Horror has always had a history of movies about animals gone wild. And rats have always been a big part of horror. But two films in particular have become iconic cult classics when it comes to animal horror, 1971’s Willard and its sequel, 1972’s Ben. And strangely for horror films, it may actually be remembered best for the Michael Jackson song ‘Ben’ which actually won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar! Both films have recently debuted on Blu-ray from the folks at Shout! Factory and for fans, these are long overdue.
Willard is the story of Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison), a young man living a lonely existence in an old house with his ailing mother. Depressed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Willard finds a new friend, Ben, one of the many rats inhabiting his dilapidated home. But not only does Willard find he can communicate with Ben but he can command the rat to do his bidding. So, using Ben and a rodent army, Willard takes control of his life and seeks vengeance on any who have wronged him.
Ben picks up shortly after the first film as Detective Sergeant Cliff Kirtland (Joseph Campanella) investigates the murder of Willard Stiles. A local boy, Danny (Lee Montgomery), discovers Ben and his army of rats and befriends them, not knowing the horrifying things they are capable of. But with the police closing in and figuring out what the rats are responsible for, it becomes a rat uprising that few may survive.
Of the two films, Willard is the superior one, but that does not mean there isn’t plenty to like in Ben as well. The driving force in Willard is Bruce Davison, who is just captivating as the lonely man who is stepped on by everyone in his life and finds the confidence he needs to take control in his friendship with Ben. Davison is relatable and sympathetic, which is not easy to pull off in a rat based horror movie. All the rat wrangling in both films is well done and convincing and especially in the first film, very effective. These are fun romp thrillers well worth revisiting, especially with the beautiful new HD transfers making them probably look better than they did upon original release. There is also a host of new special features for both films that is sure to keep fans happy including new commentaries and interviews with both stars Bruce Davison and Lee Montgomery. Great throwback fun!