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Willard (2003) (Blu-ray Review)

When the 2003 film Willard was arriving in theaters back in 2003, it was just this strange film I saw a trailer for and thought it looked odd and was like “okay?”. Crispin Glover was a strange guy to me then. Little did I know, I’d find out that this film was also a remake of a film and the rat at the center was the inspiration for the Michael Jackson song “Ben”. The film came and bombed out, but for myself, and I’m assuming many others, we learned from it, sought out the original and/or found an appreciation in a movie that was nothing like anything else hitting theaters at the time. Scream Factory with its newfound Warner Bros relationship has found this film an instant home on Blu-ray and put one of their best special features crews on the job to help give this one some love. You’ll be able to have the film before the month is out on February 26th. Get your pre-order in now from the link below to be able to put on your shelf next to your copies of the original Willard and Ben from Scream Factory.

Film 

Desperate for companionship, the repressed Willard (Crispin Glover) befriends a group of rats that inhabit his late father’s deteriorating mansion. In these furry creatures, Willard finds temporary refuge from daily abuse at the hands of his bedridden mother (Jackie Burroughs) and his father’s old partner, Frank (R. Lee Ermey). Soon it becomes clear that the brood of rodents is ready and willing to exact a vicious, deadly revenge on anyone who dares to bully their sensitive new master.

Willard’s 2003 update is a loving and passionate venture back into the original film. The glory is in the details as it retells the same story before, but now with a loving interest in the original film as well as bringing more stylish flares to the table and increasing the weirdness and camp factor in embracing fashion. The film owes everything to the original, but also improves upon it in many ways.

Crispin Glover is the driver in this adventure as the title character. In a nice touch, his late father (Seen only in painting and photos) is portrayed by the original Willard; Bruce Davison. Glover is committed and brings Willard as a full formed and refined being. He’s not afraid to go off the handle at any moment and never holds back. And in a brilliant move, his foil is the perfect opposite in that of the hard-nosed and militaristic R. Lee Ermey. That dynamic really drives the film and informs the lead character beyond just his solitude and relationship with his mother.

Beyond Glover, the film’s art department and set design really compliment what he’s bringing to the table. This Willard is almost a Gothic-like fable in the design of his home to the factory he works in. It almost feels informed by Tim Burton and I mean that in the best way possible. The look and feel of this 2003 update gives it character beyond the script and performances and is lovely in a dark, twisted kind of way. There’s even a big charm in how they incorporate the Michael Jackson song “Ben” into the film and also have a version with Glover singing it.

Oh, and the rats here are quite good as well. They do some creative and playful things beyond just them smattering around. There are creatively choreographed moments and there are some nifty CGI ones to compliment it. And the gore here is pretty effective and at times you can feel the grim gross pain too. This is a PG-13 film and while it could have been a little more vicious, I think Glen Morgan gets across and away with plenty for that rating.

The 2003 update of Willard didn’t find an audience in theaters back in 2003, but I feel has slowly found its way to its appropriate one over the years. It was never going to be a film for everyone, but the passion and craft on display here between the film’s look and its lead performer have to at least gain the respect over even the harshest of critics. Those who may have passed it up or haven’t seen it in a long time may want to go back and give it another look after its been sitting and aging for years.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Willard presents itself on Blu-ray for the first time with a 2K scan from the original film elements. This one eerily has the same sort of look as the Scream Factory release of Valentine did. Likely a product of that late 90s/early 2000s era. Some of the effects look a little revealing, but still hold up decently enough to make it all work out. Overall this is a good, sharper image with solid details and probably the best this film may ever see.

Depth: Depth of field is more on the average side of things, though some of the more crafty camera maneuvers on the interior of Willard’s home and the factory prove impressive enough. Movements are smooth and cinematic with no real troublesome instances of motion distortion going on.

Black Levels: Blacks are dark enough and pretty well saturated throughout without too much loss of detail. Textures and such remain pretty much intact. No crushing witnessed during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty strong and decently saturated in a more grimy way. They aren’t washed out so much as they are a little greened.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from beginning to end of the film. Details are strongest in close up shots and a little less apparent the further the camera pulls back. Medium shots are hit and miss with how much facial texture and information is apparent.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: One of the very best parts of Willard’s Blu-ray debut is its 5.1 track. Not only is it crisp and plenty loud, but the mix was handsomely done. Its plenty intricate and extremely playful. Every channel is accounted for and builds a great atmosphere while also contributing wonderfully placed and unique sounds about. I was quite surprised by how terrific this one turned out to be.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: This track really does bump with the music, crashing and scampering abound. There are moments where things really hit with a big jolt and its very effective.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is where we get to all the fun. Many sounds, from Willard’s mother shouting from another room to rats sneaking around behind you are expertly place and give a maximum impact. During an office scene, you see the shadow of rats being R. Lee Ermey scatting across and you hear them travel right behind you. Much of this is quite invigorating and chilling.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With screenwriter/director Glen Morgan and cinematographer Robert McLachlan
  • With Mark Harden and David Allsberry from Boone’s Animals for Hollywood.
  • With screenwriter/director Glen Morgan, producer James Wong and actors Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey.

The Road To Willard (HD, 1:19:48) – An interview with Glen Morgan. This is an all access career profile with the director of the film (And also one of the stars of Trick Or Treat! Yes, they talk about it). We start from his roots and go all the way through learning the ins and outs of Willard and his struggle to fight against a PG-13 rating. We also learn others up for the role (Mark Ruffalo and Jack Black among others) and how he was told that with Crispin Glover leading he’d never finish the movie. When I saw the feature length runtime on this interview I was like “Whoo boy”, but all of a sudden I shook my head and there was like 15 minutes left in it. The interview sucks you in and is very engaging.

Destination Willard (HD, 45:53) – An interview with Robert McLachlan. The film’s cinematographer goes into his career as well. We find how he came to have a relationship with the film’s director. McLachlan discusses his work on Final Destination and how he had to fight a little for the job, since he was primarily shooting for TV back then. And he does spill on his work with Game of Thrones as well. Oh, and he discusses Willard in pretty good detail, noting how terrific Crispin Glover was to work with.

The Rat Trainer’s Notebook (HD, 11:18) – Rat training footage from Boone’s Animals for Hollywood. Features many test run-thrus for the film as well as effects test shots.

The Year of the Rat (SD, 1:13:13) – A documentary on the making of the film from the previous DVD release.

Rat People: Friends or Foes? (SD, 18:41)  – Real life rat trainers, breeders and such discuss their lives. From the previous DVD release.

Ben By Crispin Glover: Music Video with optional Commentary (SD, 3:00) 

Deleted/Alternate Scenes with Optional Commentary (SD, 25:57)

Behind-The-Scenes and Extended Interviews (SD, 29:45) – Raw behind the scenes footage and EPK interviews with Glover, Harring, Ermey, Morgan and more.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:03)

TV Spots (SD, 3:46)

Summary 

Willard is not a film for everyone, but everyone can respect the dedicated weirdness, harmonious style and devotion of its lead performer. Scream Factory has put together a quite stacked and loving package for such a niche film that makes the perfect capper on their releases of all the films in this rat infested series. The film looks pretty good and boasts a pretty awesome 5.1 track. If you are a fan or picking this up, you’re clearly getting some money’s worth out of this release.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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