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Willard (2003)

Directed by Glen Morgan

Willard (2003) -- Crispin Glover

Casting Crispin Glover as Willard Stiles in the remake (sort of) of the 1971 horror "classic" Willard was pure genius. The genius stopped there, however. For a horror film, Willard is not particularly scary. It does have some atmosphere, a little mood, and grotesquery in spades. All the characters are repellant except for Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring), Willard's coworker and would-be friend. Glover's portrayal of Willard is so convincingly odd that it seems like Cathryn's persistent pursuit of a friendship with this creep might be a case of a woman who is "looking for Mr. Goodbar." You might accept her interest in him if it were demonstrated that Cathryn is insane -- beauty and being a psycho are not mutually exclusive traits. Mostly, Willard regards Cathryn as a nuisance. Keep in mind that this guy only seems happy when he's in bed with a rat! With his barbershop-quartet haircut, spidery movements, and hunched shoulders, Willard would be right at home in "The Adam's Family." Picture Gomez's long lost brother, Batty Ratty!

Willard (2003) -- Laura Elena Harring

R. Lee Ermey's portrayal of Willard's asshole boss, Frank Martin, runs into similar motivational problems. Willard's father owned Mr. Martin's company at one time. Frank Martin bought it out with the understanding that Willard would have a job there as long as Willard's mother was still alive. Mr. Martin honors this agreement but makes Willard's every moment a living hell. Willard doesn't help matters by being late everyday and falling hopelessly behind in his work. The most damning scene occurs when Mr. Martin fires Willard, telling him the obvious truth, "Hey, you hate me and I hate you. We would both be happier if you went and got a job somewhere else." Willard whimpers back, "But I can't get a job anywhere else!" The problem here is that even though Mr. Martin is a prick, he's right. You can be an asshole and be right, again, these traits are not mutually exclusive. The fact is that Willard would be happier someplace else. But to Willard, any change is a threat. It may have been a better choice by the film makers to not make Mr. Martin into such an obvious bad guy. The film could have benefited by keeping the weirdness restricted to Willard and his demented mother. It's tough to keep interest in a movie where all the characters are repellant and weird. Only Norman Bates in Psycho was a psycho. Willard could have delivered the horror big time while unleashing his vengeful rat army on the "normals" of the world.

Willard (2003) -- R. Lee Ermey

As for the rats, they were a disappointment. Willard develops a friendship with a white lab-rat he dubs Socrates. At the same time, he automatically feels animosity towards a fat, New York City-sized super-rat he calls Ben. Why animosity towards Ben? Who knows? Willard is bat-shit so his thinking can be arbitrary like that. The rest of the regular army of rats show up in varying numbers as the scenes progress. Willard, with the help of Socrates, is able to train the rats to do his bidding. The best shot of this control in action is the one used in the trailer for the film where a mountain of rats disintegrates revealing Willard standing in an elevator. The only thing that persistently bothered me about the rats, as far as horror goes, were the "raisinettes" they left wherever they went. And they "went" everywhere. All the elements were in place for a great movie except for the fact it seemed misdirected. Catch it when in makes it to late night cable, if at all. A must for rat aficionados. -- Rating: $3.88

Tom Graney -- copyright Hollywood Outsider 2003

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