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Willard (R)
New Line
Official Site
Director: Glen Morgan
Producer: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Writers: Gilbert Ralston, Glen Morgan
Cast: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Herring, Jackie Burroughs

Rating: out of 5

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 score.

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 cartoon.

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.

—Edward Rholes


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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