[box cover]

Willard: Platinum Series

Perpetrated by "X-Files" alumni James Wong and Glen Morgan, this remake of the 1971 Bruce Davison/Ernest Borgnine B-thriller is a dark, sassy, caustic kick in the pants. Confidently creepy in the role he was born to play, Crispin Glover is the titular character, a Norman Bates-like mama's boy with a penchant for dressing like an undertaker. Beaten down by his loud, hostile, mean boss, Frank Martin (the incomparable R. Lee Ermey, best known as the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket), Willard cringes his way through his days working at a company once owned by his deceased father. At home, he cares for his grasping, bedridden mother (Jackie Burroughs, brilliantly horrible here). He's so desperately lonely that he befriends a white rat named Socrates, obsessing on his pet and teaching the rodent a few simple commands — and then happily using Socrates as his liaison to command the other rats in his family's macabre Gothic manse, who quickly grow in number to a teeming, filthy mob. Complications come on several fronts — most notably through Willard's doomed relationship with his beautiful co-worker Catherine (Laura Elena Harring) and the appearance of the mammoth bruiser Big Ben, who's jealous of Socrates' special treatment and unwilling to play second fiddle in Willard's affections. Director Morgan has a lot of sick fun with Willard, shamelessly stealing from Hitchcock, David Lynch, and Tim Burton — even to the point of composer Shirley Walker's score, an homage to/theft of Danny Elfman's scores for Burton's films — while sticking to the palatable level of carnage that he mastered working on "The X-Files" and "Millennium." Willard, despite it's hundreds of rats and delicious bad taste, is more of a dark comedy than a horror film — it's never actually scary, but often hilariously funny. And, of course, there's Glover's amazing, over-the-top performance as Willard. Sweating, ranting, seething, crying … it may be the best work of his career, and his weirdness is compelling. New Line Home Video went all out for this smaller release (the film only earned about $4 million at the box office) with a Platinum Series disc — it features a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with pan-and-scan (1.33:1) on the disc's second side. This a dark, moody film, but every deep black shadow and dark-brown scurrying ratty comes through with crisp detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio showcases Walker's Elfman-esque score and all the squeaks and squeals in an excellent mix. Supplements include a commentary track with Glover, Ermey, director Morgan, and producer Wong — the project was obviously a labor of love for Wong and Glover, who do most of the talking, with Morgan acknowledging how much he borrowed from other directors (especially Tim Burton). There's also the exhaustive "making-of" featurette "Year of the Rat" by production assistant Julie Ng (73 min.), which details everything from pre-production to casting (shockingly, Glover wasn't the producers first choice) to the wrangling of over 500 live rats for the film; an documentary entitled "Rat People: Friends or Foes?" (18 min.) about people who really love rats and people who really hate rats; 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary, including the film's original (and possibly better) ending; plus trailers and TV spots, and the music video for Glover's cover of Michael Jackson's "Ben," with optional commentary by singer/director Glover. DVD-ROM content includes the screenplay and a trivia game. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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