Ben Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Phil Karlson
Written by Gilbert Ralston
1972, 94 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on May 16th, 2017
Lee Harcourt Montgomery as Danny Garrison
Joseph Campanella as Cliff Kirkland
Arthur O’Connell as Bill Hatfield
Rosemary Murphy as Beth Garrison
Meredith Baxter as Eve Garrison
Kaz Garas as Joe Greer
The police have discovered Willard's diary in which he details his interaction with the rodents and claims there are hordes hiding in the basement of his house; their former sanctuary overrun by human first responders, Ben and his fellow rats are mourning the loss of their home and their king. The rats flee into the sewers while Ben cruises the neighborhood where he meets a young boy named Danny. The two hit it off immediately and soon the kid has a friend. The police are sweeping the area with traps and poison and conducting door to door searches, but Ben now has a new protector. As the investigation gets closer to home the rats prepare for a stand-off to defend their territory.
Screenwriter Gilbert Ralston returns with an all-new adventure for a boy and his rat with Ben. As is the case with most sequels, the story is bigger, the body count higher and the set pieces more elaborate than in its predecessor. Director Phil Karlson (Walking Tall) heads this sequel that begins minutes after the events of Willard end and handles the jump in scale nicely. The first half of the picture is a bit of a slog as audiences are pushed into accepting the boy as a sweet, lonely kid looking for friendship, but the second half moves briskly. Lee Montgomery (Burnt Offerings) stars as Danny and is quick with a song and conducts an impressive marionette show, but is a bit too wholesome for his own good. Joseph Campanella (Mannix) heads the police investigation and elevates the material beyond that of a man looking to catch rats. Rosemary Murphy (The Hand) and Meredith Baxter (Family Ties) play Danny’s mother and sister respectively, and both are believable in their roles of protective family members.
Ben is the sympathetic lead this time around and while the humans are not exactly nasty as they were in Willard, audiences will still pull for the rats to succeed in their quest for sovereignty. The rodents are very well trained and the sequences of them en masse are harrowing, especially for anyone with a fear of rats. Ben works more often than not, but when viewed as a double feature with the original film, it pales in comparison. That being said, this is by far the best killer rat movie featuring a theme song by Michael Jackson you are likely ever going to see. Completists will rejoice with this new release from Scream Factory timed to coincide with similar treatment for Willard, as both pictures have been stranded in legal limbo for decades.
Video and Audio:
Like its predecessor, Ben has not been available in decades due to legal issues with the rights to the picture. Unlike its predecessor, however, the original film elements including both the negative and the interpositive have both been lost over time. Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and restored from the best surviving 35mm prints, Ben is a hit-and-miss viewing experience. Blacks are all over the place, frequently swallowing the surrounding images while at other times appearing inky and spot on. Colors are vivid, but the source materials are somewhat lacking in terms of contrast levels. Film grain appears both natural and at times quite aggressive, like golf ball sized hail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix gets the job done, but like its video counterpart, it isn’t going to win any awards. The dialogue is always clear and music and effects are occasionally tinny but never intrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Lee Montgomery records an audio commentary that allows him to reflect on his time growing up in the industry. He shares many stories not just from this movie but from throughout his career. He has nothing but nice things to say about the cast, crew and rats of Ben and seems like a genuinely likeable guy.
Montgomery tells stories of growing up as a child star in The Kid with the Rat (9 minutes), a new interview conducted for this release. He reflects on his co-stars, both human and otherwise and even works in an entertaining but unrelated story about Dom De Louise.
Marketing materials include two theatrical trailers, a pair of TV spots and two additional trailers promoting a double bill of Willard and Ben.
A radio spot is also included for your listening pleasure.
A photo gallery (31 images) offers a look at assorted lobby cards, posters and other artwork.
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