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  Willard Pest Control
Year: 2003
Director: Glen Morgan
Stars: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Harring, Jackie Burroughs, Kimberly Patton, William S. Taylor, Edward Horn, Gus Lynch, Laara Sadiq, David Parker, Ty Olsson
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Downtrodden Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) lives with his infirm mother (Jackie Burroughs) in a big, old, dilapitated house, and one night she tells him that she hears rats in the basement. Willard dutifully goes to buy rat poison and traps, but when he proceeds to catch a rat, he has a crisis of conscience and decides to keep it as a pet, calling the animal Socrates. Socrates, however, has a number of friends, including the large and menacing rat Willard names Ben, and the loner begins to teach them tricks. Why? Because Willard has an enemy, his boss Mr Martin (R. Lee Ermey), and, with the help of the rodents, is looking for revenge.

Willard was yet another in the cycle of remakes and homages to horror films of two to three decades before, but this one wasn't inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for a change. Written by the director Glen Morgan, from the novel by Gilbert Ralston, it was a Gothic-flavoured restaging of the seventies cult chiller, and its dark, eccentric look resembled that of a Tim Burton film, especially with its outsider protagonist and Shirley Walker's Elfman-esque music. And who better to play Willard than one of the most idiosyncratic actors of his generation, Crispin Glover?

As the plot is predictable even if you haven't seen the original, Glover is the saving grace, turning in a perfectly-judged, top-quality performance of a hypersensitive loser suffering from a serious case of low self esteem. Socrates is his only friend, and you can believe that the little white rat is the only friend he has ever had. Willard lives in the shadow of his father (seen only in photographs and played by the original Willard, Bruce Davison), who built the business that Willard now works for in a lowly office position.

Mr Martin is just looking for an excuse to fire Willard, but won't until his mother dies. Ermey is obnoxious enough as the bullying boss for your sympathies to lie with Willard, but the only person who feels sorry for him in the film is his co-worker, Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring). Cathryn is a seriously underwritten part, and feels more perfunctory than the other, two-dimensional characters, as it's Glover who is blessed with all the best chances from the script.

The black comedy element is strong, but not overwhelming, and if watching Glover have earnest conversations with small furry animals doesn't amuse you, then there are more obvious, sick jokes like the rats terrorising a cat, all to the strains of Michael Jackson singing "Ben". The real, tragic emotions of Willard's loneliness have the sting taken out of them by such scenes as the funeral one, where the devastated Willard may be in tears, but also has a huge line of snot hanging from his nose.

Still, it's satisfying to see the underdog get even, if only for a short while, and Willard isn't the real villain, Ben and Mr Martin are. There's a decent atmosphere of decay and mustiness, not only in the Stiles house, but at the office, too - perfect breeding grounds for rats. For a film that gives an unlikely leading man a great, grotesque starring role, Willard is very entertaining, in spite of its other deficiencies in the supporting characters and a finale that suffers an unnecessary coda. Also, fantastically, Glover sings "Ben" over the end credits!
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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