Socially maladroit and unfortunately named, Willard Stiles (Crispin
Glover) grimly skulks from his creaky Tudor home to his demeaning,
dead-end job each day. Dressed like a preppie mortician, Willard
toils at the company once owned by his father in the hope that
he can save it from his scabrous boss, Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey).
Martin likes to humiliate Willard, particularly in front of Cathryn
(Laura Elena Harring), his new, pretty co-worker. At home, Willard's
grotesque, invalid mother berates him and complains that she
can "smell the rats" nesting in the basement. After
he makes several unsuccessful attempts to exterminate the rodents
in the cavernous basement, Willard begins to make pets out of
the more brazen ones. Soon, hundreds of rats befriend Willard,
who, thankful for the attention, feeds them generously. When
Willard's pressure-cooker life begins collapsing around him,
scores of his new friends seek bloody revenge on his oppressors.
Eventually, not even Willard can stop the gnawing, squeaking
army of rats.
New Line recently unleashed Willard, its largely faithful
remake of the 1971 cult hit that
starred Bruce Davison, on DVD. Directed by Glen Morgan (Final
Destination) and photographed by four-time ASC Award nominee
Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC (Final Destination, The
One, Millennium), Willard walks a dangerous
line between lurid horror tale and miserable psychodrama; like
its predecessor, it succeeds primarily as a macabre curiosity
rather than as a horrific melodrama. What separates this Willard from
the original film is how unusually well mounted it is. While
credit is due to Morgan's solid screen direction, Glover's remarkable
performance, Mark Freeborn's fine production design, and Shirley
Walker's inspired score, it is McLachlan's inventive visuals
that separate Willard from the glut of recent genre outings.
Shot in the 2.35:1 anamorphic Clairmont-scope process, the film
features multi-shadowed interiors and dank, rainy exteriors.
McLachlan's grim lighting scheme and clever camerawork (which
relies extensively on wide-angle lenses in close-ups) give Willard a
Part of New Line's Platinum Series, this DVD is exemplary, and
its horde of supplemental materials arguably goes a bit beyond
what this particular film might deserve. The picture transfer
expertly captures McLachlan's dark vision. The color reproductions
are accurate and the multi-layered blacks are faithfully represented,
revealing numerous levels of shadow with virtually no distortion.
The disc's soundtrack is also commendable, offering powerful
bass and a full range of directional effects, including dozens
of busy rodents that inhabit the surround channels in both 5.1
and standard Dolby surround modes.
Among the supplements is a making-of documentary, The Year
of the Rat, which, at 74 minutes, is almost as long as
the feature itself. In addition to covering the project's history,
the doc gives some key members of the creative team plenty
of time to discuss craft. Standouts are composer Walker's points
about the "nerdy sound of accordions" used to score
the film, and McLachlan's discussion of how the paintings of "magic
realist" Ivan Albright influenced his lighting choices.
Also, the cinematographer confesses that without the many layers
of shadows he employed, the rats were "just too darn cute." For
those curious about the rats themselves, there are presentations
from the live rat wranglers, animatronic rat operators, and
CG rat designers.
The DVD also offers a chatty, anecdote-filled audio commentary
shared by Morgan, Glover, Ermey and producer James Wong, as well
as a laughable "rat menace" documentary Rat People:
Friend or Foe. Also included are deleted and extended scenes,
trailers and a music video for Glover's grating cover of "Ben," The
Jackson Five's hit tune from the original Willard's 1972
sequel Ben. Finally, the DVD-ROM features include a script-to-screen
analysis and a trivia game!
Morgan attests that Willard never found an audience during its
brief theatrical run last year in part because of its ambivalent
tone, which resulted from arguments about releasing a safer PG-13
cut instead of a more lurid R-rated version. Though Willard may
never be a classic, those who dismissed it sight unseen will
probably find it to be much more interesting than its marketing
suggested. Perhaps this DVD will give this well-produced film
a wider audience. It's hard to imagine any viewer not getting
a ghoulish thrill from a wild-eyed Glover hissing to his rodent
army as they cover his horrified nemesis, "Tear him up!"
- Kenneth Sweeney
What's Up, Doc? was filmed in the standard 1.85:1 aspect
ratio. This information was incorrect in the technical specs
for our November '03 review of the DVD. AC regrets the