Animal-rampage movies were all the rage in the 1970s, with Jaws elevating the genre from niche horror to blockbuster status. But years before the shark it was all about the rats, in 1971's Willard and 1972's Ben. Now, at long last, this pair of skin-crawling classics is finally coming to Blu-ray.
Contemporary audience are probably familiar with Willard thanks to the 2003 Crispin Glover remake, but the original is a wonderfully creepy tale worthy of its own recognition. It stars Bruce Davison (add several decades and you’ll recognize him as Senator Robert Kelly in X-Men and X2) as the misfit who wriggles out from under the crushing thumbs of his mother (Elsa Lanchester) and his boss (Ernest Borgnine) with help from his rodent army. It doesn’t turn out so well for young Willard, but the giant rat leader, Ben, got his own sequel, in which he has a somewhat kinder personality, befriends a new lonely kid (played by Lee Montgomery), and gets his own Oscar-nominated theme song performed by a tweenage Michael Jackson.
Both Willard and Ben hit Blu-ray—Willard gets a 4k scan taken from the film’s original negative; Ben gets an HD transfer from the best available archival print—on May 16 courtesy of Shout Factory. Special features include brand-new commentary by Davison on Willard, and Montgomery on Ben. Unfortunately, the discs are being sold separately, which means an opportunity to package the pair in a suitcase filled with plastic rats has been sadly missed here.