Film Review: Willard (1971)

Also known as: Ratman’s Notebooks (working title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1971 (Scranton, Pennsylvania)
Directed by: Daniel Mann
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine, Sondra Locke

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Tear him up!” – Willard Stiles

Back in 2003, a remake of Willard came out. I had never known about the original film but the remake intrigued me so much that I had always wanted to see its predecessor.

I was glad to discover that from a story standpoint, the two films are almost identical, minus a few tweaks that made the remake darker and slightly more unhinged.

While this isn’t a comedy film, it almost has an innocent charm about it with a few comedic moments thrown in, specifically in how this incarnation of Willard Stiles deals with certain people in his life.

Bruce Davison plays the title character and while he’s not as amazing as Crispin Glover was in the 2003 version, he’s much more likable and you sympathize with him on a deeper level.

Davison is also surrounded by an interesting cast with Elsa Lanchester, the original Bride of Frankenstein, as his overbearing mother and the great Ernest Borgnine as his shithead, borderline evil boss. We also get a very young Sondra Locke as a love interest for Willard.

For those unfamiliar with these movies, the story follows a sort of weak mama’s boy that is bossed around by everyone in his life, all of whom tell him to be more of a man and to be more assertive. He ends up resenting just about everyone and all the while, he befriends some rats that he learns to train to essentially do his bidding. One thing leads to another, the plot and the tension escalates and this turns into a real horror movie.

Ultimately, it’s a cool flick and probably deserving of its cult status but from memory, I actually liked how much darker the remake was. Granted, it’s also the first version of the story that I saw and I could be affected by that. But it’s hard to top what Crispin Glover brought to the table in that picture, notwithstanding how much I also enjoyed Davison, here.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Ben, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

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