Willard (2003)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurette, Music Video, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Trailer and Spots, and more

In recent times, there seems to be a lack of ideas in Hollywood that is scary, leading filmmakers to tackle ridiculous remakes of perfectly good films. The "Psycho" remake, certainly made a laughing stock out of its participants, and the prospect of getting modern-day remakes of classic films such as "Flight of the Phoenix," "Halloween," and even "Dawn of the Dead" is very disconcerting to me. Which leads us to "Willard." As most of you certainly, know, "Willard" is also a remake of the 1971 film by Daniel Mann, a classic in its own right. It was hence with some trepidation that I approached this new incarnation of the movie, served up as a Platinum Edition DVD by New Line.

Willard (Crispin Glover) is a social misfit, unable to build personal relationships with other people, living with his dominating mother in an old house, serving to her every whim since his father’s death. Working in the company his father built, and that is now run by Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey) a former friend of the family, he is harassed and pushed around every moment of the day.
One day Willard discovers rats in the basement of his house and instead of killing them, he forms a bond with them. Especially Socrates, a particularly intelligent specimen, becomes his constant companion while he is building a growing army of rats. As the stress and pressure of his life grows, Willard eventually uses his army of rats to take revenge on Mr. Martin, one little bite at a time.

For the most part, "Willard" succeeds in creating a creepy atmosphere, painting the character of Willard as an extremely introverted – even to the viewer – young man that is dark and ominous. We never know what to expect from him and much of his thoughts are reflected only in his eyes, and we can only imagine what hideous thoughts are going through his mind.
The effects in the movie are also well done with hordes of rats infiltrating the house and especially the elevator scene is very atmospheric and stylish. Without gore and blood – which would have been entirely gratuitous in a film such as this –Glen Morgan shows us in his directorial debut that he is very aware of the dynamics of film and he eloquently uses his visual vocabulary to create suspense and payoff without going over the edge. The horror in this film is entirely in your mind and your own imagination fills in the blanks with the most gruesome pictures. It is what great horror movies are made of.

The film is not without flaws, however, and the fact that all characters other than Willard and Mr. Martin are virtually invisible, hurts the movie a bit. Apart from his mother, the only real supporting character is Cathryn, and she is unfortunately not very well written, coming across as extremely pushy rather than helpful. The film could also have used a bit more gloom to increase the level of suspense as Big Ben slowly begins to do his work, a part that is very much under-emphasized in my opinion.

New Line Home Entertainment has prepared a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie and as expected, it is pristine in every sense. The image is absolutely clear, perfectly reflecting the rough and gritty look of the cinematography however. A high level of detail makes sure every bit of the image is perfectly reproduced and the colors are rich and well saturated. The brownish color palette applied to the film for the most part is coming across nicely, making it a pleasure to watch. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts distract form the viewing experience.

The audio on the disc comes as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX track that is aggressive and makes good and frequent use of the surround channels. While this is not an action film, the movie uses the surrounds mostly for atmosphere as we hear the scratching of thousands of little feet in the corner, the rustling of rats running through the house, and of course, the force of a full blown rat attack. Frequency response and dynamic range are superb, giving the track a lot of edge and power to make an impact when needed, while at the same time keeping ambient effects very transparent and present. A Dolby Stereo track is also supplied.

Prepared as a Platinum Edition, the DVD also contains a few exciting extras, such as a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring Glen Morgan, producer James Wong, Crispin Glover and Lee Ermey. The track is very informative and entertaining and offers a wealth of information about the production. Everyone has a lot to contribute to the track, making it a true insight into the making of the movie and the technical production issues. Check it out…

A full-blown 73-minute documentary "The year of the Rat" about the making of the movie is also included. What is great about it is that it has been done by the director’s assistant Julie Ng, a film student herself. She aptly manages to put the entire production of the film into this documentary from the first phone calls all the way to the final film, its theatrical release and the aftermath that followed. This is not a promo featurette but a real documentary focusing on the effort, the challenges the day-to-day issues and the logistics of making movies, as well as the personal relationships that are developing. The documentary is among the best that are out there on DVD and is a true highlight of the release, making you wish more companies would have the heart to give you more than an EPK as a supplement.

A 20-minute documentary about rats is also included on the DVD, giving you the real scoop on rats from a more scientific standpoint. It shows that despite the common fear of rats, these rodents are part of our ecosystem as much as anything else.

The music video "Ben" is also included on the DVD, performed by Crispin Glover. It is a small piece of art that the actor wrote and produced himself showing his universal talents.

The DVD is rounded out be a series of deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending. Personally, I do prefer the alternate ending over the one that is in the film, simply because it resonates better with me and reminds more of the great New Line-endings from the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

"Willard" was a disappointment at the boxoffice and the reason is very simple. It is not a teenage movie with the mistaken mentality that only a gruesome horror film is a good horror film. Today’s 18-year olds will simply not enjoy the subtle gloom that is brought to screen here. Without overt violence, without blood, without special effects galore and scantily clad, suggestive females, the film is clearly targeted at a more mature audience that appreciates horror on a more intellectual level. While the film is not as great as it could have been, "Willard" is not a slouch either. It is very stylish and well put together and manages to create a sense of prickling suspense and chills. The DVD that New Line has prepared is once again top of the line, so from one "classic" horror film fan to another, I can only recommend "Willard."