Reviews: Rats! Willard and Ben get restored Blu-Ray edition
Willard, Directed by Daniel Mann,
Ben, Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Sondra Locke, Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Ernest Borgnine
The Rats are coming for you as the 1970s and Bill Crosby Productions bring two Rat Attack movies to your Blu-Ray collections, courtesy of Second Sight. First off is Willard, the troubled young man, a social misfit, who is being tormented by various people in his life. His only true friends are the rats that he has trained and bonded with. As with any horror there comes a point when the camel’s back breaks from too much straw, and when Willard finally breaks down, he turns to his furry friends to launch attacks against the tormentors in his life; it will give you nightmares that may haunt you for a while to come.
A year later came the follow-up film Ben, and despite the rodent theme it’s a different ball game altogether as the head of the rats, the eponymous Ben, escapes and finds a new human to befriend. The young boy with the heart problem and over protective mother befriends Ben, who is now leading a huge group of rats after Willard. Thousands upon thousands of little furry critturs who are trying to feed and live. Meanwhile the authorities are trying to catch and exterminate the rodents, as Ben and the boy form a very unusual friendship.
These films are like chalk and cheese. Willard is almost like an extension of Hitchcock’s Psycho; the isolated young man who is beaten down by almost everyone, and his friendship with the rats, and inevitable retaliation against those who did him wrong. Bruce Davison plays Willard, and really doesn’t get the credit that he deserves from this role, I think. Most of us know him from the Bryan Singer’s X-Men as Senator Kelly, but here it shows how much potential he had inside him when given a challenging acting role. It’s a bit dated, as you might expect, and when you look at other 70s horror movies it’s far from the gross-out that we normally associate with many of the horrors of that the era (it is also, arguably, one of the films that prompted the “revenge of nature” cycle of horrors that became common in the 70s). It’s a wonderful example of how to manipulate a fear of the rodents that most of us have or know someone who has. Willard was remade at the start of the 2000s, and the creep factor was turned up to 100% for that, although for me it lacked the heart of this, the original version. Davison was joined by 70s heavyweights such as Ernest Borgnine, and Sondra Locke, and has more heart than the remake, as you actually care about Willard.
When it comes to Ben, and that song that has been going through my head every day since viewing, you know that damn Michael Jackson song, it feels less like the horror film that Willard was and more like the disaster movie that the 70s churned out on a conveyor belt. Don’t get me wrong if you have a rat problem or phobia, it’s going to haunt you, but it goes between those scenes of important city officials shouting at one another, and the boy who is making friends with Ben. Ben has that telepathic control over all the other rats, or maybe it’s just his squeaking orders that they are following. The young boy is played by Lee Montgomery and he’s sweet as sweet can be. He gets tired and his mother makes sure he’s not doing too much. The film doesn’t have a hard edge, and it suffers from that, but there are enough crazy moments that you just enjoy it. I did laugh a little when Danny (Montgomery) is sitting at the piano and is writing the song to Ben.
These are far from the nightmarish horrors that I usually watch and enjoy, but the 1970s kitchness overwhelms you, and that playing on the phobia of rats, which I know a lot of people suffer from. then you have something that should adorn the shelves of every horror fan’s Blu-Ray collection. Having the two films, and I’m still shocked there were not more in the series. You know that today if that first remake of Willard was successful then we’d have thirty films by now in the series. But having these two films in my collection now and with a host of friends who hate rats I’m going to be having a great Halloween night. Horrors that don’t show too much gore and yet play on your fears will lead new fans to the genre and that is a good thing. These are far from perfect and yet now have a place in my heart and Blu-Ray collection, another welcome slice of horror history brought back to viewing life by Second Sight.
Willard and Ben will be released on a special limited edition Blu-Ray by Second Sight on October 30th