Willard Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Directed by Glen Morgan
Written by Glen Morgan (original screenplay by Gilbert Ralston)
2003, 100 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on February 26th, 2019

Crispin Glover as Willard
R. Lee Ermey as Mr. Martin
Laura Elena Harring as Cathryn
Jackie Burroughs as Mrs. Stiles
Kimberly Patton as Ms. Leach



For years, Willard Stiles has been trapped in a dead-end job with no friends and no future. He lives with his domineering mother, whom he lovingly tends to even as she micro-manages his life. His boss, Mr. Martin, humiliates Willard in front of his co-workers and seems to hold a personal vendetta against the awkward young man. There is one bright spot at work, a temp named Cathryn who is nice to him, but Willard is too shy to say anything to her. As if he didn’t have enough problems, Willard’s mother informs him that there are rats in the basement. He unsuccessfully tries various traps before catching an albino rat he takes a shine to and decides to keep as a pet. He names the rodent Socrates and treats him like a dear friend, carrying him on his shoulder and sharing his pillow.

The vermin continue to multiply and quickly fill the basement. Socrates proves highly intelligent and Willard encourages him to teach the others to perform certain tasks. There is another rat of note, a big sonofabitch named Ben, who appears to be a natural leader. Willard continues to train the rodents to do his bidding and soon he is packing them up and taking them on trips outside the house. One night he has his friends flatten Mr. Martin’s tires on his precious new car and takes great pleasure the following day seeing his boss taken down a peg. Willard’s joy is short-lived, as his problems kick into high gear. He turns to his rodent army for some sweet revenge against those who have wronged him. Not everything is easy however, as Ben proves jealous of his master’s relationship with Socrates and starts making waves of his own.

For his 2003 update to Willard, director Glen Morgan (Black Christmas, 2006) re-worked Gilbert Ralston’s original 1971 screenplay and injected some fresh ideas into the mix. Willard was already an oddball but now proves even more eccentric with fits of hysteria. The character shares more than a passing resemblance to Norman Bates, another twitchy introvert with mother issues. Willard is a put-upon man with few options in life. His situation continues to go downhill and his rodent friends prove to be a necessary life preserver. Morgan creates a slow burn for the first hour as he meticulously piles on the grief for our anti-hero until he reaches his breaking point.


Crispin Glover (River’s Edge) headlines the cast as the titular character and brings an incredible energy to the role. His performance is flawless whether acting opposite people or animals and he commands every moment of his considerable screen time. Glover is an artist and he injects the part with a much needed sensitivity that will keep audiences firmly on his side, no matter how quirky his actions. Matching Glover’s magnetism is the always welcome R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) as the abusive Mr. Martin. His familiar dominating presence sucks all of the oxygen out of the room as he steadily ramps himself up to full-volume tirades.

Working closely with cinematographer Robert McLachlan (The One), Morgan stages some inventive lighting and creative camera work to deliver many expressionistic settings. There are some moments of levity sprinkled throughout and a few entertaining sight gags. At one point a house cat is introduced into the mix and this sequence serves as a darkly comic highlight. Actor Bruce Davison starred in the original picture and appears here in a creative cameo as Willard’s father. As wonderful as Glover is in the film, the real stars are the rats and while there are some animatronic and computer generated variations, the bulk of them are real. The sheer number grows overwhelming and it is fun watching them take over. Audiences never got behind the film and it faltered at the box office, but maybe now with some time, the picture will discover new life through this 2019 Blu-ray release.


Video and Audio:

Willard makes its HD debut with a stunning new 2K transfer of the original film elements. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is beautifully composed, filling the screen with stark images rich with earthy colors and shadowy detail. Black levels are rock solid and flesh tones appear natural throughout. There is plenty of fine detail in hair and fibers.

The disc comes equipped with an impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that really comes to life. Dialogue levels are well-balanced with music cues and remain clear and free from distortion. There are some nice directional sound effects peppered throughout keeping the rear channels active.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.


Special Features:

There are three audio commentaries on this disc, the first being a newly-recorded session featuring director Glen Morgan and cinematographer Robert McLachlan. The two worked together for many years and it is nice to have them reunite for this release. There are a lot of wonderful production stories and behind-the-scenes revelations that keep the discussion lively.

The second commentary features animal trainers Mark Harden and David Allsberry of Animals for Hollywood. They reveal the ins and outs of getting animals to perform certain tasks on cue. This is another solid track that is well worth a listen.

The third track was recorded for the film’s DVD release and features Morgan and producer James Wong joined by actor Crispin Glover, with additional input spliced in from R. Lee Ermey. Morgan dominates the track, but it is nice to hear from Glover too. The commentary covers a lot of territory and delves deeply into the making of the picture.

Glen Morgan reflects on his career in the comprehensive interview The Road to Willard (80 minutes). He’s very laid back and conversational as he shares plenty of interesting anecdotes from his work in television and film. The topics are wide-ranging and he is allowed the time to answer the questions in full. It is interesting to hear his thoughts on Willard fifteen years later.

Cinematographer Robert McLachlan discusses the project in Destination Willard (46 minutes), and like the Morgan interview, he covers a lot of ground. His stories are also very informative and entertaining and he has a lot to add to the topic of this picture.

The Rat Trainer’s Notebook (11 minutes) takes a behind-the-scenes look at the production featuring rehearsal footage shot by animal trainers Animals for Hollywood. The material is really impressive and the work they do is amazing.

Carried over from the earlier DVD release is the excellent documentary The Year of the Rat (73 minutes) that serves as an all-access pass to the making of Willard from pre-production to finished product and audience response. This film is highly entertaining and occasionally heartbreaking.

Another holdover is the fun segment Rat People: Friends or Foes? (19 minutes), which takes a look at the rat lovers who collect the animals and keep them as pets. The piece is loaded with facts and trivia about rodents and the people who invite them into their homes. In a nice touch, actor Bruce Davison, star of the original Willard, serves as narrator.

A collection of deleted/ alternate scenes (26 minutes) arrive with an optional director’s commentary. The scenes are interesting but were cut for pacing. The original downbeat ending has been included.

One of the highlights included on this release is the music video Ben (3 minutes), starring and directed by Crispin Glover as he covers the Michael Jackson classic theme song. The video offers optional commentary from Glover.

A half hour of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the EPK provides further insight into the making of the movie. Interviewees include Glover, Laura Harring, R. Lee Ermy and Glen Morgan.

The original theatrical trailer appears alongside a collection of ten TV spots revealing the film’s troubled marketing campaign.



Movie: Cover
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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