Willard (1971 USA)

hqdefaultThere is no shortage of films about young people who get angry and take revenge via some unethical means – Carrie, Kiss of the Tarantula…the list goes on. But what makes Willard stand out from the rest of the crowd? Well, the answer to that has to be ‘nothing really’, though the film did come out before a lot of the similar films so it deserves some credit for that fact. With its brightly lit scenes and cheesy music I think of this as a Walt Disney ‘horror.’

Willard is a fairly creepy little affair which features a handful of the ‘classic’ horror elements. Those being rats, a nerdy young man, a lonely old house etc and while the story comes together fairly well, Willard’s main problem is that it’s just not deep enough. The plot focuses on a troubled 27 year old mama’s boy who lives with his mother after the death of his father some years earlier. He’s put under pressure by his mother & his boss, who wants to force him out of the company because he wants Willard’s house. Willard’s only friends (aside from the girl at work who fancies him) are his two pet rats, Ben and Socrates. But after a tragedy at work Willard decides that enough is enough…The title character is played by Bruce Davison, who, if you ask me, isn’t really creepy enough. His blonde hair and wholesome face looks a little innocent. The whole rats thing adds to his creepiness, but on the face of it I think the story would have had more impact with someone more foreboding in the lead role.

I was pleased to see Elsa Lanchester playing the role of his mother. Her expressive eyes and tingly voice always added a special something to any production lucky enough to have her. Davison also gets excellent support from Ernest Borgnine as his unsympathetic boss, and Borgnine manages to steal the show every time he appears on screen. The plot does move rather slowly and the film can’t really be described as a thriller. The whole thing about Willard and his rats doesn’t come through well either. We see him holding them, stroking them and talking to them but there’s never really too much of a bond formed and the film constantly feels like it can’t portray what it is that it wants to portray. There is something enjoyable about Willard though, the way it plods along means that it’s easy to get into and it never became boring enough to make me want to reach for the remote. I have to say that the ending was a bit of a disappointment, but you could do worse than this movie I suppose.

The carpet in his boss’s office is appalling but we can’t have everything. This was the 70s after all and you have to expect to be hit in the eye with mustard colour yellow or an orangey brown somewhere amidst the decor. My favourite scene is when Willard catches his boss groping his very willing older secretary. The young man seems genuinely shocked at this immoral conduct. But not to worry, Mr Martin (the big kahuna) sets him straight: “I was doing the broad a favour!” Not a scene that would please today’s feminazis…tee hee.

rat(Who’s a pretty boy then?)

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