Warner Bros. Pictures.
“Willard” (1971) and its sequel, “Ben” (1972), were another pair of 1970’s movies that got plenty of airtime on 1980’s television. I read both books when I was a kid too.
First I picked up Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks at a yard sale, because that’s how you found cool horror books during summer vacations when you were too young to drive. (Sometimes adults had few compunctions about what they sold to minors too. I bought a vampire book in gradeschool that was full of nude photos, for some reason, and that led to what I’m sure was an interesting conversation between my parents and the neighbor-proprietor down the street.)
Anyway, I absolutely loved Ratman’s Notebooks (despite its lamentable absence of nude photos) and I finished it in a day or two. The novelization of the “Ben” film by Gilbert A. Ralston was somewhat less impressive, but I still enjoyed it.
If you’re a comics fan, like I am, then it might occur you that “Willard” and his army of trained rats seem to inspire a villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery — Ratcatcher. Ratcatcher has been a minor league villain since he debuted in DC Comics in 1988, but he’s a pretty neat bad guy when placed in the hands of the right writer.
I feel certain that anyone will recognize Ernest Borgnine in the first trailer below– his face and voice are impossible to confuse with those of another man. If the disaffected, spooky, eponymous Willard looks familiar to you, that’s none other than a young Bruce Davison. He’s a good actor who’s been in a lot of films, but I think a plurality of my friends will know him as Senator Kelly from the first two “X-Men” movies (2000, 2003).
You’ll note the presence of flamethrowers in the trailer for “Ben.” Flamethrowers were a staple of 70’s and 80’s horror films; it was just part of the zeitgeist. They were handy for heroes fighting any nigh-unstoppable nonhuman baddie — think of “The Swarm” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), “C.H.U.D.” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “The Blob” (1988), for example. Hell, 1980’s “The Exterminator” featured a vigilante using a flamethrower to kill criminals. It was a weird time.
Warner Bros. Pictures.
Because I can’t sleep, and you’ve been dying to know. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) “Memento” (2000)
2) “Fight Club” (1999)
3) “American Psycho” (2000)
4) “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
5) “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
6) “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
7) “Natural Born Killers” (1994)
8) Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi” (alternately titled “Zombi 2,” 1979)
9) “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
10) “The Big Chill” (1983)
And … worst of all … I’m kinda on the fence about the first two “The Evil Dead” films (1981, 1987), Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” (1978). I am hanging my head in shame here over those last two. I know Kubrick’s film is considered a masterpiece. I saw it twice when I was a college student (once in a psychology class!), soooo … maybe I just wasn’t mature enough to grasp it? Mea culpa, people.
I left “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Ben Hur” (1959) off the list, because I haven’t seen them in their entirety. I was nonplussed enough to turn those off after 40 minutes or so, but I’m weird about never saying I dislike a movie unless I watch the whole thing. You can add 1979’s “Phantasm” to this category too.
I know, I know … there’s nothing wrong with any of these films (except “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” of course, which is terrible). There are just basic ingredients in them that I somehow fail to appreciate.
Now one of you needs to e-mail me a cure for insomnia.
Warner Bros. Pictures.
Remember last week I was elated after seeing a beaver? That kinda didn’t happen. Turns out that the subject of my ecstatic interest was actually the unceremonious nutria (myocastor coypus), or, as I like to call him, the giant wannabe-beaver-rat.
I spotted the (apparently solitary) bugger again yesterday, and I was confused when I finally got a look at his rounded tail. Was it a huge rat? I followed him down the creek, because I am nothing if not a strange man with a lot of time on my hands. He appeared to submerge, swim underwater through an underground pipe for about three minutes, and then emerge casually on the other side of the road where the creek terminates in a sump.
I should have known it was a nutria before I looked him up. Believe it or not, I actually have heard of them before. A horror movie nerd like me remembers the species was supposedly used to portray giant rats for either “Willard” (2003) or its 1971 original. (I do forget which.)
They’re bad guys, too — at least from an environmental perspective. They’re an invasive, rapidly reproducing, semi-aquatic species that destroy wetlands and compete with the native muskrat. They themselves are not native; they were brought to the United States and Europe from South America by fur ranchers.
Anyway … if you’re able to catch 2003’s “Willard,” I highly recommend it. It starts Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey, and was penned by “X Files” greats Glen Morgan and James Wong. For the full spooky experience, first read Stephen Gilbert’s excellent 1969 novel, “Ratman’s Notebooks,” which served as the basis for both films.
Photo credit: By Philippe Amelant – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2027013.