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Willard (2003)

July 12th, 2012 by unkle lancifer · 8 Comments

I don’t mean to alarm anybody but it appears that at some point between the time I watched WILLARD back in 2003 and yesterday, somebody magically changed the tone of the entire film. What was once a quirky, dark-humored revenge flick concerning adorable critters is now a morbidly tragic character study that mercilessly kicked my heart in the crotch. I didn’t even know my heart had a crotch. Now I understand why this wasn’t a huge hit. Honey, I shrunk the cathartic payoff! I feel horrible right now thanks to WILLARD but that’s not saying I’m not happy about it.

One thing that has not changed since my first viewing is the fact that CRISPIN GLOVER is wonderful in the title role. I’m not just saying that because he’s weird and I mistake weirdness for talent. I don’t buy into that stuff. I was voted most likely to feel apathetic towards JOHNNY DEPP seventy million times in a row! GLOVER just IS Willard. He’s owns it like a birthright. He’s fearless and gracefully awkward and heartbreaking and you want to save him but you can’t. And what a face…he’s like a twisted male GARBO!

Modern science will never be able to explain my penchant for stories concerning abuse-baiting social misfits failing to connect with the world but not failing to reside in big creepy houses with fantastic furniture. It’s one of those mysteries that will never be solved like why does the Loch Ness monster always leave the cap off the toothpaste and how come I woke up barefoot in an alley? Focus. Poor Willard is trapped in life. In fact, there are tons of gates, bars and cages everywhere he goes. People treat him poorly and are remarkably unmoved by the fact that he has the coolest nose ever captured on film. Life pretends not to be a nightmare for a brief time when he makes a new friend in a rat he names Socrates. Unfortunately, caring for something breeds vulnerability and the road to hell is paved in cheese. Willard may be the low man on the totem pole at work but in his basement, he becomes a God or at least relatively tall in comparison to his followers. He builds an army of rats and my dream is he’ll take over the world.

But then there is the problem of Ben. Ben is the shadow rat. He’s dark where Socrates is snow white. The pair make like a little angel and a little devil standing on Willard’s shoulders and whispering in his ears. You could say one represents good and the other evil but who still believes in such outdated things? I think Socrates represents the hopeful dream and big fat Ben represents reality. Willard goes to sleep at night cuddled next to Socrates imagining a friend-filled future free from the cage but every morning, no matter what, he wakes up with that darn Ben staring back at him. Ben reminds him of his suffocating mother (the delightfully corpse-like JACKIE BUROUGHS), his battle-axe boss (R. LEE ERMEY, you know the drill) and his absent by way of suicide Dad (an image only cameo by original WILLARD (1971) star BRUCE DAVISON). He underlines with a black marker the truth Willard does not want to face; his fate is in the hands of others and that he’ll never steer the ship. Ben’s not all bad news though, because he’ll also chew the face off anyone he’s told to. But ultimately Willard betrays Ben and, in doing so, he betrays his own dark side and his own latent power. He fails to merge and become whole. I sympathize but it’s frustrating.

One thing that’s nice about WILLARD the film is that it’s remarkably old fashioned. It’s thoughtfully shot and nobly spends quality time setting up the party and handing out the nametags to all the guests. Sadly though, I think its archaic nature also demands that Willard find comeuppance for his deeds and I’m not feeling that. I know, I sound like a hypocrite because I usually say happy endings are for cowards but in this lone case, I’m making an exception. This is my thing but it fails to be my super-thing by not doing what I’m telling it to do nearly a decade after its release. My recipe would be: more human death, less animal death! Yes, I’m proud to be one of those shameful folks who hold the lives of animals in higher regard than the lives of humans! Surprisingly that even includes rats. I’m supposed to feel bad about that? I’m sorry humanity but I think if you reflect on your behavior over the last thousand years, you’ll collectively realize you’re not so hot. What I’m saying is get over yourself humans and don’t feel bad when I tell you that I’d rather watch a bunch of you being slowly skinned alive than witness one rat stub its toe! Gee, no wonder I have so few friends.

WILLARD was directed by GLEN MORGAN who also did the needlessly harassed BLACK CHRISTMAS remake. Both films are visually sharp, are thrown off balance by apprehensive storytelling, boast genius scores by SHIRLEY WALKER and were born completely immune to audience appreciation. I think he’s really underrated and maybe just has a curse on his head, so I send out apologetic karma balloons in hope that it helps. WILLARD is a good movie, it’s just not always a good time but keep in mind that’s coming from somebody who would have chosen Ben over Socrates in the first place.

Tags: General Horror

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Amanda By Night
8 years ago

I love, love, LOVE Willard. What an amazing film, and I agree that Crispin is fantastic in the part.

As a former rat owner, I can tell you this movie broke my heart into a thousand pieces when I first saw it. In fact, I’ve only seen it once because I just can’t bring myself to deal with some of it, even now.

Rats are wonderful creatures. I actually had a discussion in one of my Lit classes regarding the use of a rat in a story where I felt they really maligned the rat (it’s not going to eat off your face, I had to remind people). Anyway, I consider myself a rat defender!

I’m going off on a tangent. I wanted to say something else, but I got all caught up in my love of rats, I’m forgetting…

btw, have you seen this video for Crispin’s version of Ben:

8 years ago

Someone HAD to post the “Ben” video sometime, and I’m glad it was the first comment out of the gates!

That demented pied-piper video is so weirdly pretty. Crispin Glover has the voice of an angel.

Eric Eddy
8 years ago

Yes. I love this movie. It was so great the first time around. I have to watch it again.

8 years ago

Your humane society confession resonated deeply. I watched the old Popeye cartoon recently during which Bluto abuses a horse pulling a giant wagon full of bananas (whipping it, drinking all the water from the horse trough before the horse could, punching its face out of its ass), and it immediately conjured the same feeling of dread, anger, and sadness I felt when I was a kid watching this after school on television. I would become insanely, fist-pumpingly giddy when Popeye and Olive stepped in, defeating the sadistic banana monger, the cartoon ending with the horse squeezing grapefruit juice into Bluto’s eyes and then assuming the wagon driver’s position, whipping Bluto on all fours in the horse’s harness. Exultant! Triumphant! I can get through any ghastly horror film, any human atrocity, without batting an eye, but don’t ever show me a mondo film like Africa Addio and its animal snuff. Are we misanthropic? Budding Willards? Or are we just being sensibly and honorably sympathetic to the truly innocent? I could never figure that out.

8 years ago

I cried my freakin’ head off at WILLARD. Not only have I had wonderful pet rats; I also have two stripey orange cats whose ears and eyes I actually covered while watching this movie.

8 years ago

“I’m sorry humanity but I think if you reflect on your behavior over the last thousand years, you’ll collectively realize you’re not so hot. What I’m saying is get over yourself..”

This is so true!