Willard (1971)
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Willard (1971)

All sorts of animals have been a fertile source of material filmmakers of many genres. Three, the animals involve the extremely cute and always associated with the protagonist in a cheerful, helpful. Stereotypes such as those were tossed aside in 1971 with the release of the film ‘Willard’ that may be extensively described as a story of a boy and his beloved pet rats. The only other time that comes to mind, the human has a rat as a close companion or in prison movies and inmate considered to soft-spoken associated, with the ethnocentric gang makes friends with one of the many rats investing the facility. This movie considers the same relationship although human involved, the titular Willard (Bruce Davison), is not confined by prison walls is no less trapped, albeit jailed within the limits of his mind self-imposed isolation from humanity. Just as Paul was beginning to migrate to the visually oriented slasher movies, this film demonstrated that there was still a very real and substantial place in the genre of the psychological thriller. Certain fears persist in first corners of our mind that control almost fundamental instincts including one that is a deeply ingrained fight or flight response. Among those ancient fears of predatory animals and by extension any animal that although small to be much of a threat individually and gathered together in swarms realm even the most staunch opponent. Rats are among the best examples of one of the most persistent phobias that are deeply ingrained in the psychological profile of even the most well-educated and sensible individual. This film continues to work despite the fact that some 46 years have transpired. But a film depends on such a viscerally ingrained psychological and emotional response it is better able to stand the test of time and overhaul films. While unstoppable beans in a hockey mask wielding a machete may be frightening, somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that it is impossible and therefore the vehicle quickly fade as soon as the final credits have been rolling a course screen. On the other hand, rats all real and have been known to attack people. You may not be consciously thinking of this fact while watching the film but it never leaves your consciousness the duration of the story.

Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) does not seem to fit in any ordinary group of people. The board of a peer group, friendless and isolated, he befriends the only creatures that he has contact with on a regular basis, rats. The only human being regularly in his life is his mother, Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester). The Victorian house that they inhabit is far too spacious for just two people. Despite the empty room always seems to be too close. On the occasion of his 27th birthday, his mother closes a surprise party for him. Robert does not have any friends his own age Henrietta the guest list with our own, aging friends. It is so humiliated that he runs out of the house. In his job, he saw a rat and feasted a piece of birthday cake, a treat that the animal gladly accepts. Later his mother reprimands him about the embarrassing exit from his body and berates him about the deteriorating condition of their home. He proceeds to be another rat; this one has just given birth to a litter of babies.

His mother insists that he set out traps and poison to kill rock population, something that adamantly opposes and refuses to do. There is no corner of his life. There is no aspect of his life the permit even a temporary escape being degraded and humiliated. At work, Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine) belittles him for being late for work, again. Back home is gifted into performing the legitimate request of his mother. In the yard and places his food on a rock located in the center of a well. The place is a plank to connect the yard to the rock allowing the rest the course over to get the food. He removes the plank expecting the rest of the rodents will eventually drown. As he turns to leave his conscience is the better of him, and he returns the plank allowing the rats to go back to safety. He lies to his mother telling her that he killed the rats. Willard begins to regularly visit the rats teaching them basic concepts such as food and empty. The signs names of them based on their apparent social position or personality traits such as Queenie of the recent mother of the litter and Socrates rat that exhibits exceptional intelligence. An increasing number of rats begin to appear for his sessions. One particularly large black rat is named Ben.

Mr. Martin refuses to give it a raise in salary for the young man decides to get even. His boss is throwing a party with some friends and business associates. Brings Queenie and then along in a suitcase releasing them to disrupt the party. Shortly after that Roland’s mother dies, and he discovers that the house is heavily mortgaged. Unable to address but that he is in peril of losing the house, the only home has ever known. Adding to his financial burden is a cadre of rodents has grown to such an extent that he finds it difficult to keep up with their feeding requirements. Be plans to use the rats to rob his boss at work. Meanwhile, Ben has become exceptionally attached to going as far as to sleep in the same bed with him. In a very real sense, the rats have sought parity with Willard to come to some realization that the overwhelming numbers secure them a position of control and superiority.

Over 30 years after the release of this film a remake was produced was on par with the original as far as the effectiveness of its storytelling ability. Undoubtedly the main reason why this story remains so persistent throughout time is that its theme can infuse itself in the most primitive part of our minds, roughly equivalent to the so-called lizard brain. Stories such as this are highly conducive to being retold by subsequent generations through the filter of their experiences and sensibilities. After the release of this film, most of the studios quickly jumped on the bandwagon releasing their variation of swarms of creatures with soft teeth threatening humanity. As the progenitor of this fad, ‘Willard’ has earned his place in the Parthenon of classic horror. Now that this film and his direct sequel, ‘Ben,' have been remastered for high definition and released on Blu-ray, there is no excuse not to include this in your collection. Thematically there is a secondary theme adding to the cinematic legacy of the film is one of the better examples of the revenge of the loaner getting revenge upon his abusers. Depend upon visceral gore soon fade from memory, but a well-crafted physiological thriller becomes part of the zeitgeist of a generation and a defining element of its genre.

bulletNew Audio Commentary with Star Bruce Davison
bulletTheatrical Trailer
bulletTV Spot
bulletRadio Spot
bulletStill Gallery

Posted 05/17/2017

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