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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Willard (1971) / Ben (1972)
Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set


Starring: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Lee Montgomery and Joseph Campanella
Distributor: Second Sight
RRP: £34.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 30 October 2017

Willard is a quiet and unassuming man in his early thirties who lives with his frail mother and her overbearing friend. His deceased father’s company has been taken over by an uncaring and pretty ruthless slave-driver called Martin, who runs Willard ragged, demanding long days and even weekends. With what spare time he has he finds solace in the garden where he befriends a solitary rat he names Ben. Soon the rat’s family and indeed entire colony make an appearance, and Willard begins to realise how he might exact his revenge on Martin and those who want to take his home from him. Willard only wants a normal life with the office temp Joan, but Ben doesn’t take kindly to being double-crossed...

I have seen the film Ben before, but I don’t remember having viewed its predecessor Willard. This one (based on Ratman’s Notebooks, by Stephen Gilbert) is by far the superior of the two. Bruce Davison, who was known in the film industry after this as the ‘Weird Rat Boy’, very competently draws the viewer in with his sympathetic but determined Willard. Sondra Locke is the not-quite love interest, and Ernest Borgnine is delightfully hateful as Martin. Cleaned-up with a new 4K scan and displayed on Blu-ray this film looks remarkably good. It doesn’t seem that dated even though it hails from 1971.

Extras for include a commentary by Bruce Davison, an interview with Bruce Davison, a trailer and stills gallery.



Ben, the sequel to Willard, was rushed out the following year riding the success of the first, and is very much the weaker film for it. Most people will know of or have heard the popular song attached to this movie, sung by Michael Jackson; but few will realise it is a love song from a boy to a rat. Lee Montgomery plays Danny, a young boy with a heart condition who befriends a rat called Ben, and protects it from the police and city officials who are searching for the colony after the death at the Willard Stiles house. Rather than keep a low profile the rats continually appear from below ground to wreak havoc in their search for food, leading to a reckoning that even Danny can do nothing about...

Aside from the relationship between the boy (who is brilliant) and his sister, everything else seems to be built on set pieces, such as the wrecked food market and the implied cheese shop. It’s certainly not a bad film but, compared with Willard, it falls far by the wayside. There is an HD transfer and restoration, but it still looks pretty grainy and somewhat dark in some scenes. Every time there is an incident in this pic the local rubberneckers stand completely statuesque and staring. It reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s short story The Crowd.

Extras include a commentary by Bruce Davison, an interview with Bruce Davison, a trailer and stills gallery. For Ben we have a commentary by Lee Montgomery, an interview with Lee Montgomery, trailer for this film and another promoting this double feature, and a stills gallery. There is also exclusive new cover artwork by Graham Humphreys.



I think Willard deserves a 9 and Ben a 7, so I’m going down the middle on this one.


Ty Power

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