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Promotional poster for Willard
Directed by Daniel Mann
Produced by Charles A. Pratt,
Mort Briskin,
Bing Crosby
Written by Gilbert Ralston
Starring Bruce Davison,
Elsa Lanchester,
Ernest Borgnine
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Robert B. Hauser
Editing by Warren Low
Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation (USA, theatrical, 1971)
Release date(s) 18 June 1971 (USA)
Running time 95 min
Country United States USA
Language English
Followed by Ben

Willard is a1971 horror film starring Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine, directed by Daniel Mann. The movie is based on the novel Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best picture. The supporting cast included one of Elsa Lanchester's last performances, and one of Sondra Locke's first.



Willard is a meek social misfit with a strange affinity for rats. He lives in a large mansion, accompanied only by his cranky and decrepit mother. On his 27th birthday he leaves the party out of embarrassment. While sitting outside he sees a rat and tosses it pieces of birthday cake. His mother gets upset with him for leaving the party and she scolds him later while also discussing how badly the house is falling apart. The next morning he goes out and feeds another rat (this one has babies with it) while imitating their squeaks. His mother starts telling him that he needs to kill the rats that have been running around their yard, to which Willard refuses saying that he would never kill them all.

He goes to work and is promptly scolded by Mr. Martin. Later he returns home and traps the rat family in the center rock in the pond by using a wooden plank and food, before turning on the water, taking the plank away, and letting it fill up until the water level reaches the rats (which are on top of a tall rock in the center); by then he feels guilty and puts the plank back before turning off the water. When his mother asks if he killed the rats he lies and tells her he did. Later on, after he returns from work the next day, his mother has called Charlotte and is ill when he asks her why she didn't call him she says that she didn't want to make him leave his work.

That afternoon he begins playing with a rat he names Queenie, the lack of communication is pointed out immediately by Willard. So Willard begins teaching them words like "food" and "empty". He sees a white baby rat and immediately takes a liking to the rat and the feelings are mutual. The white rat he finds becomes his best companion and he names it Socrates for his wisdom. Numerous other rats come to him, one of which is a giant specimen he names Ben.

His boss nags at him, even telling him he won't give him a raise and then urging him to sell the house. Willard sneaks up to the party where everyone is at and opens his suitcase which has rats in it, he then urges them to go get the food and ruin the party. The guests begin screaming and Willard laughs behind the bushes where he's hiding.

The next day he's at work when he gets called home and finds out his mother has died. After his mother's death he begins to be further pressured from the banks to give up the house. He decides to bring Socrates and Ben to the office with him. He sets them on some shelves and tells them to be good. One of his friends at work get him a cat named Chloe, to which he seems on edge. It constantly claws at his suitcase where Ben and Socrates are residing. He quickly hands her off to a complete stranger and drives away. Later on it is revealed that the rat population is getting too big and he can't afford to feed them much longer. Willard decides to steal money from his boss. He orders the rats to "tear it up" and puts them in front of the door.

Later, at home, he gets mad at Ben and keeps putting him outside the bedroom, but Ben persists in sleeping in his room. The next day he gets ready to go to work and gets Socrates, Ben is waiting and Willard grudgingly agrees to take the rat along as well. One of the workers spots Socrates and Ben and screams. Mr. Martin bludgeons Socrates to death, leaving Willard devastated. He then begin to train his rats to follow his commands and kills the man after confronting him (Mr. Martin falls out of the window in his panic). Willard then abandons Ben. He then goes home and begins sealing up any holes that the rats can enter his house through, then he puts as many as he can into cages and drowns them in the small pool outside.

He has dinner with a girl he likes and is rudely interrupted by Ben glaring at him. He gets up and notices all of the rats running up the stairs from the basement. He tells her to leave and locks the door before confronting Ben. Ben, however, has already turned on Willard. Willard stalls and begins mixing rat poison, but Ben reads the box and squeals loudly, alerting the others. In an act of desperation Willard attacks him with a broom, but misses. He runs upstairs and freaks out, he opens the door but the other rats are coming after him. Shutting the door, he stands there terrified. The rats begin to gnaw at the bottom of the door and eventually break in and gang up on him, killing him. The camera zooms into a closeup of Ben and the credits roll.


  • Willard was nominated for the Eddie award in Best Edited Feature Film at the 1972 American Cinema Editors Awards.
  • Willard was also nominated for the Edgar award in Best Motion Picture at the 1972 Edgar Awards.


  • A sequel called Ben (after one of the rats in the original) was released in 1972
  • Willard serves as the opening anecdote to a chapter, "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible..." in Giles Delueze and Felix Guatarri's A Thousand Plateaus.


  1. ^ Cover of Mad #149

External links



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