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Willard reminded me very much of Arachnophobia. Funny comparison I know but there are so many people I know who think of Arachnophobia as a comedy. I personally found it to be terrifying. It all comes down to fear of spiders, which of course is me. I can’t stand the eight legged monsters! The same applies here to rats. If you are frightened of rats, then you will probably find much to be frightened of in Willard. Not being particularly frightened of rats, I was able to look past to spooky stuff and see this film for the black comedy it was.

Everyone’s favourite oddball Crispin Glover is Willard Styles, a middle aged man who is stuck in a dead end job in a company his family use to own, now run by a man who hates his guts and will do anything to see him fail. Willard also lives with his senile old mother who is supposedly knocking on deaths door, and even she stands all over him by telling him what to do and mocking everything about him (she even starts to call him by a different name as she hates the name Willard).

Willard
With the exception being the occasional kindness by co-worker Laura Harring, Willard has no friends. This is until one day he finds a little white mouse in his basement. Rather than killing it, he releases it. When the same mouse comes back, he keeps it and names it Socrates. He feeds and cleans Socrates and talks to him like a real person. It does not stop there however, keeping Socrates as his favourite, Willard starts to feed a whole lot of rats and mice in his basement every day until he has names for all the main ones, the biggest and most important being Big Ben the rat. After gaining their loyalty, Willard finds that if he trains them, these rats will do anything he tells them to. That is anything…

The fact that a man is able to gain the loyalty of a rat army is one thing, what he actually does with that army is another. Willard at first uses his new army for little jokes and pranks such as eating his evil boss’s car tyres. But these rats are smart enough to be trained to obey human commands, they might just be smart enough to break out and do their own thing, no matter what their master Willard says.

You may think I have just detailed the entire plot for you when really I haven’t. This is a running theme throughout the movie and what the rats will do next is one of the reasons you may keep watching. There is a very nice power play between Willard, the man who made these rats what they are now, and Big Ben, the foot-long rat, who does his own thing and threatens Willard’s role as boss. Seeing if these rats will follow Willard or end up following their own kind is something that really keeps Willard alive.

Also carrying Willard a long way is the terrific performance of Crispin Glover. I have never seen him this involved in a film before and he really gives it his all. He obviously gets this film and understands when it is meant to be scary and when it is meant to be funny or sad and adjusts his performance accordingly, making him to a particular point in the film, relatable before being potentially hated. Most stunning is that you can really see him as a troubled man with so much emotion inside him and you can see him bottling it up. It takes talent to do that and stay in character. This is possibly Glovers best performance to date. Supporting performers R. Lee Ermey and Laura Harring also do quite well in their limited screen time.

Willard
Interesting to see in the film was the fine line between horror and comedy and where and when that line would be crossed. Strangely, Willard will be at one moment creepy and what some people will call gross. The next it manages to be laugh out loud funny, more out of shock in some cases. Watching Glover yelling at rats as if arguing with them does provide a good laugh. Although it is good to get the occasional giggle, Willard suffers from the same thing that ruins a lot of black comedy-horror, which is that it is too funny to be scary, and too scary to be funny. Although the film isn’t very scary, scenes which involve cats and people getting eaten by rats are just a little in bad taste and did make me like the film a lot less.

Willard is different, there is no doubting that. The plot is very much out there and the title character very memorable. Although this may be a little twisted for some, those who are looking for a tingle in the spine whilst looking for a bit of an awkward giggle should find this film rather entertaining. Crispin Glover adds to the films overall quality with a captivating performance. Although in two or three scenes they go a little too far, Willard is a tight and atmospheric horror comedy that does make for an alternative nights viewing.

A side note: My brother come in while I was half way through this film and felt captivated to watch till the end. Guess I felt that was relevant if talking about the twisted nature of the film being a drawing factor.

Willard
Video
The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, which is weird because the case lists it as the original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. The films dark nature could have lead to disaster as a poor transfer could lead to many invisible scenes, however the delicate balance is well managed here as colour separation and clarity are very nice and will help capture the mood of the film. There are some mild grain issues but hardly enough to complain about. Slightly more noticeable are the films artefacts which pop up now and then, but again not really worth complaining about as it’s a nice transfer which is very nicely fitted for the genre, the style and the overall feel of the film.

Audio
English 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo tracks can be found on this disk. The 5.1 track is nice, but not earth shattering by any means. The dialogue is fine in both tracks with no need to turn on subtitles to hear Glovers sometimes murmured dialogue. There is also no lip synch problem, or any other synch problem for that matter. The surrounds don’t do anything impressive. They are used for the music of course but also now and then pronounce a creak in the roof or the oncoming footsteps of rat hordes. The sub is present in music only. The surround option is entertaining, but does not have much of a “wow” factor. It essentially enforces the films atmospheric nature.

Willard
Extras
Oddly enough, the case for Willard lists the only extras as Deleted Scenes and the Trailer. In actual fact, there is a variety of extras as you’ll see below. I’m getting the feeling my case was for an early rental or preview version of some type due to the mistakes on it.

First there is the traditional Audio Comentary from Director Glen Morgan, Producer James Wong and Actors Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey (who apparently was absent during recording and had his comments spliced in later). It’s a decent commentary with Glover and Morgan doing the majority of the talking. It’s funny because Morgan seems disgruntled that the film was not better received and that the point was missed by many people. I felt better after hearing that as I felt it was a movie not many people would understand.

The first of two featurettes is Year of the Rat. Which is a very in-depth making-of that runs for nearly 80 mins. The films Assistant Director documents the entire making of the movie, and I do mean he entire making. From early casting to production to reflections it’s all here in great detail. I real stand-out in cult DVD extras. Stay tuned for the Directors final comments, really good considering the films mixed response.

The second has less to do with the film as it is a short piece on actual people who take in rats. It is bizarre to see for many reasons. For starters, did you know there were rat shows? Much like cat and dog shows? The amounts of rats some people take in in amazing and this feature is worth looking at just to meet some of these owners.

There is then a selection of deleted scenes presented in widescreen with full 5.1 Surround Sound which is nice. Good to see a well manicured set of scenes unlike other DVDs which just throw on poor quality scenes. Each scene has optional commentary by Glen Morgan and Crispin Glover who give lots of insight into why the scenes were cut. Many of which are scenes featuring Laura Harring, which explains her limited screen time.

The remaining material is mostly marketing. First there is a music video performed and directed by Crispin Glover. Glover also offers an audio commentary on this massively bizarre clip that has to be seen to be believed. Honest! Glover has lots to say and obviously not enough time to say it as well.

The trailer and 3 TV spots are also included. The trailer is pretty cool and captures the movie almost perfectly without giving too much away, that is until the rock music comes on at the end, that ruins it a bit. There is not much to say about the TV spots other than they are simply trim-downs of the trailer.

Some very detailed and as I said well manicured extras which indicate those involved really cared about this movie. I was very much impressed with what I saw and heard here.

Willard
Overall
A bizarre film which will scare some, amuse others or maybe a little bit of both. I for one was captivated by the insanity of the plot and the character and was often enthused to find out what would happen next. Glover also gives a spot-on performance which adds to the film. Not for everyone, but still one of those very interesting films that you may never see. The films dark atmosphere is also well represented through fairly good video and audio. The 5.1 sound can be very effective at the best of times. The extras are also very deep and really go much further into the film than many DVDs do. Overall a very tidy package for a little cult film. A far as cult packages go it’s up there with 24 Hour Party People. It’s too bad the case is wrong on important details such as aspect ratio and extras though.


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