on March 14, 2003 by Paul Clinton
“Willard,” a high-gloss remake of a creepy cult favorite released in 1971, pits introverted weirdo Willard Stiles (a mostly subdued Crispin Glover) against tyrannical boss Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey).

Ermey's Martin, decked out in gaudy jewelry and cheap suits, berates Willard until the Bartleby-esque file clerk turns to his little friends: a pack of rodents he nurtures in the basement of his decaying house.

Glover, photographed by director Glen Morgan in a series of extreme close-ups that emphasize the actor's angular, bony face, is a sympathetic Willard; his panicked grief gives the movie a kick. Watching the actor caress his favorite white rat, which he names Socrates, should be enough creepy fun for one movie.

But “Willard” also has a rapid-fire, Ermey performance that nearly burns up the screen. The actor, a former drill sergeant, barks abuse at Glover's Willard, deriding him as a “puke” in one ripe moment, and delivers the coup de grace that brings on the climax.

The movie's old-dark-house setting, complete with a walking-corpse-mother that Willard must nurse, provides a wonderfully seedy setting for much of the action in an admittedly narrow plot.

In many ways, “Willard” follows “Psycho,” with its Oedipal strangeness, moody introverted hero (fascinated with stuffed birds/rats) and descent into madness. Yet Hitchcock's thriller was never this fun.

Glen Morgan's heightened direction gives the movie a “City of Lost Children” feel; Morgan even uses the same color palette of musty browns and coffee-stain yellows.

Morgan's script closely follows Gilbert Ralston's script from the 1971 version, which spawned the sequel “Ben,” released a year later. Glover, in his cheerfully weird style, sings Michael Jackson's title song from that movie behind the end credits. Starring Crispin Glover, R Lee Ermey and Laura Elena Harring. Directed and written by Glen Morgan. Produced by James Wong and Morgan. A New Line release. Horror. Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, some sexual content and language. Running time: 100 min

Tags: Crispin Glover, Laura Elena Harring, Glen Morgan, James Wong, grief, R. Lee Ermey, animals, remake, rats, horror, murder

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