The pathologically shy Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) lives a life from Hell. His mother isa domineering invalid. (Played by Jackie Burroughs as the most horrific mother since AnneRamsey in Throw Mama from the Train, she resembles nothing so much as NormanBates’ stuffed mother come to life.) His boss (R. Lee Ermey) is an abusive bully. But thenWillard befriends the white rat Socrates, and things begin to look up. Socrates brings more andmore friends into the …asement, including the gigantic Ben, and soon Willard is at the commandof a giant army of rats. Even as the chance for vengeance looms, however, so do other, darkerdangers, as Willard and Ben become rivals for power.
The original film was played straight, and while not without its pleasures, is also rather slow.The remake is cheerfully grotesque, revelling in its own skewed darkness, and Glover’s unholy,torqued presence dominates every frame. Writer/director Glen Morgan’s inspired black humourextends to lifting the Michael Jackson song “Ben” from the original Willard’sspectacularly awful sequel (a mind-blasting collision between killer rat horror film and theWonderful World of Disney), and using it in an appropriately macabre context. Though the test-audience-imposed ending hurts a bit, it isn’t enough to ruin the bloody fun of what is likely tostand as the definitive rat movie.
The sound of this film was a creepy delight in the theatres, and the same is true on disc.Setting aside clarity (which is beyond reproach), the big highlight is the scampering of the rats.This unnerving sound scuttles from one corner of the viewing area to the other, submerging theviewer in an ocean of rats. Great stuff. The placement of the sound effects is close to perfect, andthe left-right separation is consistently impressive as well.
Two aspect ratios are present here: fullscreen and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Thecolours are a rich, gothic hue of browns, blacks, and reds, and the contrasts are strong. The filmnever descends into murkiness (which could easily have happened). There picture is sharp, thereis no grain, and no visible edge enhancement. A most handsome transfer.
Glen Morgan, Ermey, Glover and producer James Wong do a round-table commentary, andthe result is both interesting and fun. The wealth of 9/11 references in the film (pointed out byMorgan) raises some interesting allegorical interpretations, and the mixed feelings thefilmmakers have about the revised ending is abundantly clear. More commentary is availableon the 12 deleted/alternate scenes (including two other versions of the ending). Glover does theoptional commentary solo on the bizarre video for “Ben” (which he directed). His commentaryis almost as strange, delivered as it is in a breathless rush. “Year of the Rat” is a 75-minutedocumentary/video diary on the making of the film (and is a much more personal effort than thesoulless promotional efforts one encounters so often), while “Rat People: Friends and Foes” isan eccentric look at, among others, people who keep rats (many, many rats) as pets. This last isnarrated by Bruce Davison, the original Willard. The theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots and DVD-ROM features round out the disc. The menu is fully animated and scored, and is very much inkeeping with the creepy black humour of the film.
If rats bother you, should probably stay well clear of this dark, cackling little gem. But if yoursense of humour is at all twisted, and you have a liking for marvellously eccentric characterturns, then you’re in for a blast.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes with Optional Commentary
- “Ben” Video with Optional Crispin Glover Commentary
- “Year of the Rat” Feature Documentary
- “Rat People: Friends and Foes” Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- DVD-ROM Features