May 6, 2009
Here's a bizarre one: A classic 1970s horror film, released on VHS once but not DVD, manages to get remade in 2003. The remake is a big production from New Line and you'd expect the original to hit stores with it. Yet no one bothers to put out the original movie on DVD. 1971's "Willard" remains unavailable, while its 2003 redux with Crispin Glover in the title role is of course widely available everywhere.
Not sure. But in the world of horror movie remakes, the remake of "Willard" truly is a remake because it follows the original film so closely.
It is not a "reimagining" but really a full-on remake, with Glover taking over the role of Willard originally played by Bruce Davison (later of the first two "X Men" films), R. Lee Ermey in the nasty boss role originally played by Ernest Borgnine and uber hottie Laura Harring as the secretary/kinda love-interest originally played by Sondra Locke. 1971's "Willard" was among Locke's first film roles, in fact. The original movie was written by Stephen Gilbert, who also wrote the book upon which it was based, "Ratman's Notebooks."
Its premise of a madman befriending scary animals was remarkably original at the time. Critics liked it and "Willard" did pretty good box office. Like all hits, it was often imitated afterward, never duplicated. The most notable rip off make be the decent killer snake movie "Stanley," which even had a similar title. "Willard" also spawned a sequel, "Ben." ("Ben", it should be noted, featured a Michael Jackson song, later covered by Crispin Glover for the remake of "Willard".)
In the original, as in the remake, weird misfit Willard has a terrible job with a domineering boss and lives with his mother. Trapped in his own world, he begins befriending and controlling rats that fester in his building. When financial problems and the death of his mother overwhelm him, he uses his power over the rats to get bloody revenge on his boss. Eventually he self destructs when the rats, led by the nastiest of the bunch (Ben the rat), turn on him.
Seventies movies about scary animals were plentiful after the success of "Willard". While the 2003 remake is actually one of the better examples of a good horror remake, the original truly is a classic and it's a crime that it has never been resurrected for DVD. No release has been announced and none is in sight. This film is likely only going to be remembered by those that have actually been lucky enough to see it -- an unjustly forgotten horror movie.
Talk about this story on ESplatter's Message Board
Gotta scoop? Drop a line to Lucius Gore, editor