Willard (1971 film)

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Willard (1971) theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Daniel Mann
Produced by Charles A. Pratt
Mort Briskin
Written by Gilbert Ralston
Starring Bruce Davison
Elsa Lanchester
Ernest Borgnine
Sondra Locke
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Robert B. Hauser
Edited by Warren Low
Bing Crosby Productions
(Rysher Entertainment)
Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • June 18, 1971 (1971-06-18)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $14,545,941[1]

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 before her death, 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[citation needed], such as the hit film Jaws (1975), as well as psychological thrillers with social outcasts as the protagonists, such as the hit film 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, Al continues antagonizing Willard. Willard sneaks into a party Al is hosting, opens a rat-filled suitcase, and urges them to get the food and ruin the party. Al and his guests are terrorized by the rats' sudden appearance. The next day Willard's mother dies, and 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 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 Al bludgeons Socrates to death, devastating Willard. He gets another blow when he is fired, along with Joan. Later that night, while Al is still at work, Willard goes back to the office, this time with all of his rats. He confronts Al over the death of Socrates and finds that Al is trying to mortgage and buy his house, but when Al lashes back, Willard instructs the rats to kill him. Unnerved by Al'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 he 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, "Ben, I was good to you!"



Box office[edit]

The film earned rentals of $9.25 million.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

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.[3] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film two out of a possible four 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."[4]


  • A seven-page satire by Mort Drucker and Dick DeBartolo titled "Willies" appeared in Mad #149 (March 1972). The cover of the magazine announced "In This Issue We Tear Apart Willard" and featured artwork by Jack Rickard.[5] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Willard, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  2. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p. 44
  3. ^ "Willard (1971) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Maltin, Leonard; Carson, Darwyn; Sader, Luke. Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Press. p. 1563. ISBN 978-0-451-41810-4. 
  5. ^ Cover of Mad #149

External links[edit]