Small town living had its benefits but one of them wasn’t seeing movies. In the seventies, before the local mall came in, there were scattered movie theaters about. You could sometimes see reruns on television, if you were free and awake when they were aired. VCRs weren’t widespread and DVDs and streaming were decades away. One horror film I very much wanted to see was Willard. Released in 1971, it did quite well at the box office. I was only 9 at the time so I never saw it and by the time I became aware of it theaters had long lost interest. Kids were still talking about it years later, probably from television showings. When my second resurgence of interest in horror came around, it was still difficult to find. The DVD wasn’t available and it took some time for it to appear on a streaming service to which I subscribe.
I have to wonder how we got through the seventies, but I finally had a chance to stream it. The story, since there was a new millennium remake, is probably familiar. A young man (the eponymous Willard) who doesn’t fit in eventually befriends some rats in the run-down property of his once opulent home. He teaches them to understand him and eventually has a virtual army of rodents. He’s a good lad, however, and only uses the rats to redress social inequities. His boss, a real old school bad guy, stole the steel mill from his father and is trying to drive Willard out. You can see the boss’s fate coming from afar. It’s not much of a horror film by present-day standards, but it does have its moments. It would likely have more impact had I seen it fifty years ago.
The theme song from the sequel, “Ben” (also the title of the next movie), performed by Michael Jackson, rose to number 1 on the charts. Those of us in the seventies knew it was a song about a rat. Well, at least some of us knew. Horror, despite its detractors, often influences mainstream culture. Indeed, Willard seems to have had some lasting knock-on effects, including the remake just into the new millennium. Movies from the seventies, although some are excellent, often bear the brunt of the malaise of that period. Did we ever think big, boxy cars were attractive? Were men really such chauvinistic pigs? Still, the story is a good one. I wasn’t really interested in the 2007 reboot, but having seen the original I’m now curious. It is, at least, fairly easy to find.
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