Cody and Priscilla tear into the 1971 rat movie Willard and its 2003 remake.
Although the movie Willard is something that I have been aware of since childhood, not very many people seem to be aware of it. Part of this is probably because, as far as I know, it hasn't been given a home video release since the heyday of VHS. Someone really needs to give it a special edition DVD/Blu release.
Priscilla was familiar with the 2003 remake, but not the original. When we started The Remake Comparison Project, Willard was one of the first possibilities that crossed my mind, but it's a tough one to get to when the 1971 version is so rare. During a trip to Brazil to visit Priscilla, I brought Willard along so she could finally see the original version of the remake she had known for more than a decade. We watched it together, took our notes together, and now that I'm back in the states, here is our Willard Remake Comparison.
Although author Stephen Gilbert was fifty-six years old at the time his fifth novel was released in 1968 and he would live for another forty-two years, the book - entitled Ratman's Notebooks - was the last of his work that was ever published. It was also, by far, his most popular work, thanks to its cinematic adaptation.
The film rights were picked up by Bing Crosby Productions, the company started (obviously) by famed crooner Bing Crosby. After producing TV shows like Ben Casey and Hogan's Heroes throughout the 1960s, BCP had a new focus on making theatrical features, and the movie version of Gilbert's novel became their first release under new president Charles A. Pratt.
Gilbert Ralston, who had written a whole lot of '60s television, including multiple episodes of Ben Casey, was hired to write the screenplay adaptation, which was then brought to the screen by veteran director Daniel Mann.
Ratman's Notebooks was written as if it was the journal of the lead character, a character whose name was never revealed. The filmmakers not only gave the character a name, but even named the film after him. Willard.
Played by Bruce Davison, Willard Stiles is a meek, introverted (or, as one character describes him, he's "basically an extrovert, but it's all inside") man who we're introduced to on his 27th birthday. This birthday is celebrated with a surprise party thrown for him when he returns to the house he shares with his mother after a day of work processing orders at a steel mill.
The opening scenes nicely set up the fact that Willard lives a miserable life. At work, there's no indication that it's his birthday, his boss is just giving grief. His birthday party is then populated only by people his mother's age. Her friends. He has no friends of his own.
Those old people look scary! It's a sad party, and even during it his mother and her friends are on his case about work and things in general. Guy can't catch a break even if it's his birthday.
The steel mill Willard works at was once owned by his father, but his boss Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine) stole it out from under the elder Stiles, who has since passed away. When Willard's mother Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) and the party guests focus too much on his work situation and the idea that he should have a higher rank at the business, Willard retreats into the back yard with a piece of cake.
Willard's mother seems to be the type of parent who only holds their kids back in life. Always demanding, depends on him for a lot, and at the same time says she wishes Willard would find himself a woman. No, she doesn't...what she wishes is that he'll stay single living with her forever, so she'll always have him there to take care of her.
Elsa Lanchester had nearly 100 acting credits to her name, but she will always be The Bride of Frankenstein to me.
The property is falling into disrepair, and Willard is startled when he first sees a rat in the yard. Trying to scare it away, he throws a piece of cake at it... And is amused when the rat eats the cake rather than run. The next morning, he returns to the yard to feed the rat and its cohorts some breakfast.
Everyone thinks Willard should be Vice President of the steel company, but the scenes set in the workplace make it clear that will never happen. Willard only works there because Martin promised Henrietta he'd give him a job. Martin barely tolerates his presence, making rude comments and pressuring him to do better work and work faster.
At first it looks like Willard isn't very committed to work, but you soon realize that Martin takes advantage of him and has him overworking a lot. Overworked and underpaid, it's no wonder Willard is late for work as often as he is. Nightmare of a boss plus a difficult mother and a complete lack of friends makes Willard's life less than ideal.
Borgnine does a great job making Martin come off as a blowhard sleazeball while not going too over-the-top with him. The character feels very real, and if he were real he's someone I would want nothing to do with.
Willard feels overworked and even though Martin doesn't believe he is, a temp named Joan (Sondra Locke) is hired to help him process the orders. Joan quickly sees that Willard is indeed given too much to deal with.
At home, Willard has to care for his ailing, demanding mother. Henrietta knows about the rats in the yard and wants them eradicated, but when she brings up the possibility of hiring an exterminator Willard says he'll handle the situation. Willard does nearly go through with killing the rats, trapping them in a well and filling it with water, but his conscience causes him to save them at the last moment.
Freaked out though I would be to have a bunch of rats scampering around in my yard, I wouldn't be able to go through with something like that, either. But I also wouldn't become their buddy like Willard does.
The scenes are shot in a way that makes you feel for the rats, but yeah... I wouldn't want them around. They can be pretty nasty creatures. Unless they're pet rats.
Willard begins spending a lot of time with the rats. Befriending them, playing with them, feeding them, naming one Queenie, teaching them lessons. Queenie is at first the main rat, but she soon "introduces" Willard to a white rat he names Socrates. Socrates immediately becomes Willard's favorite.
Queenie kind of disappears from the movie after Socrates enters the picture. At least, her name doesn't get mentioned. If she's among the rats running all over the place, I can't recognize her.
Willard even takes the rats into the basement of the home sometimes. It's there that a large black rat appears, first catching Willard's attention by causing a bell to ring. Willard names this one Ben.
Willard's interactions with the rats seem to give him more confidence. So much that he even nervously confronts Martin about deserving a raise. This only results in Martin insulting him.
So Willard uses the rats to get revenge. As Martin hosts a party at his home for customers and salesman, Willard takes a briefcase full of rats to the edge of Martin's property and releases them into the party, telling them to go get "Food!" Martin and his guests are not happy to see rats running around their feet and getting on the tables.
Martin really goes after the rats violently, it's surprising that Willard doesn't lose any of them here.
It's also surprising that Willard didn't seem to realize or care that this could've gotten some of the rats killed. By now they're his friends, so it seems to me like he should've been more careful. But he was blinded by revenge.
The next day, Willard's co-workers laugh and joke about the disastrous party, but he doesn't have long to celebrate his triumph. Henrietta's friend Charlotte calls him home from work to notify him that his mother has passed away.
Henrietta leaves Willard everything. The house, $1500, tax problems, and a mortgage that needs to be paid off. It's suggested that Willard sell the house and use the money to cover the mortgage and move into a smaller place, but Willard refuses.
Willard doesn't seem too money wise. He's been told there's debts to pay, but he uses the cash to buy a car. I don't have high hopes that he'd really be able to keep the house.
At first he doesn't seem to be concerned at all. His mother never raised him to worry about things like that, and now she's gone and he's left with no proper preparation to deal with more serious matters.
Willard moves the rats into the basement and gives a special privilege to Socrates, who gets to stay in his bedroom with him. Ben invites himself to these sleepovers.
Willard gets lonely for his pals while he's at work, so he also starts taking Socrates and Ben to work with him, hiding them in the storage closet, a room only he goes into.
While Willard is becoming a rat daddy, he's also been developing a good, friendly relationship with Joan. Concerned about him staying in a big house all alone, Joan gives Willard a gift: a cat named Chloe, to keep him company. Joan doesn't realize that Willard has a house full of rats and the two animals don't mix well. Willard gives Joan a ride home after she gives him Chloe, but once Joan is dropped off Chloe gets handed off to a random stranger in a phone booth.
Chloe is such a cutie. I hope she found a good home with the stranger.
Finding out that the house will be sold very soon if he can't come up with $2500 for taxes, Willard goes on a desperate search for money. He can't seem to get it from anyone, and he can barely even afford to keep his rats fed as it is. Then a criminal opportunity presents itself while he's at work: a client visiting the office is taking $8000 in spending money on a vacation to Europe, $4000 of that in cash.
I'm seeing shades of Psycho in here. An awkward young man living with an overbearing mother, an employee with a chance to rob a rich client. Willard is Norman Bates and Marion Crane in one. With rats.
Willard uses his rats to pull off a heist, going to the client's Hollywood home that night, breaking into the house, and letting a briefcase of rats loose. He orders them to chew on the man's bedroom door, causing a noise that wakes the man and his wife. Seeing the rats, the couple flees. And Willard steals their cash.
Once again, Willard's good times are short-lived. Someone who really wants him to sell the house is Martin, who would like to knock it down and put apartments on the property. Martin asks Joan to help him manipulate Willard into the sale, and fires her when she refuses. He then fires Willard - something he can do now that Henrietta is gone.
Within seconds of Willard receiving his termination notice, Martin's secretary/mistress wanders into the storage closet to investigate strange noises... and discovers the rats. As Ben hides and Willard watches in horror, Martin viciously kills Socrates with a wooden rod.
Willard is no stranger to having awful days, and this one is definitely one of the worst. The storage closet scene bothers me a lot. Not only because we've grown fond of Socrates by now, but because Willard could've stopped it somehow, and he just stands there right at the door. Doing and saying nothing. It's disturbing.
This is a really sad scene, horrible to watch. Poor Socrates.
Willard has now been officially pushed over the edge. Martin is staying at the office late that night, alone, preparing for tax season. His paperwork is interrupted by the arrival of Willard, wielding the bloody wooden rod and accompanied by a whole lot of rats. Rats that are very well trained at this point. They'll do anything Willard tells them to. Even kill someone.
The final confrontation between Willard and Martin is a really good scene, with Davison doing a great job delivering his lines as the unbalanced Willard really lets his boss know what he thinks.
Acting at its finest here. Both Davison and Borgnine seriously deliver. It's one of my favorite scenes.
His tormentor dead, his best friend dead, Willard is done with his rats. The dominant rat now is Ben, and their relationship has been inharmonious for a while. Willard got so tired of "troublemaker" Ben sneaking into his room at night that he even tried to hit him with a cane. When he leaves the office, he leaves Ben behind.
At home, Willard closes the entrances he made for the rats, puts the remaining ones in cages and dips the cages into the well, drowning the rats.
Willard may not care for his rats anymore, but I care for them now. I hate to see him killing them.
I feel the same way, and I get so disappointed at Willard. First for letting Socrates get killed off, and then for turning on his rats (friends) - which have done everything he asked of them - for no good reason. I don't get it.
Though he was only acting out of anger at that point. He had pretty much lost his mind by then. So many terrible things going on, I think he would've regretted it if he had the time to.
His house now rat-free, Willard invites Joan over for dinner, seemingly ready to try to start up a romance with her. When she asks where Chloe is, Willard says she's out hunting.
It's a shame that they never really got to be a couple. The scenes with Willard and Joan are very sweet. Maybe if his mother hadn't been such a domineering presence in his life, he would've been able to find someone nice who'd have helped him go on a very different path.
Dinner is interrupted by the arrival of Ben, who has brought a whole lot of news rats back home with him. Rats that help Ben get revenge on the master who abandoned him and killed his friends.
Willard did very well at the box office in the summer of 1971, a success that is credited with helping pave the way for the many killer animal movies that followed over the next decade. Although it seemed to lapse into obscurity rather quickly, it's a movie I heard (and still hear) referenced with some regularity, as my father will say something about "Willard the rat" - still remembering the movie that came out when he was a teenager, but not remembering that Willard himself was not a rat.
It wasn't until recently that I found out about this movie. It was thanks to Cody. The first time I watched it, I missed a few parts because I found myself dozing off a bit due to its somewhat slow pace. But I made it just fine this time around, and I'm glad I did. It's a very interesting movie.
I was still very young when I was able to see Willard (and its 1972 sequel Ben) for the first time. My mom rented it from one of my all-time favorite video stores, the mom & pop shop Harvey's Market, where VHS boxes stood on wooden shelves, each movie given a specific number that was written on circular tags that hung from nails below the box. You'd take the tag off the nail and bring it to the cashier, the movies kept in brown plastic cases behind the counter. Harvey's Market doesn't exist anymore, the store closed and the building was abandoned for years before being bulldozed, but I really want to go back there.
That sounds nice. We still have video stores here in Brazil, but I'd think their days are probably numbered. Evolution isn't necessarily a good thing when you're nostalgic.
The sight of rats really unnerved me and made me feel a bit queasy when I was a child, but I was able to deal with that and enjoy Willard and Ben. It probably sounds silly to people who have pet rats, but it's something some of the rest of us do have to overcome. The way Daniel Mann presented the rats and the emotion in Bruce Davison's performance helped out with that - Willard so obviously loves interacting with the rats that it's infectious, the viewer gains an appreciation for them, too.
Also, you can't help but feel bad for Willard. He doesn't have a lot of fun in his life, he's very lonely and underappreciated. When he starts bonding with the rats, it changes that a bit, although only for a brief amount of time, and that's nice to see.
The rats are the selling point, but looking beyond their presence, Willard is a solid character study film, with a strong performance by Bruce Davison in the lead. It's also a good revenge tale that is very effective at making the viewer detest Ernest Borgnine's Al Martin.
Bruce Davison brings a certain charm and innocence to the role, it's very fitting. You don't feel like some of the things he has the rats doing are wrong, you don't feel like he's a bad person, and that comes mostly from Davison's acting.
Elsa Lanchester makes Henrietta appropriately annoying, and Jody Gilbert makes an impression during her screen time as Charlotte. Sondra Locke isn't given a lot to do as Joan, but makes her a likeable character.
Acting is very good, I have no complaints. I also like how dark the house is, and the mess outside in the back yard goes with the tone of abandonment the movie has.
I really like the score as well, it brings me back to my childhood...the main open channel here used to have these movie showings during the afternoon, and that type of '70s score reminds me of a bunch of older movies they'd show in the '80s. I'd come home from school and watch them every other day. Fun times.
I'm glad Willard was a success in 1971, I wish its popularity had endured longer. It's a really good movie, I enjoy watching it from time to time and feel that it deserves more love from the horror community than it receives.
I agree. Even though it's a movie I have to be in the right mood for, I'll be watching it every now and then, and I'd definitely recommend giving it a shot. It has some very peculiar elements and a specific tone and atmosphere that are impossible to duplicate.
Willard may have been largely forgotten by the mainstream audience by the time the 21st century rolled around, but it retained enough of a cult status that it became one of the early films to be remade in the remake boom of the 2000s, the New Line Cinema release making it to screens in March of 2003 - seven months before the studio's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was the first of the big franchises to get the do-over treatment.
The new take on Willard came from writer/director Glen Morgan, making his directorial debut after his writing partner took the helm on their films Final Destination and The One. Wong didn't work on the Willard script with Morgan, but did produce the film with him.
Oddly, even though his novel Ratman's Notebooks provided the story Morgan is working with here, author Stephen Gilbert is not credited on the '03 adaptation. Instead, Willard '71's Gilbert Ralston gets the credit, "Based on a Screenplay by". Stephen Gilbert doesn't even get a special thanks.
Following the opening title sequence, the film begins with the voice of Willard Stile's elderly mother (Jackie Burroughs) calling out, telling her son that there are rats in their basement. We're introduced to Willard, here played by Crispin Glover, as he goes into the basement to investigate the problem and then sets out to deal with it.
Willard is way more hopeless in the remake, and it's understandable. Right away we're able to tell he's completely miserable this time around. No birthday party, no car, no back yard, it's all very dark and dreary.
Crispin Glover wasn't Morgan's first choice to play the role of Willard. That was Doug Hutchison, the actor best known for his tabloid-worthy private life. Hutchison couldn't do the movie, and offers passed through the hands of several actors after him: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Macaulay Culkin. They all passed, and all of those guys have chops, but them turning it down allowed the part to go to an actor who I find to be a much more interesting and inspired choice. The film greatly benefits from having Glover as the title character.
Willard lives alone with his mother in their large house, which is falling into disrepair. The ailing woman is very nasty to her son, pointing out all of his failings - wasted life, lack of a girlfriend, meekness, getting pushed around by his boss - while blaming herself for them. She even tries to change his name to Clark in hopes that it will make him a stronger person.
One thing I like is that you can actually tell Mrs. Stiles is terribly sick. It wasn't as obvious in the original, so it feels a little out of place when she dies. In the remake, it makes more sense.
Morgan and Burroughs really made Mrs. Stiles a grotesque character in this film, as horrible on the outside as she is on the inside.
And you'd think that being so ill would have made her a little nicer and softer, but it seems to be the opposite. Poor Willard. At least the original Mrs. Stiles never "changed" Willard's name. The 2003 version of the character is much worse.
Willard wanted nothing to do with the rats in the basement, he just wanted to get them out of there. If he had his way, he would never see them, never come in contact with them. But the price and availability of pest control products causes him to have to buy snap traps - which fail - and then glue traps.
A white rat gets stuck in a glue trap, and when Willard sees it dragging the trap around the floor his conscience gets the better of him and he helps it get free. Once it's out of the glue and cleaned off, he names this rat Socrates.
Glue traps are a very cruel way to capture an animal. I wouldn't be able to stand seeing something stuck in one, either.
Having befriended Socrates, Willard takes him back down to the basement, where he sees the other rats... and has a new appreciation for them. He even feeds them nuts.
Willard has a job processing orders at Martin-Stiles Manufacturing, a company his late father used to own with his boss Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey, who was also in New Line's 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Martin is an awful human being who treats Willard like dirt, but keeps him employed because he promised Mrs. Stiles that he would give Willard a job as long as she's alive.
Ermey goes over-the-top with his character, as you expect him to do. Morgan feeds into this inclination, and even lets it go too far. Martin is a bad guy, but even for him calling Willard things like "asshole" and a "slimy pukey piece of shit" in front of the other employees is going too far.
Martin has no filter in the remake. He makes sure to be a huge jerk to everyone and is downright disgusting in every single way. It looks like his favorite hobby is humiliating Willard, and he sure does that a lot, no matter who's around to see it.
Having Martin say "Business is a rat race ... I will not allow myself to be devoured by all of those other rats" was also very silly.
Willard has fallen so far behind processing orders that Martin has hired a temp to help him out with the orders - Laura Elena Harring as Cathryn. Cathryn is the only person at work who shows him any sort of kindness.
Her name is Cat. Get it?
Willard seems to care less about doing his job in this version. With such a ridiculously awful boss, I can't blame him. Even the temp has noticed that already.
Willard spends his time at home hanging out with his newfound rat friends, and begins teaching them lessons. Teaching them to "Tear" things; teaching them how to climb ropes and walk across them; teaching them to go into briefcases that he walks in circles with.
In the original film, the relationship between Willard and the rats started out as a friendship. It took a while before he began using them to help him steal and get revenge. Here, the second time we see Willard interacting with rats other than Socrates it's already like he's building an army.
And the training is different. More violent and intense than it is in the original.
During the lessons, a huge rat introduces itself by chewing on an old tire. Willard names this one Ben.
Played by a Gambian pouched rat, Ben really stands out among the 500+ other rats used on this production. This guy is big.
Big Ben indeed.
After a few scenes of Martin ranting at Willard and berating him -
Glover makes it very clear that Willard has a lot of rage simmering just under the surface in these scenes.
- Willard has had enough. He packs his rats into the briefcases, takes them to Martin's house, and has them chew through the garage door to get at the tires of Martin's beloved, brand new Mercedes.
Although Willard tries to leave Ben at home during this mission, since he's so big he takes up room in the briefcase that could be filled by multiple other rats, Ben invites himself along.
Martin's tires flattened and his boss on the warpath for whoever did it, Willard flees the scene of the crime with the rats in their cases. Along the way, he's pestered by a yappy little dog and becomes so annoyed with it that he sticks it into one of the cases with the rats... Only to set it free once there are signs of distress coming from within the case.
The next day, there's actually some signs of life and happiness in the Martin-Stiles office, as employees laugh and joke about what happened in Martin's garage. The boss brings an end to that by coming in and turning the situation into a sob story.
Willard is happy to have gotten some revenge, but the Stiles still have financial problems, problems which are enhanced when Martin docks Willard a week's pay because he is so frequently late to work. He can no longer afford to feed his rats, so he asks Ben to lead the others away while he keeps only Socrates.
In private, Willard tells Socrates that he hates everyone except him. Socrates is his only friend.
This is a pretty big change from the original. 1971 Willard loved all of his rats, even if he got frustrated by the troublemaker Ben. They were all his friends. At least until he drowned them.
Ben is definitely meaner in the remake. Ben isn't that bad in the original movie.
Mrs. Stiles overhears Willard telling the rats he can't afford to take care of them anymore and misconstrues it as a speech he's practicing to give her. After she freaks out on Willard and tells him she hates him, Willard goes to bed. He wakes in the morning to find her dead at the head of the basement stairs, rats all around her.
I think it was a good choice to have Willard find his mother after she dies in this version. The way her death was handled in the original - he's called home from work to find that she is dead and her body has already been removed - was an odd exit for the character.
And it felt a bit out of the blue as well.
A wake is held for Mrs. Stiles, and the sparse attendance shows that, like Willard, the woman didn't have friends.
Aww, and she was such a lovely person.
Willard has friends now, and two of them show up at the wake. First, a bereft Willard introduces his mother to his friend Socrates.
The string of snot that leaks from the crying Glover's nose is epic. And he sucks it right back up!
Then Cathryn arrives, openly assuring Willard that he has a friend in her. Just when it appears that Willard might be making a connection with another person, their interaction is interrupted by an attorney from the trustees of his mother's estate.
The attorney notifies Willard that his parents have left him deeply in debt, debt which he recommends that Willard take care of by declaring bankruptcy and selling the house.
What a vulture that guy is! Couldn't he have waited a couple days? Showing up at the wake like that, and saying the things he did would be too much for anyone. With Willard, the reaction was even more explosive.
Glover goes all-out with his reactions to the attorney. I love the dialogue exchange when the attorney says that this is Willard's chance to start over and Willard screams in reply, "Start over? I'm almost done!"
The attorney may not be trustworthy, however, as he appears to be in cahoots with Mr. Martin, who would like to buy Willard's property, bulldoze the house, and replace it with apartments.
Later, Cathryn stops by Willard's place with a gift. A companion to help him get through this tough time. A cat named Scully.
The name Scully is a reference to the TV show The X-Files, which Morgan and Wong worked on together.
While talking with Cathryn outside, Willard absent-mindedly puts Scully inside the house, which is completely overrun with rats, thanks to Ben. The rats see Scully as lunch and pursue her throughout the house while "Ben", the song Michael Jackson recorded for the 1972 sequel to the original Willard, plays on the soundtrack.
This is a bit of a goofy sequence, and really paints the rats as a more malicious, evil force than they were in the '71 film.
They're painful to watch for me. Poor kitty.
I really like that song, though.
It's a great song.
Mourning his mother, Willard gets out his father's personal belongings that were on him when he died in 1995. Among them is a blood-caked pocket knife, which Willard considers using to slit his wrists. Until Socrates stops him.
I like how Morgan conveys the information that Mr. Stiles killed himself. It's never stated that he committed suicide, it just comes across with a reference to the fact that he spent a long time in the bathroom the night he died and the sight of the knife.
It's also a great touch that it's Bruce Davison in the pictures of Willard's father.
I think that's awesome.
Willard regularly takes Socrates to work with him, but on the next work day after Mrs. Stiles' wake, Ben invites himself to go along. Seeing that Socrates is okay with it, Willard takes Ben to work, too.
With Mrs. Stiles dead, Martin is no longer beholden to the promise he made her, so Willard is given notification that he has been fired. While he emotionally discusses this fact with Martin, begging to be allowed to keep his job, Martin's secretary gets his keys to the back storeroom and goes in there to gather decorations for the upcoming Christmas season.
The begging feels really awkward, but at the same time it shows a more "mature" Willard. The one in the original wouldn't have considered selling Martin the house in order to keep his job.
While in the storeroom, the secretary spots Socrates and lets out a scream. Martin goes to investigate. As Ben hides and Willard watches in horror, Martin finds Socrates and beats him to death with a wooden rod.
There's something I'm not clear on. Is it sort of Ben's fault that Socrates dies? Earlier in the movie, we see Willard keeping Socrates in his desk while at work. Did he have to put them in the storeroom this time because Ben is so big?
I'd assume so. And Willard blamed Ben as well.
Finally, completely pushed over the edge, Willard leads his rats on another revenge mission. As Martin works late at the office, alone (taking a break to check out some online porn), Willard arrives with a delivery truck full of rats.
More proof that Martin is an even bigger sleazeball in this version. His porn watching is extremely gross.
I could have done without the shot of CGI rats pouring out of the elevator. I think it was supposed to look awesome, but it's not quite convincing.
I liked that shot better the first time I saw the remake, when it came out. This time it looked a bit silly.
Wielding the bloody wooden rod Martin used to kill Socrates, Willard has a final confrontation with his boss, forcing Martin into the elevator that Martin had earlier locked Willard in. Then he has his rats tear Martin up just like they tore up the tires on his car.
As in the original, Willard and Ben have had an inharmonious relationship, with Willard getting so tired of Ben's troublemaking ways that he even tried to hit him with a cane for sneaking into his bedroom at night. With Socrates and Martin dead, Willard is done with the rat part of his life. He leaves Ben behind at Martin-Stiles with the rest of the rats he took there.
At home, Willard blocks off the rat's entry/exit points and kills the remaining rats in the basement with a pest control smoke bomb.
He has played down his affection for the non-Socrates rats, but at least this Willard shows some regret over what he's doing to them, having to plug his ears so he won't hear their squeals as they're gassed.
It kind of contradicts the character's overall behavior, but it is nice to see he cares a little.
Although Cathryn quit her job at Martin-Stiles in solidarity with Willard, the word of Martin's death still reaches her. She shows up at Willard's front door to talk about the incident and Willard suggests that they go out for dinner.
While Willard is getting ready to leave, however, rats start to pour into the home, led by Ben, who has come back to get revenge on Willard.
The rats swarm in on Willard, intent on killing him, but the presence of Mr. Stiles' pocketknife causes this film to have a much different ending than the original film had.
The ending is also different thanks to test screening audiences, who reacted very negatively when the film ended the same way the 1971 film did.
I like how Willard '03 ends, and it makes me wish there had been a sequel. I'd have definitely checked it out.
There are some elements to the film that I'm not fully on board with, like Willard not caring for his rats as much, the CGI rats, and the sillier scenes, but overall I think Willard 2003 is a great remake.
Willard is a different version of the character we see in the 1971 movie. He is more affected by his surroundings, and there isn't a lot of compassion or purity left in him. He isn't exactly a nice guy; the little dog scene and Scully show that he was mean from the start. Like he says during the wake scene, he was about done.
That aspect of the movie, Willard being more malicious, is not one of my favorites, but at the same time, even though he is more cruel, he still has a stronger bond with Socrates. Also in this movie, it explains why he turns on the rats, and it gives more reasons for him not to like Ben much as well, and elaborating on those things was a good choice, in my opinion.
The movie has a nice style, something about the tone and the cinematography by Robert McLachlan, the production design by Mark Freeborn, and the music by Shirley Walker almost giving it a Tim Burton-esque feel at times.
The style and atmosphere are darker overall. Completely different than the vibe I get from the original, but very effective too.
Also, I feel like the original was more about Willard's financial troubles, and him trying to - poorly - fix them, whereas the remake explores the revenge angle more.
The movie would not be nearly what it is without Crispin Glover, though. No one could have brought to the film what he brings to it. He gives an awesome, emotional, and very unique performance. I have liked Glover a lot in several movies - Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Back to the Future, River's Edge, to name a few - but Willard may be his finest hour.
I love Crispin Glover. It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite performance by him, but Willard is definitely way up there. He's almost too intense and whiny at times, but he pulls it off like only Crispin could. Outstanding job.
The supporting cast do well in their roles. Jackie Burroughs certainly makes an impression as Mrs. Stiles. R. Lee Ermey is always fun to watch, even when he's going a bit too far, and definitely made Mr. Martin a thoroughly unlikeable character. It feels like Laura Elena Harring was given very little to do as Cathryn, having even less to work with than Sondra Locke had as Joan, but her character is a nice person.
Cast is pretty solid. Ermey does nasty very well, it comes close to being distracting sometimes, but it works.
Cat only felt bad for Willard, but had no romantic feelings for him. Joan on the other hand seemed to be into Willard as more than just friends in the original movie.
Unlike its predecessor, Willard 2003 was not a financial success. An established fan of the original Willard and of Crispin Glover, I was there at the theatre to support it on opening weekend, but not many other people turned out for it. It made less than $8.6 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $22 million. It's a shame that more people haven't seen it, because it's a really good movie and Crispin Glover alone makes it worth checking out.
I don't even remember if they showed Willard 2003 in the theaters here. I watched it at a home and have liked it ever since. I haven't watched it a bunch of times, but still enough times to make me appreciate it more and more after every viewing. Too bad it wasn't more successful.
It would be tough for me to choose between the two Willards, I enjoy both of them a great deal. The '71 film is more my style, but '03 has Glover. I'd rather not pick and just continue to watch them both, sometimes feeling like watching the original and sometimes feeling like watching the remake.
I could go on and give the remake a slight edge, since I watched it first and since the pace is more to my liking, but the original movie is captivating. So, it all comes down to what mood I'm in, really. Both movies have their qualities and both should be given a watch.