Willard (1971 film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Daniel Mann|
|Produced by||Charles A. Pratt
|Written by||Gilbert Ralston|
|Music by||Alex North|
|Cinematography||Robert B. Hauser|
|Edited by||Warren Low|
Bing Crosby Productions
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
Willard is a 1971 American horror film directed by Daniel Mann and starring Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine. Based on the novel Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the film was nominated for an Edgar Award for best picture. The supporting cast included Elsa Lanchester in one of her last performances, and Sondra Locke in one of her first. The film was a summer hit in 1971; opening to good reviews and high box office returns. It inspired other horror films with wild animals as predators, such as the hit films Jaws (1975), as well as psychological thrillers with social outcasts as the protagonists, such as Carrie (1976).
Willard Stiles is a meek social misfit who develops an affinity for rats. He lives in a large house with only his cranky and decrepit mother Henrietta for company. On his 27th birthday, he is humiliated to come home to a birthday party thrown by his mother, where all of the attendees are her friends. After leaving the party in embarrassment, he notices a rat in his backyard and tosses it pieces of his birthday cake. The next morning he feeds another rat. His mother tells him that he needs to kill the rats, which Willard refuses to do.
When Willard goes to work, he is scolded by his boss Al Martin for tardiness. He later returns home and begins playing with a rat he names Queenie. A white rat becomes his best companion and he names him Socrates. Numerous other rats emerge, including a bigger black specimen whom he names Ben.
At work, Mr. Martin continues antagonizing Willard. Willard sneaks into a party Mr. Martin is hosting, opens a rat-filled suitcase, and urges them to get the food and ruin the party. The guests and Martin are terrorized by the rats' sudden appearance. The next day Willard's mother dies. He discovers that the house is heavily mortgaged. Willard is pressured by the banks to give up the house.
Willard decides to bring Socrates and Ben to the office. Later, his friend/temporary assistant, Joan, feels sorry for him and in order to ease his loneliness, gives him a cat named Chloe, but he hands Chloe off to a stranger.
The rat population is growing too large and Willard cannot afford to keep feeding them. He decides to steal money from his one of his coworkers, using his now-trained rats. He sneaks into the coworker's house and orders the rats to "tear it up", putting them in front of his bedroom door, which results in the man and his wife waking up and fleeing the house upon opening the door and seeing the rats.
The next day Willard again takes Ben and Socrates to work. One of the workers spots the rats and Mr. Martin bludgeons Socrates to death, devastating Willard. He gets another blow when he is fired, along with Joan. Later that night, while Martin is still at work, Willard goes to back to the office, this time with all of his rats. He confronts Martin over the death of Socrates and finds that Martin is trying to mortgage and buy Willard's house, but when Martin lashes back, Willard instructs the rats to kill him. Unnerved by Mr. Martin's gruesome death, Willard abandons Ben, goes home and begins sealing up any holes through which the rats could gain entry.
Willard has dinner with Joan but is startled to look up and see Ben staring at him from a corner shelf. It is followed by his shocking discovery of hordes of rats in the basement invading his home. He orders Joan to leave and locks the door before confronting Ben. Willard stalls Ben, telling him that he will get him some food, yet begins mixing a box of rat poison with the food. Ben reads the box and squeals loudly, alerting the others. Willard follows Ben upstairs, trying to kill him as the rats pursue him. Willard corners Ben in a storage room in the house, but when he hears the rats coming, he barricades the door. The rats begin gnawing at the door and eventually break in to devour him as he shouts, "I was good to you, Ben!"
- Bruce Davison as Willard Stiles
- Sondra Locke as Joan
- Elsa Lanchester as Henrietta Stiles
- Ernest Borgnine as Al Martin
- Michael Dante as Brandt
- J. Pat O'Malley as Farley
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The film earned rentals of $9.25 million.
Critical reception for Willard has been mixed. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 59%, based on 17 reviews, with a rating average of 5.5/10. Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 2 out of a possible 4 stars. In his review he wrote, "Touching story of a boy and his rats captured public's fancy at the box office, but [the] film's lack of style prevents it from being anything more than a second-rate thriller."
- A seven-page satire by Mort Drucker and Dick DeBartolo titled "Willies" appeared in Mad magazine #149, dated March 1972. The cover of the magazine announced "In This Issue We Tear Apart Willard" and featured artwork by Jack Rickard. The cover art portrays Alfred E. Neuman as Willard siccing an army of rodents (all dressed in Mickey Mouse pants and shoes with Mouseketeer ears) on a hapless Ernest Borgnine.
- A sequel called Ben was released in 1972.
- Two imitation films were made after Willard 's success: Stanley (1972), with trained rattlesnakes and Kiss of the Tarantula (1976), in which the main character is a young woman with trained tarantulas.
- Willard serves as the opening anecdote to a chapter, "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible..." in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus.
- A remake, also titled Willard, was released in 2003 with Crispin Glover playing Willard. Bruce Davison is also featured in the film as Willard's father, appearing in a portrait.
- "Willard, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
- "Willard (1971) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
- Maltin, Leonard; Carson, Darwyn; Sader, Luke. Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Press. p. 1563. ISBN 978-0-451-41810-4.
- Cover of Mad #149