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Of Rats and Men



To say that Willard, a remake of a kitschy 1971 horror semi-classic, is less than the sum of its parts would be an understatement. Veteran writer Glen Morgan (Final Destination, TV's X-Files) seems more interested in either a relatively faithful remake or a beginner's exercise in filmmaking than trying improve the easy-to-improve original.

What, then, makes this Willard so enticing? Well, when you've got Crispin Glover and a ton of rats, you've got enough tension to make a fun romp of a film, and despite Morgan's own writing missteps, he ekes enough out of both to creep us out.

Glover, a wack job of an actor, is also one of Hollywood's most under-utilized talents over the past 15 years for that very reason, but easily taps into the Norman Bates-ish sexual frustration of Willard. Hassled at home by a bed-ridden mom and at work by the boss (R. Lee Ermey) who stole the family company from his father, Willard is just about ready to explode. His cutting will be done not with a knife, but with an army of rats he discovers and trains in his basement.

Glover's eyes are as beady as that of any rodent's, and he puts them to good use here; he spends the film torn between the sweetness of the snow-white Socrates and the pudgy menace of Ben. The latter became the focus of the self-titled, and very bad, sequel of the original as well as the inspiration for the very bad Michael Jackson tune, used to great effect here in a scene involving a cat's mad dash for survival inside the overridden house.

Curiously, Morgan only occasionally takes advantage of the possibilities of computer-generated images and other more modern gimmicks, relying more heavily on the tried-and-true rat trainers. But when this Willard unleashes the hordes for his schemes, the audience at the screening I attended recoiled in terror and unease. Isn't that the point?

Laura Elena Harring, one of the two wonderful mystery women of David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., is all but wasted here; Morgan seems more concerned about Willard's neuroses than any chance at true love. No, this is about the love of the rat, and Morgan and Glover fulfill that love like a Valentine answered.

And that is truly creepy.

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