Hallowe'en and Horror

Danse Macabre Hallowe’en: Willard (1971)

In Stephen King’s book Danse Macabre, he talks about horror in books and movies and why we are so drawn to these themes and stories. It’s a great book by a master of the genre. He talks about many movies in the course of the book and there’s a big appendix at the back with some recomended viewing. This Hallowe’en I picked some movies from this list to watch and share with you.

Starring: Bruce Davison, Sondra Locke, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine

Director: Daniel Mann

Willard (Davison) is a quiet young man who lives with his invalid and overbearing mother (Lanchester), while working at a business that his deceased father built but was pushed out of by a grasping man (Borgnine). Willard has no one on his side until he makes friends with some rats that his mother wants him to kill. The leader of the rats is Ben, the best friend he ever had, and who helps him take a terrible revenge on those who have oppressed him. But Ben also has his own ideas.

This film is a classic dark comedy style horror and I really enjoyed it. Davison is so good as Willard, and sometimes I really liked watching him learn some confidence and grow as a character, and sometimes I was pretty happy to see him get revenge too. Willard is kind of relatable at times, and sometimes he’s pretty callous or a bit of a creep, too. By the end, he’s bitten off more than he can chew and over reached with dark consequences. He’s not as in control as he thinks. I like that the whole thing is kind of silly: a young man training killer rats. It’s not trying to be something it’s not.

The supporting cast are really great. I loved Sondra Locke’s beautiful wide eyes and support of Willard, and she’s a welcome kind spirit in a world where most people are delightfully dastardly. Ernest Bornine and Elsa Lanchester and the actors who play her cronies are so good at being terrible. I liked the idea that while people are telling Willard that he needs to be a stronger person or more assertive, they really don’t want him to become someone that they can’t push around.

This film has a more recent 2003 remake with Crispin Glover that you might have seen or want to check out. It’s also got a sequel called Ben which came out in 1972 with a famous theme song, sung by a young Michael Jackson. It’s also nice to know that the rat Ben won a PATSY award for his performance in this film.

Scale of Scary: 5/10 I think if you have a fear of rats, this is scary, but because it’s older and it’s not a tense film or one with a high body count, it’s more dark comedy than horror.


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