***** (out of 5)
March 14, 2003
Crispin Glover as WILLARD STILES
R. Lee Ermey as FRANK MARTIN
Laura Harring as CATHERINE
Jackie Burroughs as HENRIETTA STILES
Directed by: Glen Morgan
BY KEVIN CARR
Okay, I know I’m going out on a limb with the five star rating for a horror flick released in the low tide of spring movies. And if you think that rating above is a bit outrageous, here’s another bombshell: I think Crispin Glover should be nominated for an Oscar for his work in “Willard.”
Do I have your attention yet?
First, let’s deal with the film itself. “Willard” is not “The Hours.” It’s not “Gangs of New York.” It sure as heck ain’t “The Lord of the Rings,” and it isn’t even an off-center hit like “Adaptation.” “Willard” is just a horror movie, the kind you usually see sneaked under the October banner of releases. However, the real power in “Willard” is its simplicity.
“Willard” doesn’t try to be great art (although if you really think about it, there are plenty of themes borrowed from “Hamlet,” “The Birds” and “Frankenstein” to name a few). “Willard” just is.
Now, on to all this nonsense about Crispin Glover giving an Oscar-worthy performance. Doesn’t he just play the same old creepy guy we saw in “Charlie’s Angels”? Sure, and so what? What’s wrong with getting honored for playing a stock character? Jack Nicholson did it in “As Good As It Gets.” Julia Roberts did it in “Erin Brockovich.” Even John Wayne won an Oscar for playing John Wayne in “True Grit.” Why the heck can’t Crispin Glover do it? It’s better than nominating Meryl Streep again for her latest who-gives-a-hoot performance in films like “Adaptation.”
Glover seems to have been born to play Willard just as Sean Connery was born to play James Bond and James Earl Jones was born to do the voice of Darth Vader. Sadly, the 1971 original will never be the same after seeing Gover’s incarnation. He brings an intensity to the character of Willard that is a consistent burn throughout the film. His range and depth of emotion is staggering as he is reduced to tears over a dead rat and releases 30 years of pent-up emotion at a funeral home in a screaming fit that is unlike any you’ve ever seen. It is even more powerful to realize that much of the time, he isn’t even acting to a rat (as the crew most likely shot Glover’s coverage without paying the extra cash to wrangle the four-footed talent).
Willard Stiles is what Norman Bates would have been if he hadn’t spiked his mother’s tea with strychnine. He is a thirtysomething loser who never had a friend in his life. He spends his life taking care of his invalid mother and working in a dead-end job at a company his father used to own. While trying to rid his basement of a rat infestation, Willard discovers that he has a strange kinship with them. Soon, he becomes their leader, like a pied piper of filth, ordering them to slash his boss’s tires and do other dastardly things.
In short, if you hate rats, you’ll love “Willard.” I personally don’t have musophobia (the fear of rats). To tell the truth, I think they’re rather cute. My personal fear is cockroaches, and I imagine that “Willard” will do to your average musophobes what the “They’re Creeping Up On You” installment of “Creepshow” did to me. And this is a good bet for New Line Cinema because according to Discovery Health, there are more people who fear rats than those who fear God, the IRS and public speaking.
There are some fun familiar faces in the supporting cast of “Willard,” although their performances are just so-so. These include Laura Elena Harring (the brunette that out-sexed Naomi Watts in “Mulholland Drive”) and Kim McKamy (better known as adult superstar Ashlyn Gere, whom you may not recognize with her clothes on). R. Lee Ermey gives a canned performance as Mr. Martin, reincarnating Gunnery Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket.”
There is a sense through the film that certain subplots regarding Willard’s father were left on the cutting room floor. Part of this suspicion comes from the curious casting of Bruce Davison as the image of Willard’s father (although a 30-year-younger and almost unrecognizable Davison did play Willard in the original film). We see his portrait hung in the house, and you can’t help but thinking, “What’s Senator Kelly from ‘X-Men’ doing in this movie?” However, we never see him in a flashback (which is good, actually, because a flashback would have killed the pacing of the film – and is probably the reason that this subplot was removed). I imagine the “Willard” DVD will be full of extras, including these deleted scenes.
Of course, one of the highlights of the film is the main song “Ben,” sung by Crispin Glover himself. The video is a creepy riot, too, so check it out on the web at the official site: www.willardmovie.com.