Don’t expect Mickey Mouse
Upon first hearing that Willard, the 1971 rat-infested thriller featuring Ernest Borgnine getting eaten by rodents, was being remade, I thought “Big deal!” When I read that Crispin Glover would be playing the title role, a man demeaned by his ill mother and snippy coworkers, I thought, “Well … gosh … OK!”
After seeing the movie, I immediately reverted back to “Big deal!”
You couldn’t have found a better fit for the weirdo role of Willard than Glover. Here’s an actor that works up some convincing tears and snot squirting—torrential tears, for a rat. Decked out in an old suit, with the camera practically perched on his nose for the whole film, Glover hasn’t gotten this much screen time since The River’s Edge.
Too bad it’s in a film that, like most horror films nowadays, pulls punches for a PG-13 rating. What winds up on the screen is a family-friendly (so says the MPAA) film where rats eat people. Minimal gore, minimal scares and lots of rats wandering about in a weak attempt at being scary. It doesn’t work.
Willard works at his deceased father’s manufacturing plant under the constant scrutiny of evil boss Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket). Constantly showing up late due to run-ins with his creepy mom (Jackie Burroughs, who sounds like Mother from Psycho), Willard’s generally pleasant disposition is getting put to the test. He also has a major rat problem in his basement.
Props go out to the rat wranglers, who have found themselves a couple of nice specimens in Socrates, a white albino rat that becomes the apple of Willard’s eye, and Ben, a huge bastard of a rodent that’s the size of a healthy raccoon. It is sometimes fun to watch Glover interact, rather convincingly, with the smart rodents, from his cooing, kissing behavior with Socrates, to his vicious anger toward Ben. I thought it was cute the way Big Ben wanted to hang out in bed with Willard and Socrates, only to be threatened with a cane.
The only real horror in the film comes in a few brief scenes with Willard’s mom, a gaunt woman fighting to get into the bathroom for a look at Willard’s toilet leavings. A scene where she barfs up a bloody froth left me happy I opted out of popcorn for the screening. Nothing as frightening occurs with the rats, whose carnage, including the consumption of an orange tabby cat and Ermey, is mostly obscured.
It seems the filmmakers were going for the R rating, but then made a decision during or after initial production to sanitize it, making it safer for public consumption. I’m of the belief that kids under 17 don’t need to see a film where people get devoured by rats, at least not without the company of an adult … so show some decent rat gore!
In the original ‘71 outing, Willard died at the hands and yucky teeth of his army of rats. The remake looks as if a similar ending was intended, but the filmmakers chickened out and tacked on a sequence that resurrects Glover for a possible sequel.
If it’s money intake the studio was worried about when it went for the PG-13 rating, just take a gander at the film’s weak box office for its first weekend. Moviegoers capable of getting jazzed up for a Glover-headlined film about hungry rats eating the occasional stranger would want that R-rating. Otherwise, they’ll see the film as a wimpy washout, and wait for the hopefully uncensored DVD.