By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: He likes his rats.
Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) is a young man still living at home with his domineering mother (Elsa Lanchester) and dealing with a demanding boss (Ernest Borgnine) at work. To escape his loneliness and frustration he befriends some rats that he finds in his backyard and starts training them to do his bidding. Soon he is getting revenge on all those who have wronged him by having his rats attack them, but ultimately the rats have an agenda of their own.
The film starts out poorly and doesn’t improve as it goes along. The main character seems too old for this type of thing and would be better suited for a bullied teen looking for revenge instead of a 27-year-old that’s still strangely living at home even though he has a job and could be out on his own. The idea that he would become so obsessed with rats after seeing one in his backyard and then be able to somehow ‘communicate’ with them and train them is highly farfetched and happens much too quickly.
The rats themselves aren’t very scary and in fact—I can’t believe I’m saying this either—they really kind of seemed cute most of the time and when Willard initially tries drowning them in a pool I was starting to feel sorry for them as I did when the Borgnine character kills one in the office. When Willard has them invade a party with snooty guests I found it to be quite funny and not ‘horrifying’ at all. The only thing I didn’t like about them was their incessant high-pitched screeching, which eventually becomes irritating.
Daniel Mann’s sterile direction lacks atmosphere or style and the film has a very cheap and dated look even for 1971. Alex North’s musical score is much too soft, melodic and playful for a horror film and at times seemed better suited for a Disney movie.
Davison with his blonde, blue-eyed all-American looks doesn’t have the right menacing quality for the part and Crispin Glover who played the role in the 2003 remake is a much better choice. Lanchester is fun as the overbearing mother as is Jody Gilbert as a meddlesome aunt who looks much more frightening than any of the rats. Borgnine adds some spunk and I loved the way his eyes grow big and round when he sees the rats invading his office and the part where he gets attacked by them is the best moment in the film.
Why this movie became the big hit that it did is a mystery to me. Only at the very end when we see hundreds of rats running across the floor does it ever get even slightly creepy, but overall it is lame and boring and a good candidate for Bad Movie honors.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: June 18, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Daniel Mann
Studio: Cinema Releasing Corporation