Friendless Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) lives with his sickly mother Henrietta (Jackie Burroughs) in a crumbling mansion and works for autocratic Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey) who takes pleasure in humiliating Willard in front of his co-workers. Sent by his mother to exterminate rats in the basement, Willard forms an emotional attachment with the rodents and trains them to obey his orders. With his favourite, Socrates, by his side and the enormous Ben leading his army, Willard is able to exact grisly revenge on his tormentors. When Ben becomes jealous of Socrates' status he decides to take his own revenge on
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Crispin Glover is probably the only actor who could tearfully tell a rat "you're the only friend I've ever had" and make it work. The casting of one of America's most eccentric, brilliant and usually wasted performers (Charlie's Angels, are you listening) is the reason to watch this efficient though non-scary remake of the 1971 hit. With thick black hair parted in the middle, darting eyes that speak of madness and a wardrobe any early 20th century undertaker would be proud of, Glover owns every frame of this horror movie from the psycho school of mother complexes. He even sings the Michael Jackson song Ben (a huge hit composed for the original film) over the end credits, so don't leave the cinema until you've had the full Crispin Hellion Glover experience.
While it's great to watch Glover in a rare starring role, it's a pity Willard doesn't produce any real fright. The atmosphere created by director Glen Morgan and production designer Mark S. Freeborn is a meaty mix of gothic and Grand Guignol but the rats don't deliver the chills we expect. You'd imagine a film about a weirdo with an army of killer rodents would include some close-ups of snarling critters leaping into the lens but, very strangely, they're nowhere to be found. What we're given instead is a vivid study of a twisted loner that is let down by a failure to supply supporting shocks.
Glover's casting is inspired and former army drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) also registers in the boss from hell played by Ernest Borgnine in 1971, though the character of Willard's sympathetic workmate Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring) is underdone. If not for the mainstream requirement of having a woman there to scream out the leading man's name at the climax, Cathryn could easily have been deleted with no loss of impact. Harring, who was sensational in Mulholland Drive (and not just for her lesbian scene with Naomi Watts, I hasten to add) deserves better than her tepid assignment here. Willard looks great and Shirley Walker's music (reminiscent of Danny Elfman's scores for Tim Burton's films) serves as perfect accompaniment to the visuals but where are the gasps from the audience? The most gruesome sight here is Jackie Burroughs as Willard's decrepit mother - now there's something to make you shiver.
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CAST: Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring, Jackie Burrough, Kim McKamy, William S. Taylor, Edward Horn, Gus Lynch
PRODUCER: Glen Morgan, James Wong
DIRECTOR: Glen Morgan
SCRIPT: Glen Morgan (1971 screenplay by Gilbert Ralston; book Ratman's Notebook by Gilbert Ralston)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert McLachlan
EDITOR: James Coblentz
MUSIC: Shirley Walker
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark S. Freeborn
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 21, 2003
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.