Volume 96, Issue 88
Tuesday, March 18, 2003

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MOVIE REVIEW: Willard

Oh, that silly Willard!
McFly crawls out of the sewer

Willard
Starring: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey and a shitload of rats
Directed by: Glen Morgan



By Brian Wong
Gazette Staff

Do my eyes deceive me? Is that really Crispin Glover starring in a feature film?

Although seeing Glover's name on a movie poster is certainly grade-A bizarro, it doesn't rival the wacky character he plays in Willard, the story of a socially inept young man who becomes the leader of an army of rats, which he uses to exact revenge on his aggressive and demanding boss.

The film serves as writer and producer Glen Morgan's directorial debut. Willard is not an exact remake of the 1971 original, or its original novel – Gilbert Ralston's Ratman's Notebook – but rather takes some liberties in its story to create a Hitchcock-inspired gothic fable.

Like most psychos, Willard Stiles is an outsider, burdened by an overbearing mother; Willard's lovely mom (Jackie Burroughs) is sick and dying, but, in one scene, her plight doesn't stop her from scolding Willard when she suspects him of masturbating in the bathroom. Oh, those moms...

Though he is best known for his minor roles (Marty McFly's dad in Back to the Future), Glover's soft voice and frail appearance perfectly suit him as the overly sensitive and immature Willard, while his steely-eyes, slicked black hair and eagle nose allow him to channel some of that darkly cold demeanour of his Creepy Thin Man character in 2000's Charlie's Angels movie. These little oddities make Willard's troubled mind abundantly clear, and his mind is further warped after Willard's mother dies and he loses his job.

But the main sources of Willard's stress are those damn rats. Sure, he saves the cute one (incredulously in a wave of compassion after looking into the sad eyes of another rat who sees its friend struggling in one of Willard's glue traps), and after training his new brigade to swarm at his command, he declares himself their boss. However, the giant fat brown one named Ben eventually turns on him, and Willard becomes subordinate to the evil rat; it's a nightmarish warning to people who do animal testing in the same way that Psycho became a cautionary tale for people who take showers.

Not only does Willard portray psychological struggle, but there's also a hint of disdain for the corporate world – yes, the rat race, as Willard's boss Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey) explicitly puts it. The efficiency-and-profits-obsessed Mr. Martin becomes the target of Willard's rodent reserves, and in an ironic but silly scene, comes face to face with the horror, while using his mouse to click through porn sites on the Web.

So, Willard is crazy, his mom is crazy, the rats are crazy and his boss is crazy. However, there's one more crazy in this film: Wacko Jacko. No, Michael doesn't make an appearance, but he scored his first solo number 1 with "Ben," the innocent, rat-lovin' tune directly inspired by the original film in 1972. The song is played in one scene of the remake, and Glover even sings it over the credits. As an addition to the hoopla surrounding the Jackson documentaries war, it seems that no matter how hard we try, we can never escape the self-proclaimed King of Pop – a realization that may be more frightening than any monstrous killer rat.

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