The biggest mistake made in 2003’s Willard was not in remaking a mediocre movie that’s mostly remembered for the sequel’s use of a Michael Jackson love song for a rat, but because they went with a PG-13. The tone is R rated, the violence seems overly toned down (and indeed was), the language is awkwardly edited. In the final version of the movie, there’s a scene where Crispin Glover has a ridiculously over the top reaction to R. Lee Ermey (who plays the villain, his boss) where Glover continuously throws himself against a door because he’s so upset. In the original version of the scene, in the special features of the DVD, you can hear the more profane and offensive language Ermey uses, and it makes the scene make more sense. This scene brings up other issues, such as they never picked a tone, whether it’s supposed to be scary or the top campy, or both, and it ends up as none of the above.
There really was too much listening to test audiences who insisted that a) they didn’t like the down ending (which is in the deleted scenes on the DVD and works much better than the pseudo-creepy one they went with) and b) the movie was too slow, and they should cut out certain scenes. The most important scene they omitted was one between Glover and Laura Elena Haring, who as the movie stands, has absolutely no character to play, and you wonder why she keeps showing up at Willard’s house, but in the cut scene, she and Willard talk about why she works in that office and what her life is like, as well as her intentions with him (platonic).
The first 15 minutes of Willard are superb, stylish and odd, and has a great house as the centerpiece. I kept hoping that it would turn into an even more adult version of Mouse Hunt, which also had a great gothic house and rodents and a wonderfully odd actor in the cast (Christopher Walken). And for a while, it has a Tim Burton in his prime feel (especially with Willard’s mother), but some of the effects are shoddy (a key one where the rats are about to attack their foe is poorly put together in layers), and the movie just sort of sputters out in obvious directions in the third act.
Crispin Glover is amazingly cast, he just plays himself, and there’s a hilarious scene where he’s training the rats (he’s the only person in the world with whom I didn’t require a transitional scene of him learning to accept the rats over a longer period of time) to learn to rip paper and then tires apart, and Glover keeps enthusiastically exclaiming “Tear it!!!” over and over, until it sounds like he’s saying the word carrot but with a T at the beginning. There were a lot of things I enjoyed in the movie, but I can’t say I found the whole thing satisfying.