Dir: Glen Morgan. US. 2003. 100mins
Everybody has heard of Cinderella. She befriended the mice that lived in her attic bedroom and made them cute little outfits to wear. In return, they sang and danced and kept her company. Now comes Willard, who pals around with the rats that live in his basement hideaway, frightening the daylights out of his enemies and, New Line hopes, the audience. A strong trailer for Willard in the US has tried to sell audiences the notion that they are in for a gothic horror thriller. But the subsequent film lacks the taut structure and underlying sense of unease necessary for a good horror picture, as well as the goofy antics or innocently charming underpinnings of a comedy. As such Willard has falls into neither camp, and has only managed to scare up a little over $4m from 1,761 sites for its first weekend. Prospects for ancillary are likely, however, to be stronger.
Based on the original 1971 film, in turn adapted from Stephen Gilbert's 1968 novel Ratman's Notebooks, Willard marks the feature debut from director Glen Morgan (TV's The X-Files' and Millennium).
Crispin Glover, (next to be seen in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) a specialist in disturbed and disturbing characters, portrays the introverted, socially-inept title character, a mummy's boy filled with both gentleness and rage. Friendless, he forms a strange bond with the rats which have infiltrated his house. Between his one-foot-in-the mental-ward mother (veteran British actress Burroughs, far scarier than the rats) and his abusive boss Mr. Martin (Ermey, over-the-top from beginning to end), Willard does not stand a chance. When Mr Martin fires him, the increasingly deranged Willard enlists his rodent army in a carnivorous revenge scheme.
With the exception of the rats - and Harring (Mulholland Drive) as a sympathetic co-worker - everyone turns in exaggerated, one-dimensional performances. Comparisons may be unfair but Bruce Davison, who starred in the 1971 version, was a slightly odd but definitely sympathetic protagonist, someone the audience could relate to, if not outright identify with. As he became more petulant, so he lost favour with the audience. Glover, however, never has the audience rooting for him - or even interested in what happens to him.
Moreover, not only are the rodents not frightening but Socrates, the white rat who first befriends Willard, is quite adorable. Granted, nobody would want dozens of rats crawling over him or her, but the fear factor that should be a given in seeing so many furry animals scurrying around is missing. In fact, it is the rats that attract the pity in this movie.
Prod co: Hard Eight Pictures
US dist/ Int'l sales: New Line Cinema
Exec prods: Bill Carraro, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener
Prods: James Wong, Glen Morgan
Scr: Glen Morgan (based on a screenplay by Gilbert Ralston, based on the book Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert
Cinematography: Robert McLachlan
Prod des: Mark Freeborn
Ed: James Coblentz
Music: Shirley Walker
Main cast: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring, Jackie Burroughs