Director: Daniel Mann
Stars: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Sondra Locke
Director: Phil Karlson
Stars: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connel
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
It’s another two for one review because 1971’s Willard and its 1972 sequel Ben go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and anything (in my world it sure does), and rats and cheese. Or in the case of these movies, rats and warm, bleeding flesh. They are also both now on Blu-ray from the always-awesome Scream Factory. So let’s get to it, and those suffering from murophobia (Google it) might want to stop reading here.
Willard is about a social misfit who has no friends but one day makes a whole bunch of buddies in the form a large mischief of rats (I love that term), including several really smart rodents. Everything is swell for a moment, but bullies and other baddies keep messing with young Willard, so the boy turns to his rat friends, led by the crafty Ben, to extract bloody, gnawing revenge. That’s about all there is to this film but it was a surprise hit, probably because the weird idea was treated seriously and included some real actors such as Sondra Locke, Ernest Borgnine, Elsa Lanchester, and more. So in quick order (one year later) there came the sequel…
Ben, named for the lead rat who survived the first movie. This is just more of the same: a lonely and sickly boy named Danny finds Ben and his mischief and becomes friends. Wouldn’t you know it, there are bullies and jerks here, too, that need a good gnawing. Thankfully Ben and his furry friends are more than up to the job, but then come the cops with the flamethrowers to ruin everyone’s fun. Will Danny, and more importantly Ben survive to scamper and play another day?
Let’s get to those extras on these new Blu-ray/DVD combo packs from Scream Factory. For Willard this is an interview with actor Bruce Davison, who plays the titular character, that runs 12 minutes. Mr. Davison also provides a feature-length commentary track for the film. The trailer, a TV spot, some radio spots, and a still gallery are also on here. For Ben there is a commentary track with actor Lee Montgomery who plays lonely boy Danny in the movie and he also does a nine-minute interview. Theatrical trailers, TV spots, Ben/Willard double feature TV spots, a radio spot, and a still gallery is also included. Sadly there’s no audio track or performance video of the Oscar-nominated song “Ben” by Michael Jackson. No, really, that’s a thing; look it up on YouTube if you don’t believe me.
Both Willard and Ben are fun flicks and fine additions to the “when animals attack” genre. They are more than just killer rats doing what they do, although there’s that too, but there is humanity and heart as well. If that’s your cup of tea you can get both of them now on Blu-ray and both look better than ever. Consider them recommended.