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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Willard (Blu-ray)
Willard (Blu-ray)
Other // PG-13 // February 26, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted March 15, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Despite all of its shortcomings, Willard has two major advantages going for it: One, it has a killer premise that melds elements from moody, psychological horror and gothic creature feature. Two, it finally recognizes Crispin Glover as a leading man for the genre. Let's dive into the first one. Writer/Director Glen Morgan, with some clout from writing the first Final Destination (Unintentional oxymoron) and multiple X-Files episodes, was able to put together an unconventional horror tragedy that could both be emotionally relatable and stylistically, for lack of a better word, embellished. In order to pull off this tonal tightrope act, he needed a lead who could carry the moral duality of old Universal monsters. Boris Karloff could come across as menacing and scary, but he could also convey the downtrodden and outcast part of humanity.

Crispin Glover is a perfect pick for the lead in that sense. One of the biggest downsides of Willard's box-office failure in 2003 is that it probably kept Glover from possible similar roles in slightly more prestigious than usual horror fare. After some attempts at placing him as nerdy but affable characters in the '80s, his ‘90s and early ‘00s work as a character actor consisted primarily of playing weirdos and creepy bad guys. Yet the short length of those parts didn't allow Glover to reach some depth with the characters. Willard gives him that chance, and he runs with it, creating the Karloff effect where he comes across as both sympathetic and scary.

Glover is the title character, a meek outcast who's constantly bullied by his boss (R. Lee Ermey) and lives a lonely life. This loneliness results in him befriending rats. The relationship starts off as an unorthodox form of extreme pet ownership, but turns into something sinister when Willard realizes he can command his rat army to do his bidding, leading to an especially furry revenge fantasy. When it was released, Willard was criticized for not being all that terrifying for horror. My defense there would be to consider it more as a gothic drama with some horror elements, than the other way around.

Just like the ‘70s TV movie that inspired it, Willard struggles with delivering a satisfying third act that finds solid closure to its great premise. Morgan writes himself into a corner by giving Willard all his wishes, but also realizing that his wicked deeds need to be punished. Hence we get a finale that's full of uncharacteristic decisions just so they can lead to some easy mayhem.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The new 2K scan of Willard looks incredible. A quick comparison with the previous DVD release shows much starker contrast and great clarity. This is a film that bathes in black that lurks behind colorful imagery that pops. This 1080p transfer is essential to bring the film's gothic vision to home video.

Audio:

If sounds of rodents walking around creeps you out, don't watch Willard's DTS-HD 5.1 track on a surround system. The film's vibrant and lively mix takes full advantage of all channels to bring together an immersive experience. The mix between sound effects and the dialogue is terrific, and the score really comes to life.

Extras:

The Road to Willard: A whopping 80-minute interview with Morgan where he dishes on the many compromises and frustrations that went with the production. He's refreshingly candid and honest here.

Destination Willard: An in-depth interview with the cinematographer.

Rat Trainer's Notebook: If, for some reason, you were curious about how the rats were trained, here you go.

The Year of the Rat: This feature-length making-of documentary was also on the DVD, and I highly recommend it to film students, since it doesn't shy away from showing how exhaustive and complex filmmaking really is.

Rat People: An educational video on the history of rats.

Ben: A Lynchian music video for Crispin Glover's cover of the Michael Jackson classic. Glover also directed the video and offers optional commentary.

Deleted Scenes: 25 minutes of deleted material that shows how epic Willard was supposed to be.

Commentaries: We get 3 commentaries. One with Morgan and DP Robert McLachlan. One with the rat trainers. And one with Morgan, producer James Wong, Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey. I'd pick the one with the director and the DP and definitely skip the rat trainer one. Unless, again, you're really into finding out about that stuff.

We also get TV Spots and a Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Regardless of its narrative issues, especially during the third act, Willard is a unique specimen within the genre and should still be relevant. If only for its powerhouse lead performance.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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