• Willard (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: February 26th, 2018.
    Directed by: Glen Morgan
    Cast: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Harring, Jackie Burroughs
    Year: 2003
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    Willard – Movie Review:

    Glen Morgan’s 2003 remake of Daniel Mann’s 1971 film Willard stars Crispin Glover as Willard Stiles. He’s a meek, mild, shy young man who lives alone with his aged and ailing mother (Jackie Burroughs of The Dead Zone) in a massive old house in the suburbs of New York City. Since Willard’s father committed suicide some time ago, he’s been in the employ of Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket), his father’s former business partner and a genuine asshole if ever there was one. Martin employs Willard because he made a promise to employ him as long as his mother was alive, not because he values the man’s work.

    When Willard’s mother sends him into the basement because she hears rats, he learns that he has the strange ability to communicate with the rodent population now residing in the bowels of his home. One in particular, a white rat he names Socrates, seems to bond with him and soon enough he’s got an army of vermin at his command. When Martin really gets under his skin one day at work, Willard tests out his newfound abilities by having the rats eat through the tires of his new Mercedes Benz. Of course, no one suspects Willard – why would they? No one even really seems to notice him, except for his kindly new co-worker, Cathryn (Laura Harring of Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire)… and a big, mean rat named Ben.

    The early 2000s were not a good time for remakes, but Willard is one of those exceptions to the rule. Morgan, who would direct the Black Christmas remake a few years later in 2006, works from his own screenplay here. He was also responsible for writing a few episodes of The X-Files and then later cult hits like Final Destination and the excellent Fox show Millennium but to some of us, he’s one of the guys responsible for writing Trick Or Treat (he also has a small role in it), so his resume is solid. At any rate, the guy knows how to pace a film. Willard the movie does a great job of letting us get to know Willard the character just enough to side with him, even if it’s clear from the start that there’s something a little off about the guy. From there, once Willard’s abilities and motives are established alongside the personalities of rats Socrates and Ben, well, by that point we want Mr. Martin to get what’s coming to him – but of course, there’s a fair bit of mayhem that occurs along the way, including a darkly comedic yet sadly moving scene involving an unfortunate feline given to Willard with the best of intentions by Cathryn (set to Michael Jackson’s Ben, recorded for the movie of the same name – a sequel to the original Willard).

    And who better to play someone with something a little off than Crispin Glover? He’s fantastic here in the type of role that is perfect for a quirky actor of his caliber. There are times where it looks like he’s going to overdo it but it never quite gets there, thankfully. His performance is tragic, angry, sad, moving and at times, genuinely frightening as he manages to take a character who, by all rights, should be seen as pathetic and turn him into something far more interesting. Supporting work from R. Lee Ermey is also strong. He plays exactly the kind of constantly angry business tycoon you’d expect him to, given many of his past performances. His Martin isn’t nice to anyone, he cares about nothing but his bottom line, and Ermey does a great job of creating a truly despicable character. Jackie Burroughs is effectively weird as Willard’s mother, so much so in fact that we can at least partially understand why the young man ‘turned out’ the way that he did. She’s constantly ‘taking care’ of him and pestering him about getting a girl, while she’s really the one that needs looking after. Her Mrs. Stiles is an odd character, odd enough to stand out in a wonderfully odd film. Throw in the beautiful Laura Harring as the kindly co-worker who doesn’t quite know what she’s getting herself into with her attempts at consolation, and you can see how the cast might score pretty high marks here – and they do! But it’s Glover who really steals the show here.

    The cinematography from Robert McLachlan, who also shot Morgan’s Black Christmas, is excellent. It does a great job of turning both the crumbling Stiles home and the grubby, industrial looking manufacturing plant into the perfect locations for this story to play out in. the camerawork frames things really well and helps to build tension by pulling us into the story. Shirley Walker’s original score is also strong and works really well here. Maybe not surprisingly, she also worked on Black Christmas as well as the Final Destination films with Morgan.

    If there’s one complaint here it’s that there are a few early 2000’s era CGI shots that don’t look so hot, but you can’t fault a film for being a product of its time. Otherwise, this one remains just as entertaining and beautifully bizarre now as it was when released more than fifteen years ago.

    Willard – Blu-ray Review:

    Willard arrives on a 50GB disc from Shout! Factory presented in 2.35.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded transfer taken from a ‘2K scan of the original film elements.’ The opening credits look a little shaky but thankfully once the film itself starts the picture is pretty solid. The image is very clean, showing virtually no print damage, and offering detail that easily surpasses the previous New Line DVD release. Color reproduction looks great, though it should be noted that the film’s color scheme is fairly drab most of the time, while black levels remain strong. Depth and texture are pretty solid here and the image is free of compression issues or edge enhancement problems. Some of the digital effects don’t shine like they might have when the movie was first released, but you can’t fault the transfer for that.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is fantastic. This mix really opens things up, especially for the many scenes in which an army of rats skitters across the screen. The rear channels are not only used almost constantly, but they’re used really well, making you take notice of a squeak coming from behind you or the ominous thud of something being knocked off a shelf. The score used for the film also benefits from the lossless surround mix, filling the room wonderfully. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout, even when Glover mumbles some of his lines, while bass response is tight and strong without burying anything else in the rest of the mix. Willard sounds excellent on Blu-ray. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    There are two new audio commentary tracks included on the disc, the first with writer/director Glen Morgan and director of photography Robert McLachlan and the second with animal trainers Mark Harden and David Allsberry of Animals For Hollywood. The first track covers adapting the original novel and original film to this more modern version, changes that were made, characterizations that they wanted to bring out, the look of the film, the cinematography, colors schemes and more. The second track, as you’d guess, is more geared towards the use of rats in the film and what all was involved in making that happen. Carried over from the New Line DVD release is the excellent archival track with writer/director Glen Morgan, producer James Wong and actors Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey. This one also covers a lot of ground, discussing the origin of the picture, the effects, the different characters in the film, having to act alongside real rats and quite a bit more.

    Additionally, Shout! Factory has put together three new featurettes starting with The Road To Willard, which is an interview with writer/director Glen Morgan that runs a whopping eighty-minutes in length. This doesn’t just cover his work on Willard, though it does that in quite a bit of detail, but also goes over the bulk of his career including some of his acting work, other directorial and writing projects and loads more. The run time may make this seem like overkill but it’s really interesting! The next new piece is Destination Willard, an interview with director of photography Robert McLachlan that lasts forty-six-minutes in length. Here McLachlan his background and training, how he got his start in the film business, some of his earlier projects and of course his work on Willard and all that this entailed. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary but it’s still quite interesting. The last new featurette is The Rat Trainer’s Notebook which is eleven-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from Animals For Hollywood that includes a lot of interesting test footage that demonstrates just how complex working with a shitload of rats can be.

    The standard definition featurettes from the DVD are also carried over here. The Year Of The Rat is an interesting seventy-three-minute documentary on the making of the film made up of cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage. Rat People: Friends or Foes? Is a nineteen-minute documentary that talks about people who breed and train rats in the real world – interesting stuff. Also carried over are the twenty-five-minutes’ worth of deleted/alternate Scenes with optional commentary and the half hour of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the electronic press kit that, again, appeared on the old DVD.

    One of the most amazing extras on the disc, again carried over from the old DVD, is the music video for Crispin Hellion Glover’s cover of Michael Jackson’s Ben. Glover note only performs in the video, doing all the vocals, but he also cast it and directed it and it’s just as insane as you’d expect. This is presented with optional commentary from Glover where he rattles off as many facts and anecdotes about the making of the picture as he can, while still finding time to make some subtle digs at mainstream commercial filmmaking. Amazing stuff.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer (set to Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins, you know, the ‘rat in a cage’ song), a few TV spots, menus and chapter selection.

    Willard – The Final Word:

    Willard holds up really well, a rare remake that improves on the original thanks to some stylish photography, tight direction and great performances from the central cast members. Shout! Factory has done an impressive job bringing this one to Blu-ray on a disc stacked with extras old and new and with a solid high definition presentation. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Willard Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I'm going to get this, but I'm sure going to wait for the price to drop below 27 bucks + tax CAD.
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mark Tolch View Post
      I'm going to get this, but I'm sure going to wait for the price to drop below 27 bucks + tax CAD.
      I wouldn't count on it getting any cheaper. I think we're getting a break from Shout in Canada, for what ever reason; all of their releases for the past several months have been more or less the same price here (on sale) and in the US. WILLARD is currently $24.99 from Diabolik.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt H. View Post
      I wouldn't count on it getting any cheaper. I think we're getting a break from Shout in Canada, for what ever reason; all of their releases for the past several months have been more or less the same price here (on sale) and in the US. WILLARD is currently $24.99 from Diabolik.
      Yeah, I'm not counting on it at all, but I have a hard time spending over 30 bucks on a movie. Their Select series is usually much cheaper.
    1. Nabonga's Avatar
      Nabonga -
      Got this en route. It was very expensive but the film is fucking great, so... worth it.

      Crispin is a loveable weirdo. I've got his "The Big Problem ?" album. It's also fucking weird.
    1. Maureen Champ's Avatar
      Maureen Champ -
      1971, not 1917!