and lunatics and usually brings
a weird, manic energy to his roles. Here however, he sublimates
that energy into a quietly, intense performance as a character
so repressed he finds it impossible to relate to anyone but
a white rat he names Socrates. Still he does find the opportunity
to let go in few scenes and delivers a spastic eruption that’s
both funny and unnerving. Glover may also be uniquely qualified
to play Willard in that he has a well-documented fascination
with rats; in fact, back in 1987 he republished a Victorian-era
manuscript on rat catching.
When the original Willard came out it was lumped in
with a number of other films as part of an animals-attack
subgenre of horror films, most of which were only variations
on Hitchcock’s The Birds. What separates Willard
from a conventional horror movie is that it subverts audience
expectations. As it goes along it becomes clear that Willard
is not really some kind of off beat anti-hero but rather quite
plainly insane. And while it’s admirable to see a genre flick
that breaks form, it’s in Willard’s long trip off the deep
end that the movie eventually lost me. The movie reaches a
crescendo of silliness at the end that is neither explicable
nor frightening, and then leaves us with the clichéd IT MIGHT
HAPPEN AGAIN epilogue. Still in a season dominated by such
fare as Bringing Down The House and How To Lose
A Guy By Dragging Him To Some Crappy Matthew McConnaughey
Movie, Willard can’t help but shine in comparison.