Film Review: Ben (1972)

Release Date: June 21st, 1972 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: characters by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Walter Scharf
Cast: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Rosemary Murphy, Meredith Baxter, Bruce Davison (archive footage)

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[singing while showing his Ben marionette to the real rat, Ben] Start the day, oh come along now, Ben. Come on out, before I count to ten. If you stay, you will miss all the fun and there’s room for everyone.” – Danny Garrison

Well, this is a very different movie than its predecessor. But I think a lot of that is due to the main character being a young, sick boy who has a passion for making marionettes and singing his own show tunes.

It’s a weird film in that the tone is completely inconsistent throughout, as on one hand, it feels like a dramatic kids movie about a sad boy that likes being creative and theatrical, while on the other hand, it’s about rats that eat people. These two things can work together but in this film, they don’t.

Also, coming off of how dark the first film ended, this comes off as even stranger and not really sure of what it’s supposed to be building off of.

That being said, I still kind of enjoyed it. Not to the point that I’d probably ever watch it again but it’s such a unique and disjointed picture that it’s hard not to be somewhat lured into it.

Also, the kid is really charming and you do feel for him and his situation, even if there are moments where he show signs of being a totally evil little shit.

This also feels more like a TV movie than an actual theatrical motion picture. It felt like a two-hour pilot to a TV series sequel of the first film. Weirdly, it plays like its trying to appeal to kids.

Anyway, a boy finds Ben, the leader of the rat army from Willard, befriends him and sees him as his only friend because the only other kid in the movie is a bully. The kid lies to his sister and mother about what’s actually going on and he even covers up for the rats when they try to eat the bully kid.

There’s not much to really sink your teeth into with this one and honestly, it’s probably most famous for the theme song Michael Jackson provided and simply because it’s the sequel to a cult classic film. 

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor Willard, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

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.