Ben (1972)
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Ben (1972)

It is not unusual for a successful movie to spawn a sequel. Typically, the spinoff involves either further adventures of the protagonist or shifting the focus to the exports of one of the second-tier but extremely popular characters. In 1972 and most unusual antagonist of a movie is provided with his eponymous film, ‘Ben. Of course, the progenitor of this movie was released this year before, ‘Willard’ milquetoast of a young man complete lack of social skills led him to befriend constantly growing pack of rats. At the end of the original movie mostly destroyed except for the alpha male, Ben. Thanks to the well-documented reproductive proclivity of the typical urban rat, Ben would encounter no difficulty in amassing a new rodent army. This extension to the original story was affected by most of the requisite alterations of a sequel including a substantial increase in violence subsequently a greater reliance on the gore produced by the special effects technicians. To its detriment, it also embraced another aspect commonly associated with sequels, a less impressive cast. The original film could procure the talents of several well-known and gifted performance including Bruce Davison, Ernest Borgnine, Elsa Lanchester and Sandra Locke. This allowed for it to be a successful character-driven story exploring a deeper emotional spectrum the just a boy and his rats. In contrast ‘Ben’ "only a very slight variation on the main theme by reducing the age of the socially isolated main character from his early 20s to preteen. Naturally, this necessitated a drastic change in the situations encountered by the young rat wrangler precluding the possibility of the sadistically oppressive boss and the pretty young office temp seems open to a romantic relationship. One of the central plot devices that was retained as the ever-popular cinematic contrivance a boy and his mother.

For this outing, the human costar is Danny Garrison (Lee Montgomery), and eight-year-old board with a heart condition. He lives with his single mother, Beth (Rosemary Murphy) and sister Eva (Meredith Baxter). After being abandoned by their previous human accomplice, Ben and his rampaging rodent horde have been terrorizing the population of the forage for food and other necessities. The campaign of mayhem has been terrorizing the town appointment the local authorities had to become involved. Police Detective Cliff Kirtland (Joseph Campanella) obviously not particularly enthused about this assignment which fundamentally reduces into rat catcher. During his investigation dropped by the Garrison home on the inhabitants be on the lookout for using formal ravenous rats. Although it would be logical to assume that every member of the citizenry would not require specific instructions by the police to be concerned about a writhing carpet of rodents swarming in plain sight, the warning is broadcast displaying the lack of general common sense and an effort to highlight the drastic situation to the viewer. From the unnecessary mention of the menacing creatures, the scene does introduce the person that amounts to be the leading male adult actor. The necessity of this scene is on par with the Sheriff run your plastic creature feature, ‘The Blob’, cautioning the town folk about a mess of Jell-O going through town absorbing the neighbors. Such a warning is useless when it comes to Danny’s reaction upon meeting Ben and his innumerable followers. This initial confrontation is the sufficiently serviced purpose of instilling the audience with the necessary sympathy chronically ill boy isolated from any possibility of normal social interaction with other kids his age.

The story reaches beyond what the filmmaker and cast were able to deliver. The director, Phil Karlson and his screenwriter, have attempted to create a mélange of action horror and a coming of the story with a dash of a lonely boy. As he tries to break out of his shell, he encounters the leading rodent, Ben. A result best described as a form of ant-synergism, where the sum of the individual parts was less than the whole. This approach is frequently attempted yet rarely achieved with even a modicum of success. Considering the primary target demographic predominately composed of-of teenage boy’s emotional content is superfluous at best. A 10-year boy precludes most of the typical ways to insert sexual content as anything but peripheral to the central character. This leaves the sole attribute to fill the seats with kids, graphic violence and mindless, gory bloodshed as a huge horde of rodents tear a human being into shards creating a truly visceral experience. This is a traditional slasher flick substituting razor sharp tiny incisors multiplied by thousands for a deranged psychopath wielding mundane knives, axes, and various sundry deadly objects. At least in most of the slasher type usually makes an honest attempt to insert a modicum of originality even if it is only in the form of execution rather the concept. It appears that it is only a limited variation on death by a multitude of minuscule carnivores. After a couple of viewings to assure myself of the validity of this premise the only conclusion I found feasible was the pattern had remained l essentially unchanged since the 1959 release of the cult classic and perennial midnight showing favorite, ‘The Killer Shrew.' The fundamentally identical staggering has been easily adapted to insects, arachnids, fish and recently zombie beavers.

Another factor that significantly diminished the cinematic merits of this movie was the overwhelming amount of obvious corporately sponsored product placement. The camera never strays far from a readily recognizable corporate logo, brand image or any of a number of blatantly advertisements undoubtedly lucrative to the producers helping to close the undoubtedly gap between the expanded budget and unimpressive box-office. I understand the fiscal necessity for product placement, but it should be used with some discernment and respect for the audience. They came to see people getting ripped apart by a blanket of ravenous rats not ads for breakfast cereals. Another plot contrivance that fell short of the intended effect is the boy’s hobby, puppetry. When he makes a rat marionette, it comes across as crude filler rather than implying just how obsessed Danny has become, entirely enraptured of the vermin King, Ben.

For a considerable amount of time both ‘Willard’ and ‘Ben have been unavailable in home media but thanks one of the nostalgia’s longtime champion, Cinedigm. They have been responsible for releasing some of the most sought after television seasons and cult classic movies for the avid collector. Typical of their commitment to quality and non-judgmental appreciation for the fans of their catalog, the high definition remastering is among the best I have seen especially for source material 45 years old. It is obvious that the team responsible for the restoration must have had access to original film stock and audio components. The video is crisp and clear with a realistic color palate. The audio is robust and very well balanced. This is of importance for the titular song played over the credit, ‘Ben’ performed by Michael Jackson. The pair is suitable for a popcorn fueled double feature.

bulletNew Audio Commentary and Interview with Actor Lee Montgomery
bulletTheatrical Trailer
bulletTV Spot
bulletRadio Spot
bulletStill Gallery

Posted 05/25/2017

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