Willard (1970)

USA, 1971
95m, 8553 ft
35mm film, colour
Reviewed at The EOFFTV Review

An American horror film directed by Daniel Mann.

Plot Summary

The shy and awkward Willard is the butt of cruel jokes at work and is about to get fired from the company that his late father founded. His only solace in his friends, Ben and Socrates, a pair of rats, and the pack of wild rodents they are accumulating around themselves. When one of the rats is killed when he takes him into work one day, Willard snaps and uses the rest of the pack to get his revenge…

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Daniel Mann
© Bing Crosby Productions MCMLXX [1970]
BCP a service of Cox Broadcasting Corporation presents a Cinerama release
Executive Producer: Charles A. Pratt
Produced by: Mort Briskin
Screenplay by: Gilbert A. Ralston
Based on the Novel Ratman’s Notebooks by: Stephen Gilbert [real name: Gilbert Ralston]
Director of Photography: Robert B. Hauser
Editorial Supervision: Warren Low
Music Composed and Conducted by: Alex North
Sound Mixer: Harold Lewis
Costumes: Eric Seelig and Dorothy Barkley
Makeup: Gus Norin
Hair Stylist: Hazel Washington
Special Effects: Bud David
Photographic Effects by: Howard A. Anderson Co.
Art Director: Howard Hollander

Cast
Bruce Davison (Willard Stiles)
Sondra Locke (Joan)
Elsa Lanchester (Henrietta Stiles)
Michael Dante (Brandt)
Jody Gilbert (Charlotte Stassen)
William Hansen (Barskin)
John Myhers (Carlson)
J. Pat O’Malley (Jonathan Farley)
Joan Shawlee (Alice [Rickles])
Ernest Borgnine as [Al] Martin
Almira Sessions (Carrie Smith)
Pauline Drake (Ida Stassen)
Helen Spring (Mrs Becker)
Alan Baxter ([Walter T.] Spencer)
Sherri Presnell (Mrs Spencer)
Louise De Carlo, Minta Durfee [guests]
Robert Golden [motorcycle rider]
Bern Hoffman [truck driver]
Lola Kendrick [Mrs Martin]

Alternative Titles

Ratman’s Notebooks – working title
Råttorna – Swedish title
La revolución de las ratas – Spanish title
Rotat – Finnish title
Willard e i topi – Italian title

Sequel
Ben (1972)

Remake
Willard (2003)

Production Notes

Release
British distributors Cinerama refused to pay for a television trailer for the film when it was shown on ITV after midnight on Friday 10 September 1971. Although it was based on the theatrical trailer that had been given a U rating by the BBFC, regulators the Independent Television Companies Association decided that it could only be shown accompanying a late-night screening of Dracula’s Daughter (1936). But instead of being shown in a break during the film, it was shown after it had finished.

Press

1971
The Hollywood Reporter vol.21 no.32 (11 June 1971) pp.3-4
For most of its 95 minutes, Willard is fairly absorbing. […] Maybe a different director than Mann might have made the denouement more logical, might have let us know from the beginning that Davison was, as it were, playing with fire. But Mann makes a fundamental dramatic mistake. Up until they first destroy someone, the rats are sort of appealing. The two principal ones […] have been effectively trained by Moe Di Sesso, and the problem is that they make one forget all one’s pre-suppositions about rats – that they’re dirty, that they carry disease, that they bite. Mann does the same thing Hitchcock did with The Birds, forcing us to reconsider all our preconceived notions. But the effect is just the opposite. He makes something horrible seem domesticated and nice, and so he makes his movie a failure.” – Craig Fisher

Today’s Cinema no.9942 (24 September 1971) p.8
Rats, like spiders and snakes, arouse instinctive revulsion in most of us; and it is with considerable cunning that director Daniel Mann soothes our fears and at first wins our unwilling affection for his four-legged actors as furry friends providing companionship for the lonely hero. Only when they are firmly established in our minds as engaging (if alarmingly prolific) household pets does he use our goodwill as a springboard from which to launch the horror of the climax. The story that precedes this climax is interesting in its own right; we identify with the hapless hero, recognise his problems, and revel in the knowledge that he has five hundred secret weapons in the cellar. Consequently we share his panic when his engaging pets turn against him. What a rich vein of symbolism can be mined by those who feel so disposed! – from a review by Marjorie Bilbow

Variety 16 June 1971 p.22
Neat little horror tale […] Some good jump moments, at least two stomach-churning murders committed by the rats, and superior production values with tight direction. […] Davison supplies nicely controlled characterization as he fiddles with his rats, puts up with his mother and her friends and finally loses patience. Borginine is first rate […] Produced by Mort Briskin, film makes excellent use of L.A. location sites. Moe Di Sesso deserves special credit for training rats.” – Tone

Today’s Cinema no.9942 (24 September 1971) p.8
Daniel Mann soothes our fears and at first wins our unwilling affection for his four-legged actors as furry friends providing friendship for the lonely hero. Only when they are firmly established in our minds as engaging (if alarmingly prolific) household pets does he use our goodwill as a springboard from which to launch the horror of the climax. […] A highly-entertaining flesh-creeper that should prove very popular provided that no potential audience is left unaware of the horror content lurking behind the ambiguity of the title.” – Marjorie Bilbow

Films and Filming vol.18 no.2 (November 1971) p.52
Daniel Mann has made an unexpectedly delightful little film on the venerable theme of the lust for revenge, the futility thereof, and the classic retribution that overtakes the vengeful. […] It is a witty concept, brightly realised; and rather engagingly old-fashioned, like something from a year or two earlier than The Incredible Shrinking Man. The tension is slow-building but sure-holding. The action shocks are nimble, devoid of yesterday’s fashionable wallow in nausea: just as sharp as is needed and no more.” – Gordon Gow

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.38 no.454 (November 1971) p.228
Rats may be the one of the archetypal objects of irrational terror, as George Orwell suggested in 1984, but not the furry friends of Willard, who are so well-mannered and prettily groomed that they are more likely to elicit coos of delight than shudders of fear. […] When the horrors do come, they are very tame indeed: not one single shot to match the chilling menace of the brooding crows in The Birds or the prowling felines of Eye of the Cat. Instead, Daniel Mann settles for facile effects, like the cut-in shot of the rats tearing at a piece of raw meat when they are supposedly demolishing Ernest Borgnine, and gradually drives what might have been an unusually intriguing horror film pretty much into the ground. Bruce Davison’s performance, though, is first-rate.” – Tom Milne

1972
Cinefantastique vol.2 no.1 (Spring 1972) p.39
It is an excellent film, and one of the year’s most pleasant surprises, combining horror and comedy with such diverting variation that one is thoroughly caught up in its sinister spell. […] For the most part, Willard is a lightly bizarre black comedy, that gradually becomes more dire and tragic, and finally black in the extreme. But Mann never allows comedy or melodrama, however black, to go completely out of control. Even when Willard is shown early in the film, training his rats in all kinds of clever amusements, and talking with them just as though they were people, Mann never once goes too far, sustaining the eerie credibility in the story throughout. When the film cunningly slips into horror, even then Mann never falters, never resorting to abrupt shifts in the brisk simplicity of his style, accomplishing an emotional quality so smooth that the change never becomes too noticeable. […] Intense conviction in the film is sustained and helped along by Bruce Davison’s superb portrayal of Willard. One sees the inner torment and psychopathic nature of his character with keen precision, yet the essential compassion always comes through. […] Visually, The film is a stunning blend of slick, dark blue shading and decaying early-1900 decor. The image is always just grainy enough to sustain realistic undertones, and sharp enough to convey a sense of foreboding terror and nightmare intensity. Easily one of Mann’s best, most fulfilled achievements, Willard is also one of the finest of recent horror films. Only Wendkos’ The Mephisto Waltz has reached a pinnacle of the art form recently but, though Willard cannot be considered a masterpiece as Wendkos’ film is, Mann has fashioned a work of much wider commercial appeal and greater popular entertainment values. It will do extraordinarily well financially, and deservingly so, for it is well-crafted, always engrossing, unpretentious, and yet thought-provoking enough to start discussions. This could be the horror sleeper of I971. – from an illustrated review by Dale Winogura

All text in this section © the relevant copyright holders

References

Periodicals

  • Filmfacts vol.14 no.9 (1971) – reprinted reviews
  • Films and Filming vol.17 no.12 (September 1971) pp.10-12 – interview with Moe Di Sesso (in camera: Peanut power)
  • Films and Filming vol.18 no.2 (November 1971) p.52 – illustrated review (by Gordon Gow)
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.212 no.14 (31 July 1970) p.9 (USA) – credits
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.212 no.32 (11 June 1971) pp.3-4 – credits, review (by Craig Fisher)
  • House of Hammer vol.1 no.1 (October 1976) p.4 – note (Stop press: Late news)
  • Kine Weekly no.3336 (18 September 1971) p.8 (UK) – credits, review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.38 no.454 (November 1971) p.228 (UK) – credits, synopsis, review (by Tom Milne)
  • Today’s Cinema no.9939 (14 September 1971) p.11 – note (Willard censored for TV)
  • Today’s Cinema no.9942 (24 September 1971) p.8 – review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
  • Today’s Cinema no.9940 (17 September 1971) p.15 – note (Trade shows)
  • Variety 16 June 1971 p.22 (USA) – credits, review (by Tone)

Books

  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror by Phil Hardy (ed.) pp.245-246
  • Film Review 1972-73 by F. Maurice Speed (ed) p.236
  • Reference Guide to Fantastic Films by Walt Lee p.542 – credits
  • Unsung Horrors by Eric McNaughton & Darrell Buxton (eds) pp.120-121 – illustrated review (by Thana Niveau)